I missed this piece by George Will from the other day. He makes the strong argument that Bush is being as conservative as he can be and is using government for conservative ends.
Today “strong government conservatism” — “strong” is not synonymous with “big” — is the only conservatism palatable to a public that expects government to assuage three of life’s largest fears: illness, old age and educational deficits that prevent social mobility. Some conservatives believe government strength is inherently inimical to conservative aspirations. This belief mistakenly assumes that all government action is merely coercive, hence a subtraction from freedom. But government can act strongly to make itself less controlling and intrusive, enacting laws that offer opportunities and incentives for individuals to become more self-sufficient.
Today, as for two centuries, the left-right divide is defined by different valuations of equality and freedom. Liberals favor expanding government controls, shrinking the sphere of freedom of choice, to promote equality — equal dependence on government-provided education, health and pension entitlements.
Conservatives say this produces a culture of dependency. It diminishes individual competence and dignity and impedes the progress that results from competing social alternatives — in education, health care and pensions. Conservatives say inequalities of outcomes are manifestations of freedom and prerequisites for progress.
Will concludes his piece by stating:
So Bush’s presidency, which seals his party’s coming-to-terms with the need to put strong government in the service of conservative values, is neither a surrender to the liberal agenda nor an armistice in the struggle over whether social policy should emphasize equality or freedom. Rather, it liberates Republicans to adopt reforms in the provision of education, health care and pensions. Such reforms will drive Democrats into reactionary liberalism: defense of the dependency culture and its increasing constriction of individuals’ choices.
Republicans plan to sacrifice some equality to promote individualism. Democrats want to limit freedom of choice in order to promote the social solidarity of equal dependence on government provision of services. Nov. 2 may indeed reshape relations between the individual and the federal government that was born after 1932.