The Bush administration will announce today a proposal for the largest increase in spending on the National Endowment for the Arts in twenty years. An administration spokesman says the proposal is “intended to show the administration’s commitment to the arts.”
Glenn Reynolds calls this move “incomprehensibly stupid.” I don’t think he’s referring to the funding level of the NEA as much as to the President’s blatant election-year pandering. As fast as the Democrats are scrambling to the left, the President is scurrying toward the center. I can predict the number of votes that will swing to President Bush on account of this latest pander: zero. If he thinks that Hollywood or the New York literati are going to moderate their hatred of him on account of this kind of initiative, he is a fool.
Given the President’s fiscal recklessness–his unwillingness to restrain a single category of federal spending–I’m afraid that the effort to make the tax cuts permanent is doomed. Why, then, should conservatives be enthusiastic about supporting Bush? The obvious answer is strength in the war on terror. Maybe. But would a President Kerry be any less vigilant than President Bush? No matter what he says on the campaign trail, Kerry would know that a resumption of terrorist attacks in the U.S. would doom his chances for re-election, and he would do everything in his power to prevent them. And with a Democrat in the White House, there would be no more whining about the Patriot Act.
Would Kerry be less likely to initiate future military action than Bush? No. After what’s happened in Iraq, another invasion is off the table. It won’t happen, no matter who is president.
Would federal spending balloon even faster under a Democratic president? He would want it to, of course, but that doesn’t mean it would happen. Spending has grown faster under Bush than Clinton. A Republican congress would likely check spending under a Democratic president more effectively than they are doing now.
Public opinion surveys over the last twenty years have consistently shown that people who call themselves “conservatives” outnumber those who call themselves “liberals” by roughly two to one. Ideology favors the Republicans more than party affiliation; there are still a few more Democrats than Republicans. So a straight-up conservative vs. liberal race would have been favorable, I think, for President Bush. What we are getting instead is a demoralization of the President’s base and a blurring of the ideological lines–almost always bad for Republicans. How badly has Bush alienated his base? Well, he’s de-motivated me, and that wasn’t easy.
DEACON responds: I feel your pain, Rocket Man. Increasing funding for the NEA seems intended more to show the administration’s contempt for conservatives than its “commitment to the arts.” In general, I think that President Bush confers goodies on interests that will never support him not to win the votes of members of the groups concerned, but to convince swing voters that he’s a centrist. However, this latest move doesn’t make sense even in these terms and, in fact, swing voters seem increasingly concerned (as we all should be) about the president’s lack of fiscal restraint.
Nonetheless, I believe that conservatives should continue to support Bush, for reasons I’ll try to articulate later.
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