Jonah Goldberg

Is the Republican Party conservative?

Amid all of the screaming from leftwing partisans and reflexive Bush-haters about how the president is an ogre and fascist tyrant, it sounds like an odd question to ask. But not according to many conservatives these days.

Among conservative journalists and activists, the disappointment in the Bush Administration's, and the GOP congressional leadership's, domestic policies is mounting daily.

On free trade, the president has proved less reliable than - shudder - Bill Clinton. His acquiescence (i.e. capitulation) on Medicare has been total, refusing to fight for significant free market reforms while agreeing to shovel hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars for new entitlements.

In general, Bush has been spending money like a man with a week to live. The GOP-led Congress deserves some blame, too. But even when they overspend above his overspending, Bush refuses to use his veto power.

On the cultural side, things aren't much better. The White House literally celebrated the Supreme Court's affirmative action fiasco and mumbled its disappointment about the court's sodomy ruling. Just last week, the administration sneakily released word that it would surrender completely to feminist activists on the issue of Title IX.

There are some points in Bush's favor from the conservative perspective. Most important, he's pursued a muscular, often heroic, foreign and national security policy.

Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds funny to people who think the Niger-uranium story proves that Bush is a demonic harbinger of the apocalypse. But, whether or not you agree, most conservatives - and most Americans, according to polls - approve of what George Bush, Don Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft have done to keep America safe. You could look it up.

The president has also pushed aggressively and admirably for tax cuts. His judicial appointments have been solid (knock on wood). He's floated numerous good ideas - partial privatization of Social Security, faith-based programs, etc - and even followed through on some.

But in the final analysis, Bush doesn't quite look like the president conservatives hoped for, and he certainly doesn't look like the rabid monster the Democrats say he is. In short, it turns out Bush's "compassionate conservatism" means something. I admit I hated the phrase during the election, seeing it as a Republican version of Clintonian feel-your-pain politics. I'm still not a fan, but I see now that it's more than a marketing label.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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