Karl Rove Is Not a Conservative

Terence P. Jeffrey | February 6, 2013 | 5:08am EST
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Karl Rove — "The Architect," as President George W. Bush called him — crafted Bush's two presidential campaigns and served as a key player in Bush's White House.

Now, with an assist from The New York Times, Rove is presenting himself as a conservative leader. On Sunday, the Times reported that American Crossroads, the super PAC Rove started, was beginning a new program called "The Conservative Victory Project."

This project, as the Times put it, will "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and tea party enthusiasts."

But Rove is no conservative.

If you give him credit for believing in the policies and nominations he helped Bush make and defend, then Rove was wrong on the constitutionally appropriate role of the federal government, wrong on foreign policy, wrong on immigration and wrong on a crucial nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2000, George W. Bush ran for president not as a conservative, but as a "compassionate conservative." This was presumably because unadulterated conservatives are not compassionate.

But to take the term "compassionate conservative" seriously, one must assume that a person in political office deserves credit for showing compassion when he employs the coercive power of the state to take money from one person and give it to another.

Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes coined a more candid, if oxymoronic, description of the Bush-Rove approach to government. In a 2003 commentary in The Wall Street Journal, Barnes said Bush was "a big government conservative." Big government conservatives, Barnes explained, "simply believe in using what would normally be seen as liberal means — activist government — for conservative ends. And they're willing to spend more and increase the size of government in the process."

In fact, conservatives believe the proper end of all federal elected officials is to preserve the limits on government that are spelled out in our Constitution and that protect the God-given rights of individuals against an overreaching state.

Yet, with Rove at his side, Bush not only failed in some conspicuous cases to restrict the growth of programs initiated by previous liberal administrations that had overstepped the constitutional limits on federal authority, he expanded their reach and increased their cost.

For example, Bush worked with Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Ted Kennedy to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. This significantly increased federal involvement in public education and the cost of it to federal taxpayers.

In 2001, Bush's first year in office, the Department of Education spent $43.18 billion in 2008 dollars. By 2008, it spent $65.96 billion — an increase of more than 50 percent.

What did Bush-Rove get for their "compassionate" investment of other people's money? In 2002, public school eighth-graders earned an average score of 263 out of 500 on the Department of Education's standardized reading test. In 2009, they earned an average of 262. Under Bush-Rove, the readings skills of public-school students dropped slightly, as federal education spending grew massively.

Bush-Rove also enacted a new federal entitlement, adding prescription drugs to LBJ's Medicare program. The overall Medicare program has now placed $39 trillion in long-term unfunded liabilities onto the shoulders of our children and grandchildren.

Conservatives believe the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to preserve the liberty, security and prosperity of the American people — not to pursue Utopian schemes aimed at transforming foreign societies or governments.

Again, Bush-Rove embraced a different vision. "So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," Bush said in his second inaugural address.

Here, the great Henry Hyde rebutted Bush with great eloquence — debunking what he dubbed "the Golden Theory."

"Viewed in its more compete historical context, implanting democracy in large areas would require that we possess an unbounded power and undertake an open-ended commitment of time and resources, which we cannot and will not do," said Hyde.

"History teaches that revolutions are very dangerous things, more often destructive than benign and uncontrollable by their very nature," he said. "Upending established order based on theory is far more likely to produce chaos than shining uplands."

As events unfold in the Middle East, history is proving Hyde's conservative approach right and Bush-Rove Utopianism wrong.

Bush tried to enact an amnesty for illegal aliens. "It's a compassionate way to treat people who come to our country," he said. "There are some jobs in America that Americans won't do and others are willing to do."

He also tried to give his White House counsel, Harriet Miers, one of nine votes on the Supreme Court. She was not a legal scholar, but in 1988, at the age of 43, she had contributed to Al Gore's presidential campaign.

Had conservatives not stopped Bush-Rove from confirming Miers, she would have been sitting on the court last year with fellow Bush nominee John Roberts when the court decided the Obamacare case.

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