As The New Republic's Jonathan Chait explained back in June, the right has been constructing a narrative in which the failures of President Bush are attributed to a lack of adherence to "real" conservatism, which by definition can never fail politically or substantively. In an editorial today, the Wall Street Journal tries the same approach to explaining away the defeat of the GOP Congress on Tuesday.
First, the WSJ claims "big government conservatism" is a losing proposition and voters prefer fewer government services:
Here's one telling exit poll result: In battleground districts, only one in five voters said Republicans would do a better job to "keep government spending under control"; almost twice as many voters said Democrats would do a better job. Yet this week a separate poll found that 59% of Americans still favor fewer government services and lower taxes compared with 28% who favor more government services and higher taxes. "Big government conservatism" was a nice think-tank proposition; it merely lacks support from actual voters.
Setting aside the irony of the WSJ citing a poll that acknowledges the tradeoff between government expenditures and taxes (contradicting the newspaper's own position on the revenue effect of tax cuts), the finding is useless -- voters typically are anti-government in the abstract, but want more spending on specific, popular programs. President Bush didn't pass the hideous prescription drug bill because he wanted to; he did so because seniors were demanding one. It's a delusion to suggest voters are rejecting conservatives for failing to cut government sufficiently. The Republicans tried that in 1995 and have been running away from it ever since.
The WSJ also attributes the failure of President Bush's unpopular plan to create private accounts in Social Security to a lack of will on the part of top Republicans in Congress:
President Bush gave Republicans a once-in-a-generation chance to reform Social Security and health care along free market lines, but GOP House leaders fought him behind the scenes. For this alone, they should be returned to the backbenches.
This of course gets it precisely backward. I'm sure Hastert and friends would have loved to pass private accounts, but they fought Bush's proposal behind the scenes because it was deeply unpopular. There was no "once-in-a-generation chance" to pass private accounts; the votes were never there.
Do WSJ readers actually believe this nonsense?