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Let's Not Get Carried Away

It took a leader of the Decider’s uncommon gifts to kill the philosophy he worships. ~Eugene Robinson

Perhaps Mr. Robinson has been cribbing from Michael Gerson’s notes about the modern Republican Party, but the idea that Bush or any major Republican leader has acted as if “government is useless, if not inherently evil” is silly.  Ours has been the era of bleeding-heart conservatism, epitomised by Gerson’s weepy manifestoes of world revolution speeches, and Republican do-gooding, which, like pretty much all government do-gooding, has brought about very, very bad results.  Mr. Bush and his enablers (including Gerson!) have argued for the virtue of government activism more than any one of his predecessors since perhaps LBJ.  It is also silly to suggest that the last eight years have seen the apotheosis of anything that could reasonably be called free market policies.  Setting up collaboration with pharmaceutical corporations to create a new government entitlement has nothing to do with the “cruel genius of free markets,” nor does feeding military contractor companies with rich deals in the midst of one of the largest armed social engineering projects in our history.  It could be argued that a full-throated pro-market, small government, constitutionalist platform could not have won any of the presidential elections of the last forty years and that such a platform was rejected by a huge majority of the public 44 years ago, and you could make various arguments about what that might mean for a small government conservative politics, but to take the legacy of one of the most statist, government-expanding, government-trusting, government-ennobling administrations in recent history and make its failure into a story of how this discredited a philosophy to which it did not adhere is preposterous.  

Arguably, Mr. Bush pushed the contradictions between a fundamentally pro-corporate, government-expanding party and a rhetoric of small government to “absurd extremes,” such that the relatively few remaining supporters of the “paradigm” that allegedly dominated politics for my entire lifetime (and yet operationally never commanded more than minimal influence) grew disgusted with that party.  It might be that the legacy of Mr. Bush’s tenure has been to support the claim that “government is useless, if not inherently evil.”  However, conservatives have never claimed and do not believe that government is useless, though we might describe it as a necessary evil in some circumstances.  On the contrary, conservatives assume that government can be rightly ordered and limited so that it does not become abusive or destructive of the common good.  More likely, Mr. Bush’s legacy will be that he killed the electoral chances of the Republican Party for at least a decade and helped ensure that the rising generation will react to the GOP with contempt for the rest of their lives.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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