In 2003, Bush declared that "when somebody hurts, government has to move." More recently, he explicitly rejected William F. Buckley's dictum that conservatives should yell "Stop" to ever-expanding government, saying instead that he believes conservatives must "lead." This makes for an interesting prologue to the 2008 election.
The front-runner in the Republican field is Rudy Giuliani, who certainly seems like a progressive. Coming up behind Giuliani are McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom champion, on domestic policy, their competence at running government, not their conviction to trim it back.
Tellingly, most pundits see all this as an unsubtle referendum on the perception that the problem with Bush isn't his philosophy but his incompetence. Meanwhile, the Democrats - the natural home of progressive ideas - are staying true to form. Front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton also has an undisputed record as a champion of the idea that government is alpha and omega of our national life, and a slightly less well-known history as an advocate of social gospel ideas similar to those underlying the compassionate conservatism. The governmental "village" in her book, "It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us," is all-encompassing, taking care of everybody, watching everybody, helping everybody, leaving nobody behind. John Edwards sees government as the only force to join together the mythical "two Americas." Barack Obama is a bit of a cipher, but it's hard to see much daylight between him and Clinton on first principles.
Not all that different.
It's interesting: Given all of the hullabaloo about how Republicans are doomed and conservatism is discredited (witness Time magazine's disingenuous weeping Reagan cover), you would think that the Democratic front-runner would do better in matchups against the Republicans. But Americans say they would vote for McCain and Giuliani over Clinton in the general election. Some of this undoubtedly has to do with Clinton's status as a polarizing figure. But it also might demonstrate that the differences between the two parties - and their constituencies - are smaller than the news coverage and the partisans would have us believe.
One question remains for conservatives: Where the heck is our Taft?