Can’t Do Conservatism

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Paul Krugman describes “the core” of Bush’s philosophy:

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

The subject, of course, is the proposed addition of funding for S-CHIP so that the program can, in practice, expand coverage to all the currently eligible children. As Brian Beutler explains, “the SCHIP extension will be paid for with revenue from increased tobacco taxes. The fear for conservatives is that it’ll work so well that people will begin to realize that it might be worth paying for broader reforms with broader taxes.” Unfortunately, the public opinion data does tend to suggest that Bush’s staggering achievements in the field of maladministration have, in fact, boosted public skepticism of government capacity to do anything at all to some extent.

One way of thinking about what the country’s experienced since the fall of 2001 is just large-scale consequences of perverse incentives. We have a president whose ideological goals on the domestic front are, on some level, advanced every time he screws up, with his own failures, his own corruption, providing evidence for the correctness of his ideology. Meanwhile, on the security front, his own inability to tackle the al-Qaeda problem — and, indeed, the fact that his policies are making the problem worse — serve to heighten a climate of fear that his advisers regard as political useful.