Local governments, which were promised aid in rebuilding facilities such as fire stations and sewer systems, have fared little better in actually getting that aid. A recent article in The National Journal describes a Kafkaesque situation in which devastated towns and parishes seeking federal funds have been told to jump through complex hoops, spending time and money they don’t have on things like proving that felled trees were actually knocked down by Katrina, only to face demands for even more paperwork.

Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That’s the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology. ~Paul Krugman, New York Times

Krugman’s line would be a bit more clever if he were referring to an “antigovernment conservative” (sometimes the old tropes aren’t the best tropes, eh, Paul?).  As it is, he is referring to George Bush, “compassionate conservative,” which means “big government conservative with a saccharine smile,” which means, in practise, “giant hulking bureaucracies that do nothing constructive–but they do it from the heart.”  The colossal failure of Mr. Bush’s governance here and abroad is not a black eye for proponents of smaller or even streamlined government, but in fact confirms everything that Old Right and conservative critics of government have said for 70 years.  It isn’t Mr. Bush’s “ideology” that is being vindicated in spite of his administration, since he never embraced the small or anti-government view of traditional conservatives but sought to go beyond it.  His fraud of an ideology lies buried in the wreckage of Katrina’s devastation; it has been left for dead in the sands of Iraq.  Let us hope that enthusiasm for the related David Brooks-style “authoritarian conservatism” has drowned in the same floods that destroyed New Orleans.  Mr. Bush’s approach to government has met the real world, and the real world seems determined to win. 

Mr. Bush is a great one for allocating and spending money; he seems to love deficits and has never met a bill he couldn’t veto (save one) and has never vetoed any bloated appropriations bills.  Didn’t you hear?  The era of big government was just getting started again.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the Republican era of guns and butter: it collapsed under its own dead weight and corruption. 

It might be argued that the problem here is not bulky government, but an insufficiently energetic use of that bulk.  But it seems all too likely that the bulky system at DHS has consistently created more problems for the immediate and long-term recovery efforts.  Mr. Bush may have initially opposed its creation, but he was the one who created the DHS in all its monstrosity and then bragged about how it had improved national security.  Well, it hasn’t necessarily done that, and it now also seems to be less able to cope with the aftermath of natural disasters than similarly large-scale relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew. 

Certainly Mr. Bush’s diffident approach to seeing his policy commitments through stands in striking contrast to the grandiose promises the man makes.  Perhaps somewhere lurking in the back of his mind is the notion that liberal social programs’ flaw was to “throw money” at problems regardless of results.  Having duly learned this lesson, Mr. Bush does not neglect to make commitments to send government aid to people (that would be just downright mean!); he simply doesn’t make the mistake of throwing money at the problem.  No money is getting thrown or even gently handed over to anybody–and that’s a promise!  Instead, he and his subordinates throw paperwork, which is much more likely to fix things. 

But to pretend that this has something to do with any supposed scruple about government activism or spending, let us remember who it is who brought us Medicare D, the education bill, the farm subsidies bill and a little thing called the Iraq war.  If this is “antigovernment conservatism,” I’ll eat my hat.  It is antigovernment only in the sense that it reconfirms the convictions of opponents of big government and shows to the world how ridiculous reliance on government solutions can be, demonstrating the inefficacy and weakness of big government.  If you were a fan of consolidated, energetic government and interventionist foreign policy, you would almost have to think that Dobleve was secretly working for traditional conservatives and was doing his utmost to sabotage the entire thing from the inside.  That would be some explanation for why Mr. Bush has managed to govern as a walking, talking version of every worst caricature of Republicans and conservatives.  Unfortunately, Bush’s ongoing discrediting of big government and activist foreign policy (when and why did it ever have any credit in the first place?) is coming at a high price to the United States.   

In the end, Mr. Bush’s big government conservatism has delivered on only one of those three things: sheer bigness of projects and bureaucracies.  There does not seem to much in the way of government or conservatism involved in any large project that the man and his administration touch.