Regarding conservatism, compassionate and otherwise, Bush (before Bob Jones) seemed very adept at presenting himself in Clintonian, everything-to-everybody terms. He was against abortion, for the death penalty, and against gun control. But he could also placate Democrats: He was for beefing up education, he spoke passable Spanish, and he was even pro-Head Start. If you were left-leaning, well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he moved into the White House. He was no Pat Buchanan.
I use the past tense because things seem more blurred now. Remember the photo that ran on the front page of the New York Times last fall of Bush kissing a black schoolgirl? It was a powerful image, and one I doubt we’ll ever see again. Paul, I’m curious: Where do you think Bush stands now in the Republican ideological spectrum, with Buchanan on one end and perhaps Jack Kemp on the other? I’d like to think he’s closer to Kemp than to Buchanan, but a constitutional amendment ending abortion—which Bush has danced around, saying he supports it but is not sure the nation is ready for it—is pretty radical stuff. Does he want to make us ready for it?
I had an interesting discussion about Bush this weekend with a fellow passenger on a flight from Baton Rouge to Houston. The passenger was a military man in his late 20s who was conservative, deeply religious, raised in Baton Rouge, and had served in the Gulf War under Bush the elder. Much to my surprise, he told me that he planned to vote for Gore. Why? He was offended that Bush had allowed 62-year-old Betty Lou Beets to be put to death last month (for killing at least one, probably two of her husbands and burying them in her backyard). Beets was an old woman, he said, and she had asked for clemency. “Why not give her life in prison?” he said. “Executing her didn’t seem very compassionate to me.”
Evan, regarding the underwhelming assortment of Bush books, I have yet to read one that really gets inside the man’s head, the way Richard Ben Cramer did with his dad. It would be interesting to see what Cramer would find with W. as his subject. Joe Nick, regarding Bush the elder’s accent, what about W.’s? He’s starting to sound like a real hayseed. Paul, I’d be interested in hearing what you think the defining symbols of the campaign will be (or should be). George W. rolling oranges down the aisle of Great Expectations, or something a little more substantive?
Over and out,
Photograph of George W. Bush on the Slate Table of Contents by Paul J. Richards.