This week's column is a question, a brief one addressed with honest curiosity to Republicans. It is: When George W. Bush first came on the scene in 2000, did you understand him to be a liberal in terms of spending?The summer of 2005? I've always liked Peggy Noonan, one of Reagan's best speechwriters and a lady who has always been a fine judge of character. But I have to ask her this: Why did it take you, and most Republicans, until after Bush was re-elected to discover that he was a big spender?
The question has been on my mind since the summer of 2005 when, at a gathering of conservatives, the question of Mr. Bush and big spending was raised.
It should have been obvious...no, let's be honest, it was obvious when in 2001 Bush pushed through Congress a nationalization of public schools, rather than eliminating the Department of Education as the GOP had wanted since Reagan. And it was obvious when Bush pushed through Congress the largest welfare expansion since LBJ: the Medicare Drug Benefit. It has been obvious in every budget since he was innaugurated and in the record deficits they brought. It's been obvious in the whimperings of baby seal fiscal conservatives bludgeoned into submission by their own party leadership when they tried to stand in the way of the above.
Those Republicans who are suddenly acting surprized to find out that Bush has busted the budget have one of two problems: either they are dishonest or they are dumb as pig dribble.
I realize Peggy's asking a "what did the voter know and when did he know it?" type of question. But there is nothing new this year, no new program, no new grand spending initiative, that is making the GOP and those pundits who have vociferously supported Bush through 2 elections suddenly shake these fiscal scales from their eyes. These questions are not arising now because Bush's spending benders are suddenly interfering with his day job.
Rather, the truth is far more cynical: the GOP was willing to blindly follow Bush wherever he went so long as his popularity translated into power for them. Now that his war is going to hell and his popularity rating is in the can, now that he's a lame duck with no annointed successor and has made several politically stupid policy decisions, his own party is rebelling because their power is in danger. They must face re-election in mere months, and Bush has become a liability.
Suddenly the things that could be ignored can no longer be, and they will sacrifice him now to save their own asses. Oh, that they would have done it 4 years ago, when it became obvious that Bush's Vision Thing(tm) was the domestic policy of LBJ combined with the foreign policy of Wilson. But for the GOP, it's never too late to throw a drunken sailor overboard.
(hat tip: Vox)