Friday, November 14, 2008

A Caricature of Bush's "Conservatism"

President Bush, in what could be the final important act of his presidency, is lobbying hard for a $25 billion dollar "bailout" (read:investment) of the Big Three American automobile makers - GM, Ford and Chrysler. Taxpayer money would essentially be used to buy an ownership stake in the companies, with the attempt of keeping them afloat and potentially reimbursing tax-payers once their stocks rise in the distant future. Essentially, this would be a partial nationalization of the automotive industry; and it comes under a GOP President - oh, the irony.

I would like to think of this act, should it pass, as a caricature of Bush conservatism. In other words, the exact opposite of what conservatism meant only 20 years ago. There is little doubt that, had you told Goldwater or Reagan that a conservative President would expend political capital to nationalize a major American industry, they would not have believed you. Small government and free market ideology were at the heart of conservatism.

But oh how things have changed. Bush, who recently publicly defended the free market system, has either changed his mind on that sentiment, or just does not understand the definitions of the terms "free" and "market." Or maybe even "the" and "system." (It's not unprecedented for a President to be unsure of even the simplest definitions, remember that Bill Clinton was perplexed by the meaning of "is.") Now, Bush advocates for bailing out companies that have failed on the market. Consumers agree (as indicated through horribly failing stock prices), GM, Ford and Chrysler cars are not worth their price. Facing competition from Honda and Toyota, Japanese imports that are - on the whole - cheaper, more efficient, get better gas mileage and last longer, American car companies have struggled in the last decade. Some chalk this up to the incredibly poor business decision made by many of these companies to pursue an increased development and production of gas-guzzling SUV's. That is certainly part of the picture. What seems to be going unsaid, however, is that the products these companies make are just horrible. Have you driven a Chrysler lately? It is not worth its weight in salt. My family owned a Chrysler mini-van for a few years. I can remember the transmission falling out of that van on at least three separate occasions. The front axle was always misaligned. And it handled incredibly poorly in snow and ice. These factors -and doubtless many more - played substantial roles in pushing customers towards buying foreign cars. Now, suddenly, we're talking about bailing out businesses that create and market inferior products. They have failed on their own merits - it is time to let them find their own way to succeed. I would suggest (should the CEO's of these companies be reading this page, which I'm sure they are) that they retool their operation entirely. Trucks and SUV's are floundering thanks to a surge in consumer gas conservationism. Hybrids and low gas-mileage cars are clearly the future. Work on that.

Now, I am not blind to the other side of the story. Two competent reasons are put forward for saving these industries. First, they employ a great deal of workers. Allowing them to go under would drastically increase unemployment and the poverty rate - especially in Detroit, a city which could itself use a bailout. Second, if these companies were to collapse, we would miss their manufacturing plants if we ever become involved in an old-fashioned international state-to-state war. The likelihood that this will happen is remote; it seems like the "war on terror" is the foreseeable altercation our country has decided to engage in. But should a war with Russia or China or some other mechanized state erupt, the loss of car manufacturing plants would cripple our ability to domestically manufacture military trucks, tanks and other necessary equipment.

Thus, I am not advocating that we should not bailout the auto industry. There are valid arguments on both sides. What I am merely pointing out is that our current President, a purported conservative, is fighting the hardest for this attempt at nationalizing the automotive industry. I find that ironic and indicative of the current state of the GOP.



First, I'm not so sure the Bush administration is the one really pushing for the nationalization of the auto industry. They have been luke warm thus far. This one has been more driven out of Congressional Democrats. But obviously it was the administration that initiated the push for the financial bailout.

But I agree with this point. One of the most frustrating things from the viewpoint of a Conservative is that Bush is seen as the example of what conservatism is. Goldwater and even Reagan are rolling over in their graves right now. We have had a huge government Republican claim the mantle of conservatism. Under his rule, government power, and in particular executive power has only increased in any way you measure it and government spending has exploded. This is no conservative. He is more synonymous with the old socially conservative Southern Democrats - he's a Dixiecrat. With the exception of some of the social issues, his presidency has more in common with LBJ's then any other modern president.

Though this was written before the financial mess in September and October, Charles Wheelan has a similar discussion on Bush in that he doesn't know what he is. He calls him a "neo-neoconservative", all the liberal spending without the perks. Read here.