Monday, September 08, 2003

Rights and Reason: Bush's Ideology

Virginia Postrel on the president's speech:
Bush's rhetoric continues to have two major problems, neither of which is likely to disappear. The first, and most obvious, is that he says the enemy is terrorism rather than Islamicism using terrorism as a weapon (including against Muslims). The second, less obvious, is that he says we are fighting to defend democracy, when in fact we are fighting to defend liberalism (or liberal democracy). Iran is a democracy, in the normal sense of holding real elections, but it is not liberal.

The fundamental conflict is over whether the systems of limited, non-theocratic, individual-rights-bsed governments that developed over centuries in the West are good or bad. Outside of the academy and other intellectual circles, however, American political discourse has literaly lost the words to describe what the "civilized world" has in common. We think "liberal" means Hillary Clinton, when it also means George Bush.
These problems, however, are not simply rhetorical. The administration's inability to take on certain sources of Islamicism--most notably Saudi Arabia--has hampered America's credibility since the start of the post-9/11 era. As for democracy-vs.-liberalism, the truth is President Bush has not demonstrated he supports individual rights as the moral basis of society. His domestic policies have been largely geared towards ratifying the destruction of individual rights in key areas, such as health care and education, and he has done nothing to curb the one major governmental abuse under his direct control, the tyranny of regulators (such as the FTC).

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