Mr. Big Government
Friday, September 16, 2005; 12:24 PM
Will the real George W. Bush please stand up?
Several of the key points in President Bush's nationally televised speech last night are being widely welcomed this morning: his vow to rebuild the Gulf Coast; his increasingly direct acknowledgment that there were serious government lapses after Hurricane Katrina; his admission that Americans can and should expect a more effective response to catastrophes in the post 9/11 era.
But the guts of the speech -- in which Bush unfurled his administration's grand plans for the biggest government-funded reconstruction effort in history -- has led to considerable skepticism, if not outright puzzlement, on both sides of the political divide.
Consider two of the more extreme possibilities:
* Either Bush is being entirely forthright, in which case he's talking about something reminiscent of the biggest liberal government programs of the 20th century. That scares some conservatives, certainly fiscal conservatives, to death.
* Or maybe it's just a plan to transform the Gulf Coast into a big test bed for conservative social policy, where tax breaks flow to big business and tax money flows to Halliburton, churches and private schools. That utterly terrifies liberals.
The argument that the administration will consider conservative ideological gains as a paramount consideration certainly gains credence when you consider, as I wrote in yesterday's column, that the White House's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, has apparently been put in charge of reconstruction plans.
But there is nothing remotely reminiscent of Bush's traditional small-government rhetoric about a plan estimated to cost taxpayers at least $200 billion.
Shocking the Base
As I wrote in last Friday's column , there were already signs in recent polls that Bush for the first time might be losing significant support from his base.
This morning, Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The drive to pour billions of federal dollars into rebuilding the Gulf Coast is widening a fissure among Republicans over fiscal policy, with more of them expressing worry about unbridled spending.
"Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, called for restoring 'sanity' to the federal recovery effort. . . .