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Opening Arguments

Man of the people

People will be arguing about George Bush's politics for a long time. He's certainly not a conservative or a libertarian, but the fact that he has been identified more or less as such for eight years has greatly damaged the reputation of those two philosophies. He's really not a liberal, either. He calls himself a "compassionate conservative," but what does that make him? Not a populist, exactly, but:

In other words, compassionate conservatism is less a political philosophy than a romantic cult of sensibility. It responds to “suffering situations” but lacks mechanisms for preferring one project to another or for setting an overall limit on government. Thus it liberated the president to “move” when “somebody hurts” without first calculating the consequences.

But isn't that how most voters feel? Political scientists often point out that most voters believe the same things — but also that those beliefs change, often quite rapidly, in response to events. Except for the political extremes, Americans lack an ideology that forces them to restrain their impulses, reconcile conflicting values, or maintain a stable policy. And being generous people, when somebody hurts, they move.

If a government acts on the same basis, its policies will be a patchwork quilt of left and right measures. And, to paraphrase Errol Flynn on his own economics, its net income will be insufficient to cover its gross habits.

As his record shows, Bush is simply the ordinary American writ powerful.

That sounds about right. "Compassioate conservatism" acts on impulse, the kind we all have. But since we have our impulses at different times, it's not surprising he ends up disliked by so many people.

Posted in: Uncategorized


Wed, 12/17/2008 - 5:36pm

Please. "Compassionate conservatism" was never a philosophy nor was it a "romantic cult of sensibility." It was a slogan. Just a cheap, cynical effort by Dubya to paint himself as a warm and fuzzy candidate despite his party's otherwise shrill and angry tone.

It would be fairer to say that the libertarians and conservatives, strange and implacable bedfellows, have damaged the reputation of the Republican party. They did this in part by helping elect a milquetoast who had no guiding philosophy whatsoever.

Wed, 12/17/2008 - 5:50pm

John O'Sullivan certainly opened my eyes with "The Politics of Everyman." The only fault that I can find in the author's thought process is his attempt to find a label to describe George W. Bush. This is particularly odd since the title of the article, combined with Bush's impulsiveness opened my eyes to the President's sometimes controlled, sometimes uncontrolled bent toward populism. With George, a call to action only has to "feel" right ...a very dangerous flaw in his judgment.

Populism is the moderate middle-of-the-road position that politicians seek from which to snipe at all opponents who challenge the will of the masses. The safety of the middle allows all others to be treated as extremists.

It is too bad that GWB did not read Ayn Rand:

The safely undefined, indeterminate, mixed-economy,