When I first heard George W. Bush talking about "compassionate conservatism" in 1999, I figured (and certainly hoped) that it was at least 80 percent ad campaign and no more than 20 percent policy guide. Eight years later, it seems to me that, in practice, the Bush administration probably hasn't strayed too far to the wrong side of that proportion.
I must confess that I too thought it was PR: I thought that Bush was a straight-up Reagan conservative, and that the "compassionate conservative" crap was about getting votes from the soccer moms.
Unlike Mirengoff, however, I wish that Bush had been lying when he talked about being a compassionate conservative. But he wasn't! Bush managed to ram the prescription drug entitlement program through a Republican Congress at just the time when the "spoiled generation" -- the Baby Boomers -- are about to start retiring and getting sick and bankrupting us all. Bush gleefully signed the "No Child Left Behind Act," a bill with no real benefits that massively increases the role of the federal government in education -- something real conservatives have been trying for decades to reduce. And of course we have the near-miss of the Bush amnesty for illegals. He's gotten his way on plenty of those "compassionate" policies -- enough to do real damage.
And, worst of all, he's gotten Christian Conservatives -- who might have been a lost cause anyway -- used to the idea that big government is their friend, thereby fracturing the Republican coalition. And bringing us "serious" candidates like Mike Huckabee, who, despite having hilarious ads with Chuck Norris, manage to combine the worst elements of nanny-state big government tax-and-spend liberalism with know-nothing Christianist moralizing. Thanks, Bush!
So yeah, I too hoped he was lying back in '99. I was right, but it turned out that he was lying about the "conservative" part.
Mona over at Unqualified Offerings is outraged by Mirengoff's post, but for quite different reasons. She's mad that Mirengoff approves of the lying in the first place. As she puts it, "the point is, Power Line is not just conceding, but approving that a Republican presidential candidate lied to get elected." (Emphasis in original.)
I would be terrified at the thought of having a President who didn't lie, repeatedly and well, in order to get into the Oval Office. Because any Presidential candidate who isn't a good liar would have to actually believe all the nonsense that any person who wants to be President has to say.
What do we want in a President? We want a person who is reasonably intelligent, with an IQ of between, say, 125 and 150 -- no higher because super-geniuses tend to be erratic, but no lower, either. We want somebody who is intellectually curious about the world, well-informed on major issues, who has at least some substantive knowledge of economics and statistics and political theory. We want somebody who is a good manager, and who is good at picking people and evaluating their performance. We want somebody whose world-view is evidence-based rather than faith-based. We want somebody who can think for him or herself, who makes independent judgments about matters.
Note that this is very generic -- it's not about ideology, but about the general intellectual characteristics we would seek in a President.
It's my thesis that any person who meets these criteria will have views that will render the candidate unelectable if expressed openly. Consider the following propositions:
Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme designed to ensure support for big government, but we are stuck with it for the present. America's farmers are a bunch of welfare queens and farm subsidies should be abolished. Evolution is true, and creationists are a bunch of know-nothings. DARE is a waste of money and it should be defunded. Worse, the whole War on Drugs is pernicious. The attack on Iraq was a huge tactical blunder, but having gotten into the war, we need to do anything possible to avoid ignominious defeat. Free trade is a good thing, and the United States should unilaterally abolish all trade barriers. We shouldn't worry about opium being grown in Afghanistan.
All of these propositions are totally defensible in reasoned argument, but, if espoused bluntly, any one could render a candidate totally unelectable. I'm not saying that a qualified candidate would have to believe any or all of these claims, but most independent thinkers of requisite intelligence are likely to believe at least something that renders him or her unelectable.
And so we have a choice: we can insist on total honesty, and we can select a candidate so stupid, dull, or unimaginative that the candidate has no heterodox views. Or we can accept the fact that presidential candidates, like all politicians, lie. They lie frequently, openly, and with great skill. If they didn't, they couldn't get elected.