I thought President Bush's State of the Union address was fine. It wasn't outrageously long. He drew a bright line between himself and his critics on the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, Social Security Reform, etc. He delivered it well, and the nudity was tasteful and integral to the plot.
As luck - or bad timing - would have it, I was invited to Manhattan to address the New York State Conservative Party right before the president addressed the nation. It seemed only fitting since the subject of my speech was the conflict between Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and traditional conservatism. You see, conservatives in New York City have suffered more and for longer than conservatives in the rest of America. Trust me, I grew up on New York City's Upper West Side. We felt like Christians in Ancient Rome.
Well, after three years with George W. Bush at the helm, many conservatives are starting to feel like we've been sent to the catacombs. Don't get me wrong. Out in real America where most Americans - liberal and conservative - don't focus on politics every day, Bush is still doing very well. And, even among conservatives, Bush has considerable political support. But among ideological and intellectual conservatives, emotional support for Bush is starting to ebb.
I can't point to anything scientific. But if you pay attention to what conservatives are saying at meetings and in magazines, on the Web and at the think tanks, as well as what readers, friends, colleagues and sources say, there's a definite undercurrent of discontent with the president.
For some it started with his plan to offer amnesty-lite to illegal immigrants. For others, it's his fence-sitting on gay marriage. For others, like me, it was his signing of the campaign finance reform bill even though he thought it was unconstitutional. Or maybe it was his support for steel tariffs. Or the farm bill. I forget.
Anyway that doesn't matter. What unites pretty much all of these grumblers is a deep sense of, well, disgust with how much this administration is spending.
When it comes to taxpayer dollars, this is the second most "generous" administration in American history, second only to that of another Texan, Lyndon Johnson. There may be good aspects to George Bush's "compassionate conservatism," though on the whole I never liked it, but it's clear that compassion doesn't come cheap at the Bush White House, on whose watch overall spending from 2001 to 2003 grew at 16 percent and discretionary spending went up 27 percent. That's double Bill Clinton's rate.
Bush's defenders are eager to point to the war on terrorism as an excuse for increased spending. Fine. But that's only a small part of the story.