Ken Connor

President George Bush likes to describe himself as a "conservative" but his track record doesn't back up his claim.

Conservatives believe in limiting the power of the federal government, protecting the rights of states to solve problems at the local level, and promoting personal accountability as a means of ensuring that individuals and corporations act in a responsible manner. When it comes to those conservative ideals, Mr. Bush has shown himself all too willing to jettison principle in favor of "crony capitalism."

"Crony capitalism" is a term used to describe the incestuous relationship that has developed between big business and big government. It's the classic "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" formula elevated to a new level. In exchange for campaign contributions from the coffers of big business, professional politicians accord special privileges to corporate fat cats. Tax breaks, federal subsidies, limited accountability for liability—all are examples of crony capitalism. In each case, the interests of Wall Street trump the interests of Main Street. The most recent examples are the bailout plans designed to "rescue" (don't you just love political euphemisms) profligate insurance companies, banks, and other corporations deemed "too big to fail."

One arena in which Mr. Bush has been hugely successful in promoting crony capitalism is in the area known as "federal preemption." His success in this arena has resulted in enormous windfalls to corporate America, huge concentration of federal power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, and massive erosion of individual and states' rights.

"Preemption" is a simple concept cloaked in an unfamiliar word. Federal preemption simply means that federal law trumps state law when the two come into conflict in a given area. In other words, when the Feds say one thing about how a matter is to be regulated and the states say something else, the federal view controls. The classic example occurs in matters involving consumer protection or state tort law.

During Mr. Bush's tenure, federal bureaucrats have worked hard to immunize manufacturers and drug companies from liability from defective products. Notwithstanding that innocent people have suffered grave harm from such products, officials of the Bush Administration have argued that the companies putting such products into the stream of commerce should be immune from liability because federal bureaucrats put their seal of approval on the products before they were marketed. The Administration advanced these arguments even though the home states of the victims provided a judicial remedy which would allow them to recover for the damages they suffered from the defects.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.