George W. Bush: The most conservative president in history?

Gary Barnett got so worked up about my assertion that President Bush seems to be aiming toward an era of limited government, and that Social Security privatization would serve as the death knell of New Deal Liberalism, that he wrote not one, not two, but three notes of exasperation. I’ll reprint them in the order received, followed by my reply:

Take One
Maybe you should take a pill; if President Bush is the most conservative in history, we are in huge trouble. I think you have gone to la-la land, and are on drugs. If you would bother to read the Constitution, maybe you would again understand classical liberalism and actual conservatism. It bears little resemblance to any current politician or party, including President Bush. Government has expanded and liberty has been lessened more in the past few years than at any time in my life, and I am 52 years old. I won’t list every item here, as I would have to kill a few more trees, and I need those for firewood. I suggest you go hug a few more Democrats like Lanny Davis, revel in your mushiness, and take the day off. All these Democrats you’re praising today will again be Socialists tomorrow!

Take Two
Maybe you forgot that we have a 2.5 trillion dollar budget…I beg to differ that we are headed toward a smaller government anytime soon. It is also not our business to spread democracy anywhere in the world. If we are forced to invade a country, so be it, and if we can help them vote due to our needed presence, so be it also. Obviously, we all want a freer world, which would also be a safer world, but we should never have that as a policy. Attempting to overthrow despots because we think it is right is not allowable, nor should it be, per our Constitution. Wake up! Nation building is none of our business!

Take Three
Do you not have any concept of spending? Constitutionally, the federal government should only be spending approximately $800 billion a year. We are spending $3 trillion! I would be willing to bet big money that we will be spending more every year for the next four, and that government will grow exponentially over that same time frame. Take a look at spending the past four years; even after discounting any war spending, you may be able to see a pattern. We are also spending 20% of GDP. Ridiculous!

Also Tony, you made the comment that the IOUs would be paid when people were able to invest part of their Social Security tax. Please take an economics 101 class. Those IOUs are unfunded and can only be paid by raising taxes. If the people investing part of their extorted SS money don’t have to opt out of the system, the problem will only worsen. This is simple math. The current Bush plan will help extend for a short period, but in essence is just another Band-Aid. The system has to be finite…anything else is just delaying the inevitable.

Tony's Response:
Gary,

You have hit upon the most critical controversy involving George W. Bush — whether he intends to (a) become a limited-government conservative, or (b) allow government to grow wildly, hoping a growing economy will provide enough cash to keep the behemoth alive. The president’s former chief speechwriter, Mike Gerson, once explained to me in some exasperation that “George W. Bush will never be a limited-government conservative.” This conflicts with the president’s direct representations to me, so I don’t know whether Gerson was engaging in the speechwriter’s natural tendency to view himself as the president’s authentic inner voice, or if the president was blowing smoke when talking with me.

Either way, I didn’t say George W. Bush is the most conservative president in history; I said he could be. Here’s how: If he takes a sledgehammer to the antiquated ruin known as New Deal Liberalism, and acknowledges that businessmen driven by self-interest and the profit motive have far greater success than the government in fulfilling people’s needs cheaply and effectively, then he can become the most conservative president in American history.

He could lay the groundwork for such an overhaul by creating private security accounts in lieu of the Social Security rip-off. He could lay the groundwork by using medical savings accounts to foster a consumer-driven healthcare market, thus hastening the end of the incredibly expensive and inefficient Medicare system. He could dismantle the culture of torts, in which lawyers impose enormous costs on the economy by transforming innocent errors into job-killing class-action lawsuits. Add similar initiatives in education, agriculture, financial regulation and the like and, voila! — you have the aforementioned conservative revolutionary.

Meanwhile, you play pretty fast and loose with the Constitution. You have it specifying proper levels of federal expenditure, which it does not do. You have it constraining the president’s power to “overthrow despots” — an option first employed by Thomas Jefferson, who dispatched Stephen Decatur to smack down the Barbary Pirates. I rather like some of your political sentiments, but the Constitution doesn’t make them mandatory. It merely gives you and me the freedom to debate the merits and let our fellow Americans decide.

You are right about the crucial thing, however: We need to pursue classical liberalism, which promotes limited government and maximal individual liberty. But classical liberalism requires one more indispensable ingredient: virtue. The American people always have been guided not only by a zeal for liberty, but also an appreciation of the fact that our core values arise not from fad, fashion, habit or caprice – but come from a Creator, who is the author and architect of the universe and the moral truths that govern human affairs.

As for having friends (like Lanny Davis) with whom I disagree: It helps me sharpen my wits and toughen up my arguments. Surely you aren’t afraid of having friends who will challenge you, as you have challenged me?

Thanks for the note.

Best,
Tony Snow

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