October 26, 2005
Bush Has Been a Moderate All Along

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

SAN DIEGO -- Now that the neocons seem to be growing disenchanted with President Bush for not being conservative enough to suit them, I can't help but be amused.

That's what I like about Bush -- the fact that he doesn't fit neatly into an ideological box.

I also can't help but think of the story of the woman who complains that her husband won't change -- won't take out the trash, do the dishes, or stop watching football on Sunday afternoons. The husband doesn't understand why his wife is upset. After all, he has always been this way. He was this way when she met him, and she married him anyway. So why is she angry now?

It's the same thing here. I wonder why so many hard-right conservatives are suddenly furious at Bush when they supported him in two presidential elections. Some point to the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court as evidence that the president takes lightly the need to have on the court an ideological warrior. Others go further and suggest the president is straying from conservative principles. Yet this assumes that Bush ever adhered to those principles to begin with. And that's not so.

About a year ago, I wrote a column in which I described Bush as a moderate, and a lot of Democrats wrote back and suggested it was a joke. Now there aren't many Republicans who are laughing.

Bush is the same person he has been since he ran for Texas governor in 1994. What you see is what you get. He doesn't spend a lot of time reinventing or repackaging himself. In fact, he prides himself on not changing his ways. What was it that he promised Republican senators about Miers? That she won't change. You see, for Bush, that's high praise.

Speaking of Miers, her nomination is the big reason that Bush is taking fire from the right. But it isn't the only reason. Many hard-line conservatives have never felt confident that Bush was one of them. Because of his positions on a host of issues -- from increasing government spending to making diversity a priority in Cabinet appointments to promising amnesty to illegal immigrants to increasing funding for public housing to urging that the Supreme Court preserve the ability of the University of Michigan to take the race of applicants into account even while opposing quotas and outright racial preferences -- many Republicans have long been suspicious of the man they have chosen to lead them.

Now failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork writes in an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal that ``this George Bush, like his father, is showing himself to be indifferent, if not actively hostile, to conservative values.''

But why is that a surprise to Bork? Over all these years, where Bush stood wasn't exactly a secret. He was in the middle of the road.

While governor of Texas, he shooed away folks who were proposing a ballot initiative -- modeled after California's Proposition 187 -- that would have denied benefits to illegal immigrants. He displayed a detectable lack of enthusiasm for school vouchers. He avoided making an issue out of abortion. And he declared that bilingual education programs that worked were worth keeping. He also partnered with Democrats in the Texas Legislature, and shared credit for legislative victories with members of the opposing party.

Now conservatives worry that Bush isn't a real conservative, or at least someone who is driven by conservative principles.

Nah, you think?

Here's the real story. Despite his record in Texas and the record he later accumulated during the first term as president, Republicans kept Bush as the leader of their party.

They did so for the same reason that former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown supported a Democratic governor from Arkansas in 1992, despite concerns that the candidate was too conservative. For Brown, it was all about being practical. ``I'm tired of losing,'' he said at the time. ``I just want to win.'' Bill Clinton was seen as a winner, and so Brown backed him.

For conservatives, the seeds of their discontent were planted in the Republican primaries of the 2000 election. Back then, with much of the GOP establishment lined up behind him, Bush looked like a winner. And so many Republicans threw their support to him. Whether or not he was conservative enough didn't seem to matter at the time, nor did it matter in 2004 when he ran for re-election. All that mattered was that he could win.

Conservatives might not like where they've arrived, but they should at least accept the fact that getting here was no accident.

© 2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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