[Mb-civic] George Bush The contradictory conservative Economist

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Sun Sep 5 10:27:38 PDT 2004


George Bush 

The contradictory conservative

Aug 26th 2004 | WASHINGTON, DC
>From The Economist print edition

Despite the narrowness of his mandate, George Bush has done more to alter
America's profile abroad, and its government at home, than any president in

 NEXT weekend, the Republicans, meeting in New York, will anoint George Bush
as their candidate for a second term. His approval ratings in his own party
stand at around 86%. Among Democrats, they run at around 8%. Few presidents
have been loved and loathed as heartily as Mr Bush; few have so starkly
polarised the country; and few have done so much to change both the way
America's government behaves at home, and the way it is perceived abroad.

 The Bush presidency has proved a radical unsettling force, from AIDS policy
in Africa to education reform at home; in different ways, for good and ill,
it has undermined the rulers of both Saudi Arabia and San Francisco. Rather
than offering a compendium of all that Mr Bush has achieved, this special
report will focus on three projects that history may eventually judge the
most controversial: the alleged ³revolution² in foreign policy, the pursuit
of big-government conservatism and the dramatic expansion of presidential
powers. These may not prove the deciding factors in the coming election; but
they may be the ones that resonate longest.

Begin with foreign policy. Mr Bush has had a bigger impact on diplomacy than
any president since Harry Truman. After the second world war, Truman set up
the system of alliances that ensured the Soviet threat would be contained
and American leadership of the West would continue after Europe recovered.
Ronald Reagan turned Truman's creation into more of a public challenge to
what the Soviet Union stood for, but he did not fundamentally alter its

 Mr Bush did. After the end of the cold war‹long after, in fact‹he argued
that the old world order had run its course. He rejected both a supposed
cornerstone‹the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty‹and some later
additions, such as the Kyoto accords and the International Criminal Court,
both also rejected by Congress.

 But Mr Bush's foreign-policy revolution actually came in two steps. The
rejection of the treaties was the first and, since it came to terms with a
geopolitical fact, the Soviet collapse, it may well prove the more lasting.
The second step came only after the September 11th attacks, with the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. In response to the atrocity, NATO for the first time
invoked its article 5 provision that an attack on one member is an attack on
all, signalling a willingness to help America militarily. The Bush
administration was slow to pick up the offer. ³Coalitions of the willing²
took the place of traditional alliances. Then, in Iraq, Mr Bush put his
doctrine of prevention and possible pre-emption into effect. In an age of
global terror, this said, self-defence meant acting alone and pre-emptively,
if need be. Working through the United Nations‹ie, waiting for others‹could
be suicide.

 These two steps obviously had much in common. Both said that treaties can
constrain America's freedom of action and that, when they do, they should be
ignored. Both imply that the exercise of power alone may be enough to
achieve American aims. Still, the second step went beyond the first. It
proposed new rules for going to war and a substitute for traditional
alliances‹the willing coalitions.

 Over the past few weeks, however, these additions have begun to look shaky.
Is the Bush revolution in foreign affairs reaching its limits?

 It may be. In May 2003, on the flight-deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Mr
Bush argued that once upon a time, ³military power was used to end a regime
by breaking a nation. Today we have the greater power to free a nation by
breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime.² Experience in Iraq contradicts
that optimism, or at least suggests that ³freeing a nation² requires more
than just bringing down a troublesome regime. Legitimacy, it turns out,
matters. It does not spring up spontaneously if American motives are pure,
as some in the administration have argued. And coalitions of the willing do
little to confer legitimacy.

 Moreover, as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and Jim Lindsay of
the Council on Foreign Relations have argued, the doctrine of pre-emption
supposes that the intelligence services will be good enough to warn America
of threats before they are realised. The catalogue of errors is not
reassuring on this point.

 Lastly, problems in Iraq have strained the unstable coalition that is Mr
Bush's foreign-policy team. Neo-conservatives, who argue that America's
destiny is to spread democracy round the world, are losing influence. The
world-view of assertive nationalists (notably Dick Cheney, the
vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence), who say
military might will be enough to deter America's enemies, has not been
dethroned. But it has been weakened, and their unilateralist instincts look
more problematic. The ³soft power² diplomats‹Colin Powell and the State
Department‹have become more important. All this raises questions about
support for Mr Bush's foreign policy even within his own cabinet.

 As if to confirm the doubts, the past few months have seen a new look.
Having handed over sovereignty to the Iraqis and got the Security Council's
blessing, as it always meant to, America has also asked Europeans to endorse
its ³Broader Middle East Initiative² and appealed to NATO to help train
Iraqi troops. The big question now is whether these changes are part of a
profound reappraisal of American foreign policy, or whether they are just
tactical adjustments to recent difficulties.

 The honest answer is that it is too early to be sure. But the changes are
probably tactical. Despite the presence of heavyweights in his cabinet, Mr
Bush has always been the author of America's foreign-policy transformation,
and he has repeatedly denied any new change of course. This is not to be
discounted; in foreign affairs, the president has usually signalled what he
is planning to do very clearly.

 It is true that Iraq has raised doubts about the doctrine of prevention and
pre-emption. But the debate has shown that the alternative ³rules for going
to war² are, from America's viewpoint, far worse. This is the claim,
particularly espoused by France and Germany, that, except in the case of
actual attack or imminent threat, countries cannot use military force
legitimately without the approval of the Security Council. No American
president would ever accept, or has ever accepted, such an idea. If others
insist that the alternative to unilateralism is the UN, America will stick
with unilateralism.

 Most important, the underlying rationale of Mr Bush's transformed policy
has not really changed. This is that there is a huge gap in military power
between America and everyone else, that the country has opportunities denied
to anyone else and that traditional alliances are therefore useful rather
than necessary. Iraq has shown that the exercise of American power is harder
than the administration thought; but the exercise of power is still what
matters most to Mr Bush. In that sense, his foreign policy is being refined,
not retooled.

 Mr Bush once campaigned as a proponent of a ³humble² foreign policy. In
practice, he has not provided one. On the domestic front, he has been
equally surprising. And despite the narrowness of his mandate, he has proved
as polarising at home as he is abroad. Consider, next, the peculiar
character of the president's domestic conservatism.

 A big-government guy

This is one of the most conservative politicians ever to inhabit the White
House. Mr Bush has fed red meat to the various groups that make up the
conservative coalition‹opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell
research for social conservatives; the invasion of Iraq for
neo-conservatives; tax-breaks and deregulation for business conservatives.
He has driven liberals stark raving bonkers. ³Among the worst presidents in
US history,² proclaimed Jonathan Chait in the New Republic. ³Incomparably
more dangerous than Reagan or any other president in this nation's history,²
wrote Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect.

 But exactly what sort of conservative is Mr Bush? Ever since Barry
Goldwater's quixotic bid for the White House in 1964, American conservatism
has been a small-government philosophy. Ronald Reagan regarded government as
the problem rather than the solution, and therefore shrank social
programmes. Newt Gingrich's troops assaulted not just Lyndon Johnson's Great
Society but also a pillar of FDR's New Deal, the welfare system.

 Mr Bush's track-record has been very different. While cutting taxes in a
dramatic way that Mr Reagan would surely have applauded, he has relentlessly
expanded both the scale and scope of central government‹in order to advance
the conservative cause. Mr Bush has tried to preside over the birth of a new
political philosophy: big-government conservatism.

 The Bush presidency has seen the biggest increase in discretionary spending
since his fellow Texan, Johnson, was in the White House (see chart 1). In
his first term, according to the 2005 budget, total federal spending will
rise by 29%, more than triple the rate of increase in Bill Clinton's second
term. The Bush administration raised spending on education from $36 billion
in 2001 to $63 billion in 2004, a 75% increase; it has also pushed through
the biggest expansion of Medicare, the federal health-care plan for the old,
since the programme was created in the 1960s. More people now work for the
federal government than at any time in history.

It could be argued that the expansion of government under Mr Bush is the
unfortunate consequence of events, particularly the September 11th attacks.
The terrorist threat more or less forced the government to create a giant
new homeland-security apparatus, which Mr Bush at first opposed. Mr Bush has
promised conservatives that he will try to get spending under control; the
2005 budget envisions domestic discretionary spending rising by only 0.5%
and calls for the abolition of 65 federal programmes, saving $4.9 billion.

Not just homeland security

Yet this argument seems unconvincing. The war on terror accounts for only
part of the increase in government spending. As for Mr Bush's promise that
he will eventually get spending under control, the White House has already
embraced commitments that could keep government growing for years. On some
estimates, the Medicare bill alone could end up costing $2 trillion in its
second decade.

Mr Bush's big-government conservatism goes beyond a mere blind response to
events. During the 2000 campaign, he made it clear that he had a different
attitude to government from his fellow conservatives. He sang the praises of
³focused, effective and energetic government². Rather than calling for the
abolition of the Department of Education, like the rest of his fellow
conservatives, he called for its expansion. He even had a good word to say
about Johnson's Great Society.

Mr Bush's big-government conservatism also goes beyond a mere willingness to
spend public money. He has reversed a long-standing Republican commitment to
decentralisation by giving the federal government a greater role in setting
education standards than it has ever had before. He has also reversed a
long-standing Republican suspicion of government bossiness by trying to use
government to promote conservative values. The Education Department is
promoting abstinence in sex education. The Department of Health and Human
Services is trying to use the welfare system to advocate the virtues of
marriage and responsible fatherhood. John Ashcroft's Justice Department has
ridden over states' rights to prosecute people who believe in assisted
suicide and the medical use of marijuana.

 Where has all this come from? Mr Bush turned to big-government conservatism
as an antidote to growing problems of the small-government kind. As the
1990s wore on, Mr Gingrich and his merry band increasingly tried America's
patience with their bomb-throwing radicalism. The middle classes had been
happy to advocate tough love for the poor, but they were much less happy
when the tough love involved cuts to Medicare or student loans. Not
unfairly, Mr Bush calculated that making peace with government was the only
way to re-endear conservatism to the middle class.

 Many of his fervent supporters regarded tax cuts as their highest priority:
cuts that Mr Bush duly delivered. But many elements in the conservative
coalition also looked to government to solve their problems. Business people
wanted the government to subsidise their industries at home and promote
their interests abroad. Corporate America had been calling for educational
reform for years. Social conservatives were keen on using government to
promote ³virtue² or eradicate ³vice² (from assisted suicide to pot-smoking),
a position highly attractive to a president who starts every cabinet meeting
with a prayer. The White House and the Republican majority in Congress
worked assiduously to shower government largesse on Republican-leaning
interest groups. Agricultural legislation involved a huge give-away to
agribusiness; prescription-drugs legislation provided a bonanza for the
pharmaceutical industry.

The neo-conservative intelligentsia has played as vital a role in promoting
big-government conservatism as it did in promoting the Iraq war. Irving
Kristol, the godfather of neo-conservatism, sees the growth of the state as
³natural, indeed inevitable². His son Bill uses his Weekly Standard magazine
to lead a crusade to replace ³leave-us-alone conservatism² with
³national-greatness conservatism². Mr Kristol and his supporters argue that
³wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine², and that loving your
country while hating its government is not a sustainable philosophical
position. Besides, there is no need to hate government if it is in the right
(Republican) hands.

 A lasting philosophy?

The most compelling argument in favour of Mr Bush's policies is that he is
doing more than just expanding government. He is increasingly tying public
spending to competition and accountability. The No Child Left Behind Act,
the most interesting reform of American education for a generation, uses a
combination of national standards and standardised testing to measure
children's progress: if too many children in a particular school fail to hit
the required standards, then parents have the right to move them elsewhere.
The Medicare reforms have been a way of introducing medical savings
accounts. The proposed individual investment accounts in Social Security
(federal pensions) will give individuals more responsibility for managing
their nest eggs. This emphasis on accountability explains why public-sector
unions loathe Mr Bush, despite his big-spending ways.

 Yet attempts to introduce competition in schools or health care have not
gone very far. There are good reasons to doubt whether the educational
bureaucracy will ever have the guts to close down failing schools. The Bush
administration signally failed to use the expansion of Medicare as a lever
for introducing structural reforms, such as means-testing. Mr Bush's only
real chance to build choice into the heart of a government programme lies in
his mooted Social Security reforms.

 Even if these programmes can be made to work, big-government conservatism
undoubtedly has drawbacks. The new creed's biggest problem is simple: if you
cut taxes deeply while increasing spending lavishly, you end up with a
gigantic deficit. This newspaper is not about to argue that cutting taxes is
wrong in principle: the Republican Party's instinct that it is better to
leave money in voters' pockets than to give it to bureaucrats has been one
of its most attractive features. But big, persistent budget deficits also
put a burden on people. If the Republicans continue to tax like a
small-government party and spend like a big-government one, deficits could
average $500 billion a year for the next decade‹an alarming prospect. Mr
Bush should be preparing for the retirement of the huge baby-boomer

Nor is big-government conservatism the political cure-all that it might
seem. It is alienating big chunks of the Republican coalition. Libertarians
don't want to be told whether they can smoke pot by Mr Ashcroft.
Old-fashioned conservatives don't want to see Washington extending its power
over local schools. And good-government types don't want to see the deficit
balloon out of control.

 Senator John McCain has reprimanded Mr Bush for failing to use his veto to
control a Congress which is spending money ³like a drunken sailor². Rush
Limbaugh has complained that Mr Bush's legacy may be the greatest increase
in domestic spending, and one of the greatest setbacks to liberty, in modern
times. ³This may be compassionate², says Mr Limbaugh, ³but it is not
conservatism at all.²

 A third problem lies with unintended consequences. Forty years ago, the
founding fathers of neo-conservatism criticised the Great Society on the
grounds that its soaring intentions often produced bad results: rent control
reduces the availability of affordable housing, for example. The biggest
unintended consequence of Mr Bush's efforts may be that big-government
conservatism morphs into big-government liberalism. Government is by its
nature a knife that cuts to the left, in part because government employees
tend to be on the left, in part because government programmes promote
dependency. Rather than twisting government to conservative ends, the
Republicans may simply be creating yet more ammunition for future Democratic

 Mr Bush is nothing if not ambitious. If his new philosophy endures, he will
be a transformative figure in the history of the modern conservative
movement. If it fails, he will be seen as a domestic policymaker who doomed
himself by ignoring the central insight of the revolution that began with
Goldwater: that the essence of conservatism lies in shrinking government.

Mr Bush's presidency has been radical not only in what he has tried to do,
but in the way he has gone about doing it. His term has seen an
extraordinary change in style. Partly by his own efforts, partly as a result
of underlying forces, he has increased the power of the presidency at the
expense of other branches of government. This is the third great project of
his presidency, the least noticed outside Washington, DC, and perhaps the
most worrying.

Imperium revisited

 Mr Bush came to office arguing that restrictions on presidential authority,
especially since Watergate, had harmed decision-making. The implication is
that good government requires a certain period of privacy in which officials
can thrash out policies. The public should judge only the result. In 2002,
his vice-president, Dick Cheney, said, ³I have repeatedly seen an erosion of
the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his
job.² He said he and Mr Bush had talked about the need to ³pass on our
offices in better shape than we found them to our successors.² They have
succeeded, after a fashion, but at a heavy cost.

 Unified government, with the administration and Congress under the same
party's control, tends to boost presidential authority anyway‹the more so
this time, as the Republican Party is fairly disciplined. Tom DeLay, the
majority leader in the House of Representatives, has defined his job simply:
³How do I advance the president's agenda?² The party's narrow majority keeps
troops in line. Lest there be any backsliding, Mr Bush's personal
campaigning in the 2002 mid-term elections reminded congressmen and senators
of their interest in keeping on good terms with him.

 More important, wars always increase the powers of the executive branch.
Because it has implications for America's domestic freedoms, the war on
terror may well end up increasing executive power more than most.

 But Mr Bush's ambitions have gone beyond what these underlying forces make
inevitable. One measure of his ambition was the claim of the Office of Legal
Counsel in the Justice Department (the administration's main source of legal
advice), made in August 2002, that the president's authority as
commander-in-chief was in effect unlimited in the conduct of a war. As the
legal opinion put it, he ³enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his
commander-in-chief authority.²

 This claim showed how expansive Mr Bush's view of his powers could be. No
former president had gone that far. In fact, it was too far. The Supreme
Court said the constitution did not warrant such a reading and struck down
the policy based on it: holding detainees from the war in Afghanistan
without charge. But the case was unusual only in that the high court
overruled Mr Bush. More commonly, he has had his way.

 The most important check on a president's authority is Congress, formally
the sovereign power. To see how Mr Bush and his allies have treated the
legislature, consider the Medicare bill.

 In January 2003, the White House sent Congress a proposal for reform of the
health-care system. The price tag, it said, was $400 billion. The real cost
was $534 billion. Medicare's chief actuary was told not to answer
congressional questions on pain of dismissal. After the House and Senate
passed different versions of the proposal, the Republicans began work to
reconcile the two. They refused to let five of the Democrats nominated to
the process take part in deliberations‹and rewrote the bill.

 Even then, they fell short of a majority when voting began, at 3am. Defying
precedent, the House leadership held the vote open for three hours while
arms were twisted. The bill finally passed just before 6am. Norm Ornstein,
of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called it the ugliest
breach of congressional standards in modern history.

 Making laws has always been like making sausages (don't look closely). When
the Democrats were in charge, they did not always run Congress as prescribed
in the civics textbooks. Some of Congress's hallowed traditions could do
with pruning, especially the power of committees.

 But the Republicans have put forward none of this in mitigation. Instead,
they have claimed, in essence, that the ends justify the means. Mr Bush,
they say, has pushed big tax cuts and education and health-care reforms
through a closely divided, bitterly partisan institution. The alternative to
such strong-arm tactics was legislative gridlock, which, they argue, would
have been worse.

 Even if you think the ends are good, the means have inflicted institutional
harm on Congress. The committee system for amending bills has all but
collapsed. Bills are now written by the leaders and their staffs, in concert
with the White House. Debate is often cut off: many controversial measures
are voted on under a ³closed rule², which bars amendments. The conference
stage, when different versions of a bill are reconciled, has been turned
from an occasion for compromise into yet another opportunity for partisan
gain. Sometimes the conference committee does not meet at all. Sometimes
Republicans have ignored the rule that says the committee can only iron out
differences, and have fundamentally altered bills at the last minute. The
budget process is in tatters.

 Dozing watchdogs

 As for Congress's other main job‹oversight of the administration‹that has
declined too, with a few exceptions (the Senate Armed Services Committee
held useful hearings on the Abu Ghraib scandal). Serious investigation has
been left to special commissions, such as the one that looked into the
September 11th attacks. The responsibility for this lies largely with
congressional Republicans: they are reluctant to investigate one of their
own. But Mr Bush has not exactly shown deference to Congress's oversight
role. The White House refused to let Tom Ridge, the head of homeland
security, testify in 2002. It declared it would not answer questions from
Democrats on budget committees. Mr Bush refused to testify before the 9/11
commission. In all these cases, the administration finally backed down. But
at a time of dramatic change, the watchdogs of Congress have been dozing.

 Congressional oversight is at the heart of the administration's claim that
excessive intrusiveness is harming executive decision-making. The cause
célèbre in this case was the new energy policy. When Democrats attempted to
force the vice-president to reveal whom he had met while formulating an
energy bill, Mr Cheney refused, arguing that the constitution protects the
president and vice-president from congressional attempts to reveal details
of their deliberations. As the solicitor-general argued to the Supreme
Court, ³Congress may neither intrude on the president's ability to perform
these [deliberative] functions, nor authorise private litigants to use the
court to do so.² On this occasion, Mr Cheney prevailed. His victory will
encourage future administrations.

 But the administration has not stopped there. The power of the president is
limited not only by the might of Congress but by a host of smaller laws and
administrative rules: freedom-of-information requests, the power to classify
documents, and civil-service procedures. Partly in response to domestic
security worries, the discretionary power of the executive has increased
substantially in these areas.

 The best-known examples come from the Patriot Act, which boosted
law-enforcement powers and surveillance. That act, at least, was passed by
Congress and is subject to congressional review. More commonly, the
administration has increased its powers by asserting them. Soon after
September 11th, Mr Ashcroft issued new guidelines on freedom-of-information
requests. The attorney-general reversed the Clinton-era policy of rejecting
such requests only if to allow them would cause ³substantial harm².
Public-interest groups complain that requests are now often denied, even
over matters that seem to have nothing to do with security, such as
pollution or car safety.

 According to figures from the National Archives, around 44m documents were
classified in the first two years of the current administration‹as many as
in the whole of Mr Clinton's second term. More officials‹including, for some
reason, the secretary of agriculture‹have been given the power to classify
materials. This is more than just a response to September 11th. Mr Bush has
issued an executive order overturning the rule that presidential papers are
automatically declassified 12 years after presidents leave office; instead,
he said, former presidents could decide whether to disclose their papers
during their lifetimes, and the incumbent president would also have power of

In the details

A subset of this reaction against scrutiny is the use of what might be
called government by small print: slipping additions into law at the last
minute or tinkering with the wording of rules that implement laws. As a
recent series in the Washington Post argued, such changes often appear minor
but can have a big impact. By changing the word ³waste² to ³fill² in a rule
governing coal-mining, for instance, the administration allowed an increase
in strip-mining in West Virginia. By adding two sentences about scientific
evidence to an unrelated budget bill, it gave itself increased authority to
rule in regulatory disputes.

Perhaps the most disturbing way in which the administration has increased
its power has been through its public-relations machine. Thomas Jefferson
said long ago that a well-informed electorate is the most important
constraint on government. By issuing partial and sometimes misleading
information, the Bush administration has hampered such scrutiny.

 Consider for instance the arguments for tax cuts. Here, Mr Bush made claims
about the cost of the cuts and their distributional impact that he should
have known were misleading. In 2000, he claimed the first round of cuts
would cost $1.6 trillion over ten years, a quarter of the budget surplus at
that point. On his own figures, the share was a third, not a quarter, and he
arrived at the figure only through outrageous accounting gimmicks that he is
now campaigning to forbid.

 He also asserted that the cuts would provide ³the greatest help for those
most in need², providing a Treasury study to back up his claim. In the past,
Treasury studies have been impartial. But this one arrived at its conclusion
by leaving out the parts of the tax cut that most benefited the wealthiest
(such as the repeal of the estate tax). By any normal measure, the tax cuts
have been regressive‹hardly ³the greatest help for those most in need².

 Taking facts out of context, politicising government studies and presenting
anomalous examples as typical are hardly unique to the Bush administration.
But they still do damage. The system of checks and balances‹indeed,
democracy itself‹requires voters to be able to understand the impact of
actions taken on their behalf, so they can apportion credit or blame fairly.
If it is impossible to tell how much of the administration's arguments for
war were vindicated or disproved, or who the tax cuts really helped, then
proper public accounting is impossible.

 Beyond that, members of the administration have occasionally acted in ways
that have discouraged public debate directly. In May 2002, the White House's
communications director, Dan Bartlett, argued in the Washington Post that
Democratic criticisms of administration actions before September 11th were
³exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do.² Mr Ashcroft had
earlier conflated civil-liberties activists with terrorist sympathisers,
telling Congress: ³To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of
lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists.² All
this came near to arguing that, after September 11th, debate itself could be

 Mr Bush has frequently said that voters will give their verdict in
November, and that he looks forward to it. But quadrennial elections are not
the only means of restraining government. The genius of the American system
is that administrations must work within a system of checks and balances.
These checks have themselves been checked.

 Congress is the main competing source of power. It has become more like an
adjunct to the administration. Information encourages public scrutiny. The
flow has been reduced. The administration's actions are filtered through
civil-service rules and procedures. The rules have been chopped and changed.
A free press is essential to the working of democracy. Andy Card, the White
House chief of staff, rejected that view, arguing ³I don't believe you [the
press] have a check-and-balance function.² On occasion, the administration
has even crossed the line separating the interests of the state from the
party by using taxpayers' money to finance advertising for the Medicare

 Almost all governments bend the truth. This one has seldom resorted to
outright falsehood; instead, the administration has manipulated public
information and breached basic standards of political conduct in Congress,
the civil service and public debate. Whatever the merits of increasing
presidential authority, Mr Bush has achieved his aim less by winning support
for more power than by weakening the authority of other institutions.

In the round

Mr Bush's supporters may regard carping on about this expansion of powers as
a distraction from other more visible achievements of his presidency. Look,
they may argue, at the way that the White House has set about reducing
nuclear proliferation, or at his plans to build an ownership society at
home, or at the long-term economic stimulus of his tax reform. From the
other side, his critics complain that the administration has trashed the
environment, or worsened inequality, or schemed to roll back abortion

 It usually takes some time for the true significance of any presidency to
emerge. Mr Bush's most contentious projects may come to seem relatively
unimportant. For now, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this
presidency is the extent to which it has already confounded expectations.
When Mr Bush was elected, it was widely believed that his power would be
slight and he would achieve little. For better or worse, those predictions
were refuted. Whether this will help or harm him in November remains to be

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