Out of the many conservative politicos on television, Fred Barnes of Fox News is perhaps the most talented and savvy. His arguments are often the clearest, and he is a formidable opponent even on those occasions when his talking points are obviously beaten. In his new book, Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush, Barnes puts forth a thesis which would occur to few Americans. He regards our current President as a maverick who stands outside and above the establishment, and one who, in the spirit of the Starship Enterprise, has boldly gone where no scion of an incredibly fashionable family has gone before.
My first reaction upon completing the opening pages was, 'Surely he's doesn't really believe this?' Ah, but Barnes does believe it or at least he appears to for the purposes of political expediency. We find that despite our President's family spending decades in the nation's capital, Bush the Younger is 'an alien in the realm of the governing class.' The author gives a plethora of reasons for why this is the case such as the President's refusal to wear a tuxedo to social events more than once a year, and the way in which he called a terrorist a terrorist by delegitimizing the authority of Yasser Arafat. Some of Barnes' contentions are persuasive. Certainly, one can buy that George Bush is assertive in his interpersonal relationships along with his not being an intellectual captive of his cabinet. That he never had any desire to be part of the beltway 'in crowd' is also convincing, but concluding that he is a rebel is a non sequitur.
Bush rules by traditional means and there is precious little turbulence to be found in his submissive habit of affixing his name to pork-laden bills promoting economic stagnation and adamantine bureaucracy. A rebel would not mistake socialism for compassion; a rebel would veto budgets and curtail spending; a rebel would stand for his convictions, but in George W. Bush we have not a rebel but a politician. Even if this is readily discernible to most pundits, it has not prevented Fred Barnes from pretending otherwise, perhaps as an attempt to secure a favorable legacy for our 43rd President'a legacy which he assuredly does not deserve.
There have been many unusual things about the Bush presidency, but perhaps the oddest is why the political left hates him so. It is rather bewildering for those of us who see that, aside from foreign policy, he is more Jimmy Carter than Calvin Coolidge. He is the big spending liberal your parents warned you about. He even stands out within a Republican Party filled with '95 percenters''meaning guys who self-righteously denounce the Leviathan while eagerly embossing their names to $180 billion 'Republican' federal ventures which are reportedly far more liberty friendly than the Democrats 190 billion dollar versions of the same bill. Many of these Nixonians have never seen an airport flunky they didn't want to pin a badge to, yet W, a 105 percenter, makes them look like Ron Paul. Our President stares down the Democrats with steely determination while announcing, 'I'll see your 12 expanded district offices and raise you 70 new Directors of Diversity.' Bush may not be a Washington society man, but he certainly is a government man. Barnes spins against such conclusions by attempting to contrast him with another devotee of state coercion:
'There was a thread running through FDR's scheme: big government in Washington as the answer to America 's economic and social problems. And there's an idea that unites Bush's package: individuals acting responsibly, not big government in Washington is the answer.'
Let's consider this for a moment. If big government is not Bush's answer then why did spending grow by 33 percent during his first term? Does anyone know of a large scale program that Bush slashed? Barnes acknowledges that many conservatives desire the termination of the Department of Education, but he claims that the 43rd President has used the federal department as a means to promote testing and establish accountability within our public schools. It's hard to not laugh after reading such blatant spin because our schools are by no means more accountable today than they were ten years ago. No Child Left Behind is a boondoggle which has enacted no substantial reform of the system. The teachers unions are as resilient as cockroaches, and, in many states, have already made a mockery of the bill's intentions. The real question is how could Bush not have anticipated the uselessness of the aforementioned act after Ted Kennedy gave his buzzed endorsement to this 'historic reform.'
George W. Bush is the greatest boon that the Libertarian Party has ever had. His fiscal profligacy has made conservatives like myself alter our self-descriptions from conservative or conservative-libertarian to libertarian alone. It's hard to stand behind a man whose increases in discretionary spending surpass those of Lyndon Johnson. You knew the true extent of Bush's contamination of the right when John Kerry campaigned under the sober auspices of government having to let the people know what they could and could not afford. Far worse, this 'rebel-in-chief,' has enabled Washington to play 'daddy' to our states and localities by allowing bureaucrats to intrude on community practices.
Barnes concedes that Bush does not meet everyone's definition of conservative. He figures that on a 1 to 3 scale of conservatism, W rates a 2 as he supports traditional values and a hawkish foreign policy but is a promoter of obese government. Yet, this is a very skewed way in which to rate conservatism. No conservative worthy of the label would ever think that officialdom promotes the public good, which is exactly the view Bush endorses when he bloats the budgets of the civil service.
Furthermore, one traditional value in America is that a person can fulfill their dreams if they have talent and apply themselves. Yet these are the types of dreams quashed by pernicious federal policies like affirmative action. Despite his personal convictions which he so eloquently put forth in January of 2003, Bush came out in support for the racist practice after the Supreme Court announced their decisions in Grutter and Gratz. His turnabout was a disappointment to everyone who believes in equality. The President's flip-flop made a liar out of him, traduced the American dream for a plurality of our people, and announced that for the foreseeable future there will be: 'Political correctness today; Political correctness tomorrow; Political correctness forever.'
Bush is not a conservative in any real sense of the word. To corrupt that famous phrase by William F. Buckley, he jogs alongside history and yells, 'If we hurry, we can get in another mile before sundown.' He has done more to level differences between the two major parties than any other politician in recent memory. It is becoming progressively more difficult to argue with the opinion that there's not 'a dime's worth of difference' between them.
There was one more aspect to Barnes' fantasy-based initiative which made one feel that the text was more PR than historical analysis. The author's favorable comparison of Bush to Reagan was absurd and manages to offend. The current President'a glad-handing, all-things-negotiable, former cheerleader'is as close to the 40th President as Cold Duck is to Veuve Clicquot. Had Reagan led between 2000 and today, his desk would have large indentations on it from stamping a veto upon Congresses' porcine expenditures of the public's wealth. That Reagan was unsuccessful in stopping legislative spendthrifts of his era is more reflective of Democratic supremacy in both Houses than it was due to Bushian delusions about the efficacy of government intervention.
Once one finishes the book, one must acknowledge that Fred Barnes deserves a modicum of credit. I can't think of any other conservative who would have the audacity to lionize a RINO leader in the way that he has. George W. Bush will be remembered in the decades to come not as a rebel, but as a politician..