George W. Nixon?

Jonah Goldberg makes a comparison between George W. Bush and Richard Nixon that actually works:

Bush is certainly to the right of Nixon on many issues. But at the philosophical level, he shares the Nixonians’ supreme confidence in the power of the state. Bush rejects limited government and many of the philosophical assumptions that underlie that position. He favors instead strong government. He believes, as he said in 2003, that when “somebody hurts, government has got to move.” His compassionate conservatism shares with Nixon’s moderate Republicanism a core faith that not only can the government love you, but it should spend money to prove its love. Beyond that, there seems to be no core set of principles that define Bush’s approach, and therefore, much like Nixon, no clearly communicable message that explains why he does things other than political calculation and expediency.

I think that last bit really hits it on the head. Nixon’s downfall was the fact that he had no clue how to communicate with the American people. Bush, while much more personable on a personal level than Nixon (which, granted, isn’t all that hard. A pit bull on PCP would be more personable than Nixon), shares his inability to communicate with the American people and effectively use the bully-pulpit of the Presidency. Both had moments of rhetorical greatness – Nixon had his “Checkers” speech and Bush had his much more momentous speech to Congress after 9/11 – but neither were able to sell their brand of big-government conservatism. And indeed, from steel tariffs to gay marriage, the Bush Administration is never able to go out and truly sell their policies.

Bush, much to his credit, has steered the US’ foreign policy away from the amoral realpolitik that Nixon championed, and programs like the Millennium Challenge Account are groundbreaking efforts to make US foreign aid actually do some good. But when it comes to domestic policy, Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” is a mishmash of big-government initiatives and nanny-state paternalism. The left hates Bush, and the right is deeply skeptical of his domestic policies, and Bush’s approval ratings are now in the toilet because of it all.

A better communicator might be able to sell Bush’s vision, but Bush’s previous successes have all been based on getting the other side to accept his “aww shucks” charm and go along with his plans. The ravenously partisan and increasingly unhinged Democratic left would rather tear him limb from limb, and Bush has been left without his most potent political weapon for much of his Presidency. What worked for Bush in Texas just doesn’t work in Washington – not after the 2000 election and especially not after Iraq.

Bush was never truly a Reagan Republican, except perhaps outside America’s shores. Sadly, that shows in his lackluster and often deeply un-conservative domestic policies. As much as the left would love another Watergate, they’re unlikely to get it (not for lack of trying), but Bush is doing a fine enough of job of taking himself down as it is.

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