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Jewish World Review June 6, 2001 / 16 Sivan, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

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Consumer Reports

Bush needs to nix his Nixon act -- ONE of the boons, or curses, of editing an online magazine and writing on the Web is that in a typical week I'll receive about a thousand e-mail messages. An irreducible minority of them are from people who wouldn't give me a quarter if my coin-operated dialysis machine was about to turn off.

Let's ignore the folks who've simply wrapped their tinfoil helmets too tight. The most common criticism from the remaining critics is that I always take the Republican position. I have to admit, I find this annoying. Not Rosie O'Donnell annoying, but irksome nonetheless.

I've never taken much pride in being a Republican. I've never been much of a joiner, and the GOP is not exactly the first club I would sign on with anyway (that would be "Really Cool Star Trek Fans Who Don't Live With Their Mothers" - the problem is that it's hard to get enough dues-paying members to pay for the soda and Dixie cups).

As a crude generalization, the Republican Party is made up of two kinds of people, Party Men and Idea Men (yes, yes, women too). The Party people believe in doing what is best for, well, the party. The idea folks want to use the Republican Party as a means to an end. Call it the battle between the Nixons and the Reagans.

If Richard Nixon were alive to day, he would be to the left of about 95 percent of the Democratic Party. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and affirmative action; he also instituted wage and price controls that'd make California electricity rate caps seem like unfettered capitalism.

Nixon's détente assumed moral equivalence between Americans and the Soviets. His motives were always complex, but it's fair to say electoral success was more important to him than ideological victory.

Ronald Reagan (cue applause track), wasn't the complete opposite of Nixon, but he was as close as you could get and still get elected. He called the Soviet Union "evil." He fired the air traffic controllers, put nuclear missiles in Western Europe, deregulated vast swaths of the economy and cut taxes all because that's where his ideas took him - and he brought the party with him.

When George W. Bush was elected, conservatives and Republicans had a fascinating internal debate. Is W. more of a Nixonista, like his father, or a Reaganite like he says? After a lot of yelling, pretty much everyone concluded he's both.

And therein lies my problem with Bush. As a Reaganite, I like Bush best when he's avoided being Nixonian (or to be more harsh, Clintonian). On issues like taxes, Social Security privatization and deregulation, I'm in the cheering section.

But there are other areas where creeping Nixonian realism makes me boo. For example, there's a worrisome morality gap in the administration's foreign policy. In April, Colin Powell praised the "good things" Fidel Castro has done for his people. And, of course, we apologized to China for the inconvenience we caused them when they illegally captured our plane.

Just this week, the Bush administration threw a Nixonian bone to labor unions, when it announced it was going to seek new trade protections on the importation of foreign steel.

A pragmatist can forgive a little Nixonism from time to time. But the White House's approach to education has been unforgivable. During the campaign, Bush promised to hold poor schools accountable for the federal dollars they received. He righteously, and rightly, denounced "the soft bigotry of low expectations" that permits schools to graduate illiterate and innumerate poor minority kids just because it's easier to do so. All of that's gone over the side as the administration continues its quest for an education photo-op with Ted Kennedy.

Even more depressing is the cynicism behind the increase in funding for bilingual education. There's nothing wrong with the president reaching out to Hispanics by speaking Spanish and making his case to a political bloc of growing influence.

But it takes tricky Dick's cynicism to stand by as bilingual-education funding goes through the roof. It's largely a settled issue that bilingual education holds children back from learning English and by extension from moving up the socioeconomic ladder. But the president who swore he'd "leave no children behind" needs to court Hispanic political leaders to build a winning coalition in 2004.

The most disappointing fact is that Bush is doing best politically in the areas where I think he's doing the worst ideologically. A new Washington Post poll shows that his enduring strengths with the public are in foreign policy and education.

The silver lining to all this, at least for me, is that now I will get fewer e-mails from people claiming I always take the Republican position on everything.

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