The Struggles of an “Orthodox Innovator”
George W. Bush, the Conservative Movement, and Domestic Policy
The “conservative movement” is widely regarded as a coalition, either of ideas or of institutions. The movement can be considered a loose association, expressing itself at mass and elite levels, through think tanks, individual academics and schools, journalists, interest groups, mass membership organizations, members of the public, and internet sites. Equally, the movement can be perceived as an amalgam of people advocating interrelated ideas, among whom could be included libertarians, advocates of limited government, free marketeers, fiscal conservatives, business and financial interests, those advocating state and local government power, traditionalists both social and economic, family values advocates, certain Christian groups, single-issue campaigners, national security hawks, anticommunists, and neoconservatives. Over recent decades, elements of this movement have found public voice in politics through the Republican Party. Hence, much of the movement welcomed the first George W. Bush administration. This enthusiasm seemed reinforced by a president who, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, quickly adapted to Washington’s extreme partisanship and mobilized Republican congressional majorities on many issues.1 Furthermore, an electoral strategy based on mobilizing the conservative base, rather than presidential candidates’ traditional appeal to the center, suggested Bush would maintain a close relationship with the conservative movement.2 Yet by 2008, the movement appeared in disarray, perhaps even moving toward civil war. Respected movement leaders published titles such as Conservatives Betrayed and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.3 The Bush betrayal featured repeatedly in right-wing explanations of the 2008 election results. While Bush’s foreign policy drew criticism, conservatives were most exercised over domestic policy.
This chapter examines four of Bush’s domestic policy initiatives: reforms of education, Medicare, Social Security, and immigration. Each is considered in terms of its congruence with conservative ideologies, conservative responses to the