The bile accumulating on the right toward the White House has reached China Syndrome proportions and is starting to melt through the floor.
Suddenly, conservatives are starting to question whether George W. Bush is even a one of them at all. One of my heroes, Robert Bork, recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "George W. Bush has not governed as a conservative. This George Bush, like his father, is showing himself to be indifferent, if not actively hostile, to conservative values." Conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett opines: "The truth that is now dawning on many movement conservatives is that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been." Even at National Review Online - where I hang my hat most of the time - several of our contributors have echoed these concerns.
I think this goes too far. Two factors contribute to this misdiagnosis: confusion and disappointment.
Let's start with confusion. Contrary to most stereotypes, conservatism is a much less dogmatic ideology than modern liberalism. The reason liberals don't seem dogmatic and conservatives do is that liberals have settled their dogma, so it has become invisible to them. No liberal disputes in a serious philosophical way that the government should do good things where it can and when it can. Their debates aren't about ideology, they're about tactics. Indeed, the chief disagreement between leftists and liberals over the role of the state is almost entirely pragmatic. Moderate liberals think it's not practical - either economically or politically - to push for a dramatic expansion of the role of the state. Leftists think it would be a good idea politically and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, think it would work economically.
Within conservatism, however, there are enormous philosophical arguments about the proper role of the state. This debate isn't merely between libertarians and social conservatives. It's also between conservatives who are "anti-left" versus those who are "anti-state." Neoconservatives, for example, are famously comfortable with an energetic, interventionist government as long as that government isn't run by secular, atheistic radicals and socialists (I exaggerate a little for the sake of clarity).
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