Jonah Goldberg

Think of it this way. One line of conservative thought says that public schools are bad because they are run by inefficient government bureaucrats who drain resources. Moreover, they might say, running schools is simply not the proper function of the government. Another line of conservative thought says that public schools are fine (and they're not going anywhere anyway). But they shouldn't be teaching crazy left-wing stuff about how America, traditional religion and capitalism are the unholy trinity of the world's problems. Don't get rid of public schools, they say, just make sure they get their values and priorities in order.

Now, no conservative can be a full-blown statist, and very few conservatives subscribe to one of these lines of thought to the exclusion of the other. Some libertarians probably don't mind government funding of museums but take offense at the idea of taxpayer-funded pornographic blasphemy. And, there are certainly many social conservatives who'd love to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. But the relevant point is that Bush is definitely more of an anti-left guy than an anti-state guy (his valiant efforts at Social Security reform notwithstanding). He's comfortable with a conservative welfare state, hence his expansion of Medicare. Recall that he famously declared that "when someone hurts, government has to move."

Libertarians spontaneously burst into flames when they say things like that.

What has so confused liberals, meanwhile, is that they are still talking about Bush like he's primarily an anti-state guy, a la Reagan or Gingrich, even as he's spent lavishly on education, labor and regulation.

Then there's disappointment. I don't think it violates my moratorium on writing about Miers if I say that her nomination was a letdown for many conservatives. And, while I don't think it's true of Bork himself, I do think many conservatives are using their legitimate anger about Miers and Bush's overspending as an excuse to jump ship from a lame duck presidency at its low point. If Iraq were a huge success right now and if Bush had picked a conservative stalwart for the bench, how many conservatives would be suggesting Bush isn't one of us?

I have been critical of Bush's big-government conservatism for years. So I'm not entirely displeased by the venom being unleashed at that aspect of his presidency. However, Bush ran as a big-government conservative. And it's not fair to call our own buyer's remorse a betrayal by the seller.

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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