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Big-Government Conservatism

From the August 15, 2003 Wall Street Journal: How George W. Bush squares the fiscally expansive / conservative circle.

12:00 AM, Aug 18, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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A second trait is a programmatic bent. Big government conservatives prefer to be in favor of things because that puts them on the political offensive. Promoting spending cuts/minimalist government doesn't do that. Bush has famously defined himself as a compassionate conservative with a positive agenda. Almost by definition, this makes him a big government conservative. His most ambitious program is his faith-based initiative. It would use government funds to expand social programs run by religious organizations. Many of them have been effective in fighting drug/alcohol addiction and helping lift people out of poverty. So far, the initiative has had only a small impact, its scope limited by Congress.

Another trait is a far more benign view of government than traditional conservatives have. Big government conservatives are favorably disposed toward what neoconservative Irving Kristol has called a "conservative welfare state." (Neocons tend to be big government conservatives.) This means they support transfer payments that have a neutral or beneficial effect (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) and oppose those that subsidize bad behavior (welfare). Bush wants to reform Social Security and Medicare but not shrink either.

Bush has never put a name on his political philosophy, though he once joked that it was based on the premise that you could fool some of the people all of the time and he intended to concentrate on those people. An aide characterized Bushism as "an activist, reforming conservatism that recognizes it's sometimes necessary to use the power of the government to change the status quo." I doubt that Bush would put it that way, but at least it distinguishes him from the ordinary run of conservatives. He's a different breed.

Fred Barnes is the executive editor of The Weekly Standard.