RE-WRITING HISTORY I couldn’t help noticing something about one of Bush’s responses at his press conference this morning. Asked about FEMA trailers that were left sitting unused in Arkansas after Katrina, he said:

“The taxpayers aren’t interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them,” Bush said. “And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know ? it sends wrong signals to taxpayers.”

So it’s not that the White House was incompetent and uninterested. It’s that the government’s too big. That’s the problem.

The White House has decided, it seems, that the only way to salvage anything from this whole Katrina mess is to use it as a way to further discredit the idea that government can provide people with anything of value. As if any “big government” would have screwed up as badly as Bush’s did. We’ve seen this tactic used before, of course, but Bush’s famous rhetorical clumsiness makes it particularly unsubtle here.

In a funny way, it’s the same thing that Bush’s new conservative critics ? Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan, et al. ? are doing by focusing on the growth of spending under Bush. It’s not conservatism that’s the problem, they’re saying. It’s that Bush isn’t really a conservative at all, he’s a big-spending liberal.

Many people smarter than me have pointed out how stupid this is. Sure, Bush has frequently departed from pure conservative ideology, but what that suggests is that he’s an unprincipled, Nixon-style political operator, interested principally in maximizing his own power. It doesn’t make him a liberal.

This is important in the long-term, because if the lesson of the Bush years becomes that Bush failed because he didn’t hew closely enough to core conservative principles, I shudder to think about what the next Republican president’s going to do.

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