Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Obvious But True

Jonah Goldberg compares President Bush to Richard Nixon and argues that Bush's low poll numbers are based in large part on the fact that he is not conservative enough. It's an obvious point, but worth reading.


Jeff said...

So, let me get this straight b/c Bush lacks (according to the author) core principles---this makes him a liberal Republican? I can understand an arguement that would claim that Bush has violated conserviative principle too many times to remain in conservatives' good graces---but Bush is not a liberal. Indeed, just b/c Nixon signed liberal legislation into law that doesn't make him a liberal. He was the last of the New Deal Era presidents but like Ike---Nixon was not a liberal. For example, as the author noted Nixon advanced FAP (the family assistance plan) but he only did so b/c he feared he would get something worse and he wanted to undercut the welfare state---as a guaranteed income would mean fewer bureaucrats employed.

Just b/c you aren't a real conservative it dosen't follow that you must be a liberal merely b/c you pass some legislation.

Tom said...

I think we are talking about degrees here. Nixon was a very liberal Republican; he was certainly more liberal as president than JFK was when he was president. Bush is less liberal than Nixon, but still pretty liberal for a Republican. Reagan talked a bigger game than Eisenhower, but I think they were pretty close in their conservatism.

Jeff said...

Nixon was dealing with a liberal congress which was responsible for the legislation. Much of the liberal legislation that Hoff and others have given Nixon credit for was legislation that he neither initiated nor really wanted--it was about accepting the least noxious (or least liberal) pieces of legislation.

It was similar to when Clinton signed the 1996 Welfare Reform Act--that didn't make him a conservative even though it was a Gingrich endorsed bill. Clinton realized that he better sign something that was popular b/c he might be forced to sign something he hated alot more.

Nixon signed more liberal legislation than JFK but it was not b/c he was more liberal---he was dealing with a very different congress and political context. I think Goldberg's Nixon/Bush comparison is a stretch. Perhaps, Bush's problems have something to do with translating conservative principles into a workable governing coalition.

Americans, on the whole, wanted prescription drug coverage and though Bush and many (if not most Republicans) didn't really want it he/they realized it was smart politics. Though I realize you dislike George Will he makes a good point when he posits that Americans like to talk conservative but secretly like the welfare state. If a conservative congress and a conservative president failed to pass prescription drug coverage or would tell American voters that education scores are not the federal government's business (things they believe--to my knowledge) they would have a tough time winning elections.

greg said...

Only Nixon could go to China.

Tom said...

I think we are having a debate over semantics here. Here is an honest question (which showed up in a different form on my comprehensive exams): In what way was Nixon conservative--especially as president (when even his anticommunism had softened)?

I will certainly concede that the Family Assistance Plan was not liberal, as some people contend (paging Gareth Davies), since it was based on the negative income tax ideas of Milton Friedman. What else was conservative about Nixon's policies as president?

On another note, while I do not think Nixon was very conservative, Goldberg is wrong to say the modern conservative movement from Goldwater to Reagan was in large part a reaction to Nixon. Goldwater ran in 1964, before Nixon was important enough for conservatives to react against him.

dcat said...

Yeah -- had Goldberg read any of the serious scholarly historical literature on the rise of Reagan (Lisa McGirr would be a good starting point, as would Schoenwald or Schneider) and new Conservatism (NOT neo-conservatism) he'd be unable to make that "reaction to Nixon" argument. This is why I am very wary of Goldberg's new book. I suspect that it will only be half-informed historically, the half that happens to collde with his worldview. interestingly (to me anyway) I have been offered to review his new book. Good times.