Bush, Politics and Policy

A great read in the LA Times today, Bush’s Scorched-Earth Campaign.

From the moment of his disputed election in 2000, President Bush has been dramatically reversing the traditional relationship between politics and policy. In his administration, politics seem less a means to policy than policy is a means to politics. Its goal is not to further the conservative revolution as advertised. The presidency’s real goal is to disable the Democratic opposition, once and for all.

The difference between Rove and former political operatives like Michael Deaver in the Reagan administration and Dick Morris in Clinton’s is that he doesn’t just advise on the political consequences of policy; he seems to be involved in crafting policy, making him arguably the single most important advisor in the White House. Rove’s hand and guiding spirit are everywhere evident. As John DiIulio, who briefly headed Bush’s faith-based initiative, indiscreetly put it in an interview last year, everything in this administration is political, by which he meant that everything is the product of political calculation and everything is devised specifically for political advantage.

The column goes on to say that the model for getting rid of political opposition is “defunding” in the same way that the tax cuts are really about defunding government so it just dries up and goes away. Specifically:

  • Tort Reform – Caps on jury awards are really caps on trial lawyer income, so they can’t donate to the Democrats.
  • School Vouchers – Getting rid of public schools gets rid of teacher’s unions, so they can’t donate to the Democrats.
  • The FCC Ruling – Getting rid of opposing voices in the media is really about getting Democrats off the air.
  • The Faith-Based Initiative – Funneling money to the Right’s friends and undermining “more liberal-oriented community institutions and advocates that might aid the Democrats.”
  • Appointing Far-Right Federalist Society Judges – To “disable laws — like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act — that favor Democrats by regulating fund-raising, but also to make laws that will aid Republicans in a host of areas, from the environment to product safety to redistricting.”
  • Getting Rid of Affirmative Action – “a long-range political plan to slow the growth of a minority professional class that would be likely to vote Democratic.”
  • Privatizing Social Security and Medicare – “a blow aimed at the base of the Democratic Party, because these programs are most identified with Democrats and are still a reliable source of goodwill for the part.”
  • Iraq War – “struck the Democratic Party at one of its vulnerabilities: the idea that Democrats are weak on defense.”
  • Middle-East Peace – “pry Jewish voters and contributors from the Democratic Party.”
  • 9/11 Response – “an all-purpose excuse for any anti-Democratic policy and pronouncement, including accusing Democrats of deficient patriotism.”

From the column:

Rove can operate in broad daylight partly because what he is doing is perfectly legal, partly because his plan is so bold that he realizes no one in the media is likely to call him on it, and partly because demonizing and destroying Democrats is now a tenet of the party he guides. It has been said of Bush that he intends to finish the Reagan revolution by embedding conservatism so deeply into the governmental fabric that it will take generations to undo it. What he is really finishing, though, is not the Reagan revolution but the Clinton wars, which had far less to do with ideology than with politics.

For Bush policy is about politics ONLY. There is no “policy” in this administration that is designed to help the citizens of the country or the interests of the nation. It is ALL politics.

That is why, one suspects, Bush elicits such deep antagonism from the left — deeper perhaps than any political figure since Nixon, even though he is personally genial and charming. At some level, maybe only subliminally, liberals know what the president and Rove are up to and fear that they will succeed in dismantling an effective two-party system. The left knows that Rove and company aren’t keen on debating issues, negotiating, compromising and horse-trading, the usual means of getting things done politically. On the contrary: The administration is intent on foreclosing them.

As much as liberals abhor the conservative agenda, there is something far more frightening to them now — not that Republicans have an ideological grand plan but that they don’t have one. Instead, the GOP plan is policy solely in the service of politics, which should terrify democrats everywhere.

Maybe the clue was when Bush said during the campaign that he would work with the Democrats, and said he was “a uniter, not a divider.” That was a tip-of that he wouldn’t work with the Democrats and would divide the country right down the middle. This is the guy who said he doesn’t look at polls and focus groups – because polls and focus groups told him to say that. The guy who was willing to say Al Gore would say anything to win.

Update – Calpundit comments on the same column:

[Bush is] a furious political animal who is uninterested in compromise and whose main goal is to defeat his enemies, not advance a cause. Ideology is actually secondary, and is useful mainly as a way to batter his political opposites.

Although this has been evident in a number of battles, nowhere was it more striking than in the runup to the Iraq war. From the very beginning, it was clear that Bush wasn’t trying to build bipartisan support, the normal course for a president embarking on a foreign war, but was using it as a partisan club and a campaign issue, a way of dividing the Democrats and making them look weak on national security. It’s true that it’s been a while since politics truly stopped at the water’s edge, but Bush has well and truly put that particular political maxim to bed once and for all.

The 2004 election is going to be one of the nastiest on record, I think. I hope the Democratic nominee is up to it.