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Who's a Conservative Now?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Well, there he goes again.

This week, that purported conservative in the White House slapped around his liberal opponents one final time by asking Congress to give the executive branch a huge pile of money. “I have talked to the president-elect about this subject,” George W. Bush told reporters. “I told him that if he felt that he needed the $350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it. In other words, if he felt like it needed to happen on my watch.”

It’s a coup for soon-to-be President Obama. Now that Bush has asked for the money, if Congress refuses Bush can veto that refusal and then turn the cash over to his successor. Before he even passes “Go” the new president would be sitting on $350 billion. That’s a nice nest egg.

What’s unclear is why Bush would want to help Obama get off to a successful start. He ought to say, “If you want the money, you issue the veto and take the heat.”

After all, liberals have spent the last couple of years slapping Bush around. During the presidential campaign he was blamed for failing in Iraq and for destroying the economy. That must be why Obama is retaining Bush’s Defense Secretary, and why congressional heavyweights Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank (at least as responsible as the president for the mortgage meltdown) get to write the next bailout bill.

Liberals called Bush’s administration a threat to domestic liberty and foreign relations. To sum up the tone of the fall campaign, “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we have had, probably in American history,” Vice President-to-be Joe Biden said during a debate. Exactly why should Bush want to help these guys again?

Furthermore, anyone who’s read a newspaper or watched cable news these last four years has noticed that George W. Bush is generally portrayed as a raving, wild-eyed, extreme conservative. Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, he was said to be driving a wedge between Americans.

Since then he’s supposedly moved even further right. “The president took on tyranny by embracing torture,” Rex Nutting wrote on CBS MarketWatch recently in summing up the Bush administration. “He fought a war for freedom by trampling human rights. He enriched the already rich, excused their excesses, and then bailed them out of trouble and handed us the bill.” Etc.

Any number of mainstream media reviews of Bush’s tenure would make similar points about his supposed radical conservatism. Would that it were true.

Conservatives aim to limit government spending. Increasing such spending may be “compassionate.” But it’s certainly not “conservative.” And Bush has done plenty to increase spending. Far from being a conservative on fiscal matters, Bush has been “Tony Blair with a ranch,” as columnist Mark Steyn likes to put it.

He laid out his governing philosophy during a visit to California in 2002. “America doesn’t need more big government,” Bush explained then. That sounded too good to be true, so he swiftly clarified. “Yet we cannot have an indifferent government either. We are a generous and caring people. We don’t believe in a sink-or-swim society.”

Well, that last part came true, at least. The federal government has already spent $350 billion (nobody’s exactly sure where it went) propping up businesses that made poor decisions. Now it’s getting set to double down with another $350 billion. A bad bet all the way around, and not conservative in any way.

This follows similar big-spending programs such as “No Child Left Behind” (which gave the federal government even more control over education policy), Medicare Part D (which created a massive new prescription drug entitlement plan), the partial nationalization of American banks and the steady growth of pork-barrel spending under a Republican president and Republican congress. Whew. That’s quite a “conservative” record.

The fact is that, while George W. Bush has frequently been painted as a wild-eyed extreme right-winger, he’s frequently governed as a moderate squish. Far from aiming to destroy his political opponents, Bush has often gone out of his way to help them.

There should be a lesson here for the next “conservative” who gets elected: You’re going to get knocked around by liberals and the press (but I repeat myself) no matter what you do. So you should go ahead and implement nothing but genuinely conservative ideas. They just might work.

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