Jonah Goldberg

Economically, Nixon got along swell with the chamber of commerce crowd, but he was well to the left of almost any leading Democrat today, championing wage and price controls as a legitimate tool of state, and boasting "Now I am a Keynesian in economics."

I could argue that Nixon's amoral foreign policy is today alive and well in many corners of the left, but that's a distraction from my central point.

Bush is certainly to the right of Nixon on many issues. But at the philosophical level, he shares the Nixonians' supreme confidence in the power of the state. Bush rejects limited government and many of the philosophical assumptions that underlie that position. He favors instead strong government. He believes, as he said in 2003, that when "somebody hurts, government has got to move." His compassionate conservatism shares with Nixon's moderate Republicanism a core faith that not only can the government love you, but it should spend money to prove its love. Beyond that, there seems to be no core set of principles that define Bush's approach, and therefore, much like Nixon, no clearly communicable message that explains why he does things other than political calculation and expediency.

Again, I think this comparison can be taken too far. But explanations of Bush have often gone too far in the other direction. Critics think all you need to do to prove he's a Reaganite is point to his tax cuts. Yammerers like Kevin Phillips point to Bush's sincere Christianity and the rise of Christian conservatives to demonstrate he's a "theocon."

It's worth remembering that Bush was always loyal to his father, who came out of the Nixon wing of the party and whose only term looks more than a little similar to his son's second term.

Perhaps this unnoticed fact explains part of Bush's falling poll numbers more than most observers are willing to admit. The modern conservative movement, from Goldwater to Reagan, was formed as a backlash against Nixonism. Today, Reaganite conservatives make up a majority of the Republican Party. If Bush held the Reaganite line on liberty at home the way he does on liberty abroad, he'd be in a lot better shape. After all, if Bush's own base supported him at their natural level, his job approval numbers wouldn't be stellar, but they wouldn't have his enemies cackling, either.


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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