In all that he has tried to do-reform education, fix social security, restore religion to the public square, assert American greatness, appoint good judges-Bush has proved himself a conservative. ~Joseph Bottum

It is hard to express how mistaken this is.  “Reforming” education by engaging in massive centralisation is not related to any conservatism concerned either with federalism and the American political tradition of cultivating variety and local responsibility.  Mr. Bush might get some credit for at least attempting to “fix” Social Security, if “fixing” a program that conservatives have historically wanted to eliminate had something to do with conservatism.  Obviously, I don’t accept that it does, so there’s really not much more to say there.  Naturally, every claim Mr. Bottum makes is a contested one because most of Bush’s conservative critics would not accept what Bottum or Bush mean by conservative.     

Had Mr. Bush had done anything tangible or, indeed, had he done anything concrete to “restore religion to the public square,” we could all agree that this was a very good thing and even a conservative thing.  However, in all fairness, what has he done along these lines?  Aside from talking up the “religion of peace” and marking Eid in the White House, which is not what I think most Christians have in mind when they say “restore religion to the public square,” I cannot think of anything Mr. Bush has had to do with religion in public life that has been in any noteworthy.  In fact, Mr. Bush has helped to drive religion out of the public square on at least one occasion.  It was this administration that worked with Alabama Republicans to pull the rug out from under Roy Moore during the Ten Commandments controversy.  When it comes to prominent episodes when Mr. Bush might have defended the place of religion in the public square, he is nowhere to be found.

Of course, from a “new fusionist” perspective, I suppose someone would think that it is conservative to “assert American greatness.”  But what exactly does this “assertion” entail?  It involves hubris, disregard for international law, executive overreach, unconstitutional acts and aggression against other nations and an ahistorical fantasy that radically different cultures can be made over in our image through the application of force.  If a weird sort of Wilsonianism-cum-chauvinism combined with rank illegality, immorality and injustice are conservative, count me out.  Happily, I believe these things demonstrate the complete or near-complete lack of a conservative mind and conservative spirit in Mr. Bush and his cheerleaders.  If I believed otherwise, I don’t really see how I could take conservatism seriously.  Mr. Bottum’s defense is the classic retreat of the ideologist who has to explain the divergence between the promises of the ideology he defends and the stark realities of failure: he has to argue that there was nothing wrong with the principles that were employed, but that it was simply flawed execution by bumbling politicians.  The solution is not to abandon the hideous ideas that have failed so miserably, but to regroup and declare renewed zeal to implementing those ideas ”the right way.”  But even successes would not make these ideas conservative ones.  Even had Mr. Bush more competently “asserted American greatness,” this would simply make him a successful nationalist-imperialist, because in the very act of asserting said “greatness” Mr. Bush has had to do violence to our general tradition (not only always observed, but usually) of nonaggression and has hitched that “greatness” to liberal revolutionary goals for which I think most conservatives, when they think on the matter seriously, have no sympathy. 

So it comes down to the judges.  Frankly, as relatively acceptable as his selections to the Court were, they cannot begin to make up for the staggering damage that his policies have done, both to this country and to conservatism itself.  Yes, there has been incompetence, but a “successful” Iraq war would have been in some ways even more injurious to American interests, since it would have made aggressive interventionist warmaking the signature policy of a conservative foreign policy for the future and would have opened the door to multiple interventions in the near future, any one of which could have become even more ruinous debacles than the current war.  The only thing more horrifying than a bumbling idealistic foreign policy is a well-executed, highly effective interventionist approach that makes our government into an engine of political upheaval and the destruction of settled, traditional societies.  Imagine Jacobins who performed with stereotypical German efficiency and expertise, and you might have an idea of what sort of destruction and evils such a combination could cause.