Bush As Leader

I've been meaning to call your attention to the exchange between Jody Bottum and Michael Novak about Bush's leadership (con and pro, respectively) in the current issue of First Things. I think Bottum's mistaken about Bush, particularly on the life issues. It's now clear that Bush's thread-the-needle prudential decision on stem cells at the start of his administration was brilliant --it delayed what at the time seemed the inevitable federal funding of embryo destruction for four years --buying us the time to find many alternative sources of stem cells. I don't understand why Bush doesn't get tremendous credit for that from pro-lifers. Do they not understand that if he'd simply refused all research at the time there was a veto-proof majority ready to impose a regime of embryo destruction on us? His decision was solomonic --preserving respect for life and sucking the momentum out of Sen. Kennedy's efforts simultaneously. And later he used his first veto on a Senate soylent green scheme using frozen embryos. And that's to say nothing of the literally hundreds of splendid appointments Bush has made to the bench.

At No Left Turns, Prof. Knippenberg points out Novak's additional remarks on this topic:
As often as possible, in as many ways as possible, he is using as the dynamo of personal choice and the methods of the market, not direct state-management, in order to make government programs more effective and more efficient. That is why Democrats, both of the old New Deal-type and of the new Clinton-type, oppose him so fiercely. They seem to see what he is up to better than many uneasy conservatives do.
Try to imagine the conservative future as Bush is trying to: Old-age assistance is mostly achieved by personal tax-exempt pension accounts. Medicare and other health expenses are paid for by means of personal, tax-exempt medical accounts(partly used for catastrophic insurance, mostly for ordinary health spending, and with a new incentive to watch over normal expenses carefully). Parental choice and market mechanisms help to weed out failing schools, replacing them with better ones.
Note that these new pension, medical, and school mechanisms deeply affect families, not simply individuals. This greater reliance on familial choice re-introduces a reliance on family, rather than on the state, as the chief agent of health, education, and welfare.
Bush has begun a major turn from the state toward the “little platoons” once celebrated by Burke, the “mediating institutions” that Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus emphasized twenty years ago. This is a profoundly conservative impulse.
I think the jury is out on the success of Bush's approach, but Novak reads the President's intent just right (as I wrote here in 2005). Prof. Knippenberg laments Bush's inability to defend himself so articulately. I know just what he means --but I wonder if Bush would have met with as much success as he has if he just came right out and admitted he's trying to destroy the welfare state as we know it. Read up.