Is President Bush a conservative

James Pinkerton wonders whether President Bush is a conservative. He concludes that Bush is not a conservative with respect to foreign policy, domestic policy, or cultural issues. If this were true — if Bush were not conservative on any of these fronts — then principled conservatives would need to consider not supporting him for re-election. But I don’t think it is true.
Pinkerton is correct, in my view, when he says that Bush is not conservative when it comes to domestic issues. I have always thought him to be moderate in this area, and after the health care legislation even that assessment may be generous. On cultural issues, though, it seems clear to me that Bush is a conservative. Pinkerton points out that “the President has said that marriage should be between ‘a man and a woman’ but has resisted entreaties to back up those words with action.” True enough. But there are colorable conservative arguments for opposing a constitutional amendment and for opposing federalizing the issue. In any case, Pinkerton proves only that Bush is not a strident social conservative. One key to gaining ground in the culture war is to appoint more conservative, less activist judges. Bush has certainly attempted to do this.
Finally, what about foreign policy? Pinkerton finds nothing conservative in Bush’s attempt at nation-building in Iraq or in his efforts, such as they are, to “guide the Middle East into democracy.” He goes on to suggest that Bush has violated the admonition of John Quincy Adams (no conservative, in fact) against going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” This is mostly nonsense. President Bush is actually following the tried and true conservative course (which once was also the liberal course) of aggressively defending the national security. The United States did not become militarily engaged in the Middle East because it was looking for dragons to slay. We are there because we were attacked by Middle Eastern terrorists and because Bush believed that Saddam’s Iraq posed, or would soon enough pose, a threat of additional terrorism, and that toppling Saddam would make us more secure. We do not remain in Iraq because Bush is an inveterate nation-builder. We remain because leaving would be a set-back in the fight against terrorism, and because it might well undo what we accomplished when we toppled Saddam. President Bush’s willingness to take the war to our enemies, and to promote our values as part of the conflict, is not evidence of non-conservatism. It is the modern-day equivalent of what that great conservative Ronald Reagan did during the Cold War. It is also the biggest (though hardly the only) reason why conservatives should continue to support Bush.

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