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President Bush Is Less Conservative Than Clinton

Orange County Register

I am writing this column to one particular sort of reader. I want as many people as possible to read my column, of course, but this week's essay is geared toward those who insist that President George W. Bush - a man I supported and voted for - is advancing the cause of freedom.

Don't be influenced in your thinking about the president by the odd gyrations of America's leftists, who are consumed by Bush-spite. They despise him and embrace kooky ideas about him. It's almost enough to make one rally to the president's defense, but we shouldn't.

The enemy of our enemies is not necessarily our friend. Especially when the president, even though I believe him to be a decent man, is busy expanding government power at a pace that would have been unthinkable even under Bill Clinton's horrible administration.

We need to be hardheaded and evaluate this president in the same way we evaluated Clinton, Jimmy Carter and other presidents. I remain a Republican, because over my lifetime, Republicans have been the only party with a winning chance that has come close to advocating, however inadequately, principles of limited government.

Watching the Republican Party at the national level over the past three years is causing rethinking on my part. I want other Americans of right-leaning persuasion to hold the president and the Republican-majority Congress accountable for their deeds, rather than their occasional fine-sounding words.

The U.S. Constitution means what it says. It does not live and breathe, which is a liberal euphemism for stretching the Constitution to say whatever it is liberals want it to mean at any particular time, usually in service to some modern, government-expanding idea.

Government must be limited. Growth in government is not good, because government is based on coercion. Individuals do a better job spending their own hard- earned money than government, which lavishes its ill-gotten gains on special interest groups and constituencies that whine the loudest. Government should protect the national defense and do some basic, clearly delineated tasks, but defense means defense, not offense. American civil liberties must not be endangered by never-ending wars with constantly shifting endposts.

Compared to this ideal, President Bush is a disaster. Even compared to other modern conservative politicians, he has been a huge disappointment. In fairness, the president has been good on tax cuts, has appointed some decent people to judicial posts and has resisted some of the worst proposals from the left, such as the Kyoto global warming treaty.

But mostly it has been one sellout after another.

Writes the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow in a cover story in the American Conservative magazine: "Despite occasional exceptions, the Bush administration, backed by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been promoting larger government at almost every turn. Its spending policies have been irresponsible, and its trade strategies have been destructive. The president has been quite willing to sell out the national interest for perceived political gain, whether the votes sought are from seniors or farmers. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 encouraged the administration to push into law civil-liberties restrictions that should worry anyone, whether they are wielded by a Bush or a Clinton administration."

It's hard to argue with this.

This president has not vetoed a single bill, which means he has signed into law every big-spending project that has come down the pike. Federal spending, even on non-military matters, has soared. His nation-building experiments are downright Wilsonian, a far cry from the "humbler" foreign policy he promised when he ran for office.

These are criticisms from the right, so save the "you stinking Democrat-loving pinko" e-mails for someone else. I argued for libertarians to vote for Bush in a column before the election, believing that his calls for limited government and restrained foreign policy were far superior to Al Gore's quasi-socialism, nutty environmentalism and love of Clinton-style nation- building. (Note: The Register doesn't endorse candidates, but one week we featured columns by each editorial writer explaining our personal choices for president.)

But look at what we've got, with the largest entitlement increase in decades pushed forward by the president (prescription drugs), and it's hard for me to know what to say. The right words are coming to mind: "I'm sorry." I'm sorry to my readers for suggesting such a choice. I'm sorry to my libertarian colleagues, who warned me there wouldn't be any noticeable difference between a Bush and Gore administration.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, writing last week for LewRockwell.com, agrees: "The unfortunate truth is that the Bush administration, aided by a Republican Congress, has increased spending more in three years than the previous administration did in eight. Federal spending has grown by more than 25 percent since President Bush took office." As Paul explains, the president no longer even uses conservative rhetoric. He doesn't just act like a social democrat, but he talks like one.

Yet so many conservatives continue to celebrate this president as a conservative champion. At least under the Clinton administration - and I did and still do resent the former president's liberal policies and deceptions - the Republican Congress fought back. Now pure partisanship pushes the GOP to endorse policies it opposed under Clinton.

Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz explains in a recent Washington Post column that under President Ronald Reagan, non-defense discretionary spending fell by 13.5 percent but increased by nearly 21 percent under Bush II. How is that for a contrast?

Pointing to vast federal expansions in education, medical care and other areas under Bush and the Republican Congress, conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote on Nov. 30: "We are moving rapidly, under Republican 'leadership,' past the nanny state and the welfare state to what might be called the state as family. ... Is it time for another revolution yet? Who's got the tea?"

Tough stuff. But if you still refuse to listen to these conservative and libertarian leaders, then pay attention to one of Republicanism's great modern heroes, former President Reagan.

Here are words from his famous 1964 speech supporting Barry Goldwater's presidential run:

"I am going to talk of controversial things. I make no apology for this. ...

"It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the founding fathers. ...

"Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? ... We are faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation."

America's enemy has changed, but the principles are still the same. It's time for those who had supported the president to make their criticisms heard. If it puts us in league with some scary left-wing loonies, don't worry. Our arguments make sense, and theirs are crazy.
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