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Conservative vs. conservative

Guest Blogger

Tom Pauken isn't happy with the direction of American conservatism, and he points a finger of blame at the Bush administration for leading the Republican Party astray. The former staffer in the Nixon and Reagan administrations lays out the ills in his book "Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back," released this month by Chronicles Press. He takes Bush and his coterie to task for squandering the Goldwater-Reagan legacy that had built America into the strongest economy in the world and has now left it struggling through the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Pauken, a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is now chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission.


What passed for conservatism during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency was barely recognizable to many of us who started out as conservative supporters of Barry Goldwater and, later, Ronald Reagan.

On domestic policy, the Bush administration found itself more aligned with the “guns and butter” spending excesses of LBJ than with conservatives who question the expansion of federal largess. As Ronald Reagan pointed out, “government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.”

The Bush administration adopted the viewpoint that “big government” was fine so long as their people were in charge. They even developed a term for this growth in centralized power and federal spending -- they called it “big government conservatism.” In so doing, they abandoned traditional conservative beliefs that, wherever possible, governmental power is best reserved to the states, local communities, and the people themselves.

There's a chapter in my book entitled “Big Government Conservatism is an Oxymoron” in which I point out that many Washington Republicans were just as culpable as Democrats in treating our taxpayer dollars as “other people’s money” to be spent as they and special interests decide. If spending whatever it takes for political power passes for “conservatism,” we might as well officially commemorate the death of American conservatism.

When fiscal conservatives warned of the dangers of excessive budget deficits, Dick Cheney responded by declaring, “Deficits don’t matter.” To true conservatives (and most Americans), deficits do matter.

Some Reagan critics like to say Bush was just doing what Reagan did in running up big deficits. There is one huge difference. President Reagan cut domestic spending during his first term to help pay for the increased defense build-up necessary to deal with the Soviet threat.

Speaking of foreign policy, President Reagan put in place a successful strategy to win the Cold War with very little loss of American military lives. He was very cautious about sending our soldiers into harm’s way unless he deemed it to be in our national interest to do so and only after he was sure our military mission was clearly defined.

Contrast Reagan’s Soviet strategy with George W. Bush’s response to radical Islam. Bush allowed neoconservative ideologues to control the foreign policy decision-making process of his first term in office. Neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz were so obsessed with ousting Saddam Hussein that they lost sight of the greater threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

There were many principled conservatives who questioned the preemptive war in Iraq and warned of the unintended consequences of military intervention to impose democracy in the Middle East. They were demonized by neoconservative pundits.

Writing in National Review, onetime Bush speechwriter David Frum referred to conservative opponents of the Iraq War such as the late Robert Novak as “unpatriotic conservatives.”

True conservatives would have constrained government power, respected the Constitution, opposed Wall Street bailouts, and fostered a foreign policy in our national interest, based on the principle of a just war.

It is time for conservatives to bring America home.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  March 5, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: reagan-goldwater legacy; conservatives battling conservatives; bush vs. reagan; conservatism under bush  
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Next: March 7, 2010


You did not speak up LOUD and CLEAR when it mattered. Now that you want to sell a book, you bare your soul for all to see. All the nuts are out because Pres. Obama is trying to right this sinking ship. You all have a problem now that a Black man was elected without the help from the Supreme Court. My advice to you: Stuff your book in your conservative behind.

Posted by: hadelaide | March 5, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

While I really don't have much in common with Mr. Pauken politically (and I think he overrates Reagan), I have to say I think his ideas are quite refreshing to read here. As a moderate/liberal during the Bush 43 years, I was baffled why so many on the right wing seemed enamored with Bush Conservatism for the very reasons listed here.
Mr. Pauken contrast between "Reagan/Goldwater Conservatives" and "Bush 43 Conservatives" seems accurate to me in that the definitions conform to ideology. The trouble is, I suspect, most on the right will have a very difficult time essentially saying, "Bush 43 was a conservative failure" and thus frowning on the tenure of Bush's Administration.

Posted by: GeorgeWhite1 | March 5, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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