Fighting the war on terrorism, too, is expensive. But rather than adjusting his agenda accordingly, Bush has pushed through three huge tax cuts in as many years. In the process he has fatally undermined the coherence of his overall program. Fusing vast new spending with deep tax cuts, Bush is locking into place long-term structural deficits whose costs to both our nation and the Republican Party would be difficult to overstate.
To understand why the Republican majority in Congress is playing along with the President, it helps to think of today's Republican Party as a theocracy; call it the Party of the Church. Under Bush the party is guided by a core ideology that it pursues with a near religious fervor, regardless of countervailing facts, changing circumstances, or even opposition among the conservative ranks. The President and his inner circle not only set the canon but demand—and usually get—strict compliance from Republican legislators in both houses of Congress. The two central tenets of Bush's orthodoxy are tax cuts and regime change in Iraq. He has staked the success of his presidency on them.
In the Party of the Church the theologians' role is played by hundreds of conservative scholars in think tanks, at publications, and on radio talk shows. That the academy is missing from this list is not an accident: conservative scholars could not find comfortable perches within university settings. But being banished from the academy served the Republican theologians remarkably well, because it enabled them to cultivate a style of argument and writing far better suited to reaching—and converting—both the public and politicians. The infrastructure of conservative thought is as well financed as it is complex; it includes seminaries in which to train conservative young scholars (the Heritage Foundation even has special dormitories for its interns), and what might be thought of as separate "orders," each upholding a slightly different school of thought—from the libertarians to the social conservatives to the neoconservatives. This sprawling idea machine produces not only policy innovations but also the language ("welfare queens," "the death tax") with which to sell the party's agenda.
Not surprisingly, the Party of the Church is highly moralistic. President Bush tends to frame issues in terms of ethical absolutes: good and evil, right and wrong. Moralism may or may not make for good politics, but it rarely makes for good policy, because it substitutes wishful and parochial thinking for careful analysis. Its ascendancy reflects a broader shift in the Republican Party—a shift away from an identity that was secular, pragmatic, and northeastern toward one that, like the President himself, is more evangelical and southern. Nowhere is this more evident than in foreign policy, where Bush—reviving what the historian Walter Russell Mead calls the Jacksonian tradition—is turning his back on both the realpolitik of Richard Nixon and the conservative internationalism of Reagan and his own father, making pre-emption rather than containment the central organizing principle and favoring unilateral action over multilateral diplomacy. In doing so Bush has discarded hundreds of years of international law and decades of American tradition. The most immediate cost is that the United States has alienated much of the world in the name of making it safe.
When it comes to economic orthodoxy, the Party of the Church is no more consistent with traditional Republican principles. Although the Republicans claim to be devoted to free markets, most of the big economic interests identified with the party are surprisingly dependent on federal subsidies, protectionism, or both. The most obvious examples are southern growers of cotton, sugar, oranges, and peanuts, and midwestern producers of grain. The Administration is so committed to shielding these interests from global competition that it elected to let the Cancún round of trade negotiations collapse—dealing a significant blow to the prospects for expanded free trade—rather than pressure Congress to reduce U.S. agricultural subsidies. In similar fashion, the Bush Administration supports lavish federal subsidies for a wide range of extractive industries (including oil, gas, and coal) and for cattle ranching.