As some readers of this column may know, the first "real" job I ever had was working for Congressman Ron Paul back in 1976. I went to visit him a few months ago and was pleased to see that he had not changed much at all since the days when I was a legislative assistant on his congressional staff.
At that time, I did not know that Ron planned a run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. When I later learned of it, I thought he was being hopelessly Quixotic -- tilting at windmills. I thought Ron's views about limited constitutional government and nonintervention in the affairs of other nations were hopelessly out of step with the vast bulk of Republican primary voters. On the war, they remain solidly in the George W. Bush camp -- willing to defend the war in Iraq to the bitter end and highly intolerant of anyone who raises doubts about its wisdom or continuation. Rudy Giuliani exemplified this attitude in the debate two weeks ago when he demanded that Ron apologize for his antiwar position.
However, significant cracks have developed in the wall of conservative support that Bush enjoyed at the beginning of the war. Today, much is known about the lack of verifiable evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction, and about how the White House bullied those urging caution into reluctant support and thoroughly screwed-up the Iraq occupation. Even Sen. John McCain, still a strenuous war supporter, has become outspoken on Bush's poor management of it. Consequently, more than a few conservatives have gone over to the antiwar side. Unfortunately for Ron, they are mostly former Republicans today, unlikely to vote in a Republican primary.
Among conservatives, another factor is also at work: the growing realization that Bush has never really understood or shared a Goldwater/Reagan vision of the nature of conservative governance. And even those who still cling desperately to the view that Bush is better than the Democratic alternative mostly concede that his performance in office on a wide range of issues has left much to be desired. Following are just a few examples of Bush's actions that have worn them down:
-- The explosion of spending on Bush's watch, his strong support for numerous "big government" initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the vast expansion of the Medicare program for prescription drugs, and his unwillingness to use the veto to control an orgy of pork barrel spending on his watch. Bush's recent successful veto of the defense supplemental, which yielded a bill close to what he originally asked for, confirms the view that he could have kept wasteful spending under control all along if he had simply made the effort.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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