Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Is President Bush's Political Philosophy?

In her latest column Peggy Noonan asks what President Bush's political philosophy is:

"William F. Buckley this week said words that, if you follow his columns, were not surprising. And yet coming from the man who co-fathered the modern conservative movement, carrying the intellectual heft as Reagan carried the political heft, the observation that President Bush is not, philosophically, a conservative, had the power to make one sit up and take notice.

"I have had reservations in this area since Mr. Bush's stunning inaugural speech last year, but Mr. Buckley's comments, in a television interview last weekend, had the sting of the definitional. I agree with Mr. Buckley's judgments but would add they raise the question of what Bush's political philosophy is--I mean what he thinks it is. It's not 'everyone should be free.' Everyone in America thinks everyone should be free, what we argue over is specific definitions of freedom and specific paths to the goal. He doesn't believe in smaller government. Or maybe he 'believes' in small government but believes us to be in an era in which it is, with the current threat, unrealistic and unachievable? He believes in lower taxes. What else? I continually wonder, and have wondered for two years, what his philosophy is--what drives his actions.

"Does he know? Is it a philosophy or a series of impulses held together by a particular personality? Can he say? It would be good if he did. People are not going to start feeling safe in the world tomorrow, but they feel safer with a sense that their leaders have aims that are intellectually coherent. It would be good for the president to demonstrate that his leadership is not just a situational hodgepodge, seemingly driven and yet essentially an inbox presidency, with a quirky tilt to the box. Sometimes words just can't help. But sometimes, especially in regard to the establishment or at least assertion of coherence, they can. And it's never too late. History doesn't hold a stopwatch, not on things like this."

Ms. Noonan asks a good question, and I think there's a good answer at least for the domestic policy side of things: President Bush, as Fred Barnes has argued, is a "big-government conservative." Big-government conservatives, Barnes argued, "simply believe in using what would normally be seen as liberal means--activist government--for conservative ends. And they're willing to spend more and increase the size of government in the process."

But surely it is a significant weakness of the President that someone like Ms. Noonan--who temporarily left her job in order to volunteer as an advisor and speechwriter during his reelection campaign--still can't figure out the nature of his political philosophy.