"He ran as a conservative," goes the line from the Republican Party apologists, "but he didn't govern as one." All those people who supported him for reelection in 2004 can't wait to throw him over the side now. The claim is that the massive spending and resulting cosmological debt-hole are, by definition, non-conservative. Conservatives stand for fiscal responsibility, right? And if this administration ends in fiscal disaster that means, by definition, that this is a non-conservative administration, right?
Not so fast. Here are three ways in which Bush Administration spending, and the resultant problems, are straightforward products of conservative thinking:
1) The biggest elephant in the room is military spending. All empires, from the Athenians and Caesarean Romans of antiquity to the Spanish and British Empires, have declined when their international commitments, and therefore their military burdens, broke their banks. It's like any other burst of energy in nature, the bubble expands until the energy is spent. There is no sane reason for the United States to sustain the current level of military spending. It doesn't make us safer. We must stand down as gendarme of global security. Conservatives (who have morphed over the decades since WWII into messianic imperialists) simply refuse to face the fact that the foreign entanglements that Jefferson warned about, and the economic and social militarization that Eisenhower warned us about, are not sustainable under contemporary economic reality. Today's conservatives either think that the US can maintain global military supremacy for all time (in denial about the plain fact that all things come to be and pass away), or worse, think that the US is destined to fulfill Biblical "end times" prophecy. George W. Bush isn't their problem, they are our country's problem.
2) Conservatives espouse "fiscal responsibility" in only the narrowest, most selective sense. They mean, for the most part, that the government ought not to fund programs that help the poor, that protect the environment, that support public and higher education, and so on. Pro-business conservatives have an economic model that is predicated on consumer spending. That nice check for $1,200 or so that you got last year? You were supposed to go down to the mall and spend it. That was the idea. That people ought not to consume more than they need, that saving is a virtue, that usury is a moral wrong: none of that is any part of contemporary conservative philosophy. "Fiscal responsibility" is not a real philosophy for conservatives: it's a code for limiting the size and role of government. Thus the question as to whether helping the poor, protecting the environment, supporting education might actually be fiscally responsible policies in the long run has no interest for them. Deregulation of the financial industry is itself a deeply perverse expression of "responsibility," as conservatives seek to lessen, not maintain, financial protection for ordinary citizens. Their resistance to progressive taxation is also not an instance of "fiscal responsibility," rather it is an expression of faith in supply-side economics.
3) The current administration has very self-consciously spent the federal government into the ground, as a way of weakening and diminishing it. Whether or not that is a good goal, consider the hypocrisy of conservatives who now run away from this project, that they supported in the most full-throated way while they were supporting Bush and Cheney through two elections, much as all the macho talk about how the federal government ought not be in the business of paying for regional disasters was forgotten in the face of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Now they want to tell us that these are not conservative policies after all. Nonsense.