In an earlier article, we saw George W. Bush's public language transform from the clearly conservative position of his 2004 re-election campaign to a demonstrably libertarian position in his Inaugural address, which brought about a mixed reaction from both supporters and opponents. Furthermore, his State of the Union Address in February suggested a return to conservative rhetoric, but now moderated by libertarian rather than egalitarian language.
While this move by the Bush Administration alludes to efforts to maintain the alliance forged by Ronald Reagan in the late 1960s through the 1980s, it also leads us to wonder what has become of the current president's rhetoric since the State of the Union Address-- given his multi-state rhetorical blitz advocating Social Security reform this past spring, his continuing statements regarding the War on Terrorism at home and abroad, the US commitment in Iraq, and relations with foreign nations, especially in Europe.
In order to address this question in the context of the previous inquiry, it is first necessary to revisit the method used to capture the earlier data, then apply it to more recent presidential statements.
The method of this inquiry involves collecting samples of a political actor's public statements, searching through the text to find instances of predefined ideological indicators for liberty. equality, and order, and measuring the proportion of those indicators to the whole number of indicators that appear within the sample. Results from these samples may be compared with each other to measure differences in the stated ideological preference of any one political actor. An increase in references to liberty, for example, indicates a shift toward libertarian rhetoric, an increase in references to equality toward egalitarian or (within moderate limits) "liberal" rhetoric, and an increase in references to order toward establishmentarian or (again within moderate limits) to "conservative" rhetoric.
That said, where has George W. Bush stood over the last few months? To find out, I collected several samples from the Presidential website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/. Included in this sample are official general statements regarding "issues" that appear on the site, as well as the speeches that the site indicates as "major" speeches from March to July 2005. "Issues" samples included the text from the White House's pages on Homelend Security ("Homesec" in the following charts), "compassionate conservatism" (Compcons), Social Security reform (Socsec), education (Educ), National Security (Natsec), the Economy (Econ), Energy policy (Energy), and Health Care policy (Health).
Below are the results (Click to enlarge):
From the above graph, one can see that on average, the Administration remains committed to a conservative agenda (Issues Average), although this commitment appears far more moderate than during the re-election campaign. Also, while Health Care policy, the Economy, Social Security, and "Compassionate Conservatism" yielded the highest number of ideolological indicators, what may surprise some is that issues such as "Compassionate Conservatism", Health and Education yielded manifestly egalitarian rhetoric. That this is the case for Compassionate Conservatism should not be too surprising, since it is evident that "Compassionate Conservatism" is intended to make the president's social agenda easier for ideological liberals to swallow. The White House's ideological signature on the Health Care issue may suggest an effort to expand access and affordability to the nation's health care system, which is itself an egalitarian position. Although the primary preference on this issues results in a basically egalitarian position, however, the secondary preference for order suggests that the administration may seek to rely on existing mechanisms in the health care and insurance industry to ensure broad access to health care, instead of a wholesale return to the simple private fee-for-service system indicative of 19th and early 20th Century medicine (which appeals to libertarians and anarchists) or to a government-run universal health-care system (which appeals to liberals and socialists).
The Economy score suggests an equal preference for liberty and order, which should come as a surprise to no one. on this issue conservatives and libertarians appear to be largely on the same page, and may in fact be the lynchpin of the Reagan Coalition. One should not be alarmed to find statements from the Bush Administrations in the near future about forging an 'ownership society' and appealing to long-standing traditions that reinforce this idea.
Social Security, however, is something of a surprise. Perhaps in an effort to appease those conservatives hostile to broad changes towards privatization in the social security system, the Administration has elected to emphsize security and order over the demonstrable urge on the president's part for social security reform. It is also interesting to note that Social Security reform appears nowhere in the White House's official list of major speeches. Judging from the content of the White House webpage, the state-by-state rhetorical blitz has failed.
Also worthy of note is the administration's solid preference for Order on the issue of Homeland Security, where references to Liberty are disturbingly absent. The White House may have sought to make up for this absence by adopting a clearly libertarian position relative to National Security and foreign policy. Effectively, the numbers indicate that the President's message runs something like this: "Do whatever is necessary to secure law and order at home, but export the idea of freedom to other nations, and at least present the appearance of cultivating liberty abroad." This position is likely to strike strident libertarians as hypocrisy, and is a manifest danger to the current coalition.
The biggest surprise, however, is in education. A result of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, the administration has clearly adopted a strong egalitarian stance toward education, and the results of this inquiry suggest that the president's Education agenda seeks a move toward a universal national curriculum for public school students. This stands in stark contrast to the traditional system that reserved education policy power to states and the data suggest that Bush has largely ignored both liberty and order for the sake of a universal education system.
Were one to adjust for proportion, one sees the administration's position more clearly (Click to enlarge):
Of all of the signatures above, perhaps the most unsettling is the Administration's summary of its Energy policy, which yields identical scores for liberty, equality, and order. This score suggests one of four possible interpretations:
First, the administration has adopted a "true centrist" rhetotrical position vis a vis national energy policy;
Second, the administration is playing its energy policy so close to its chest that it is carefully avoiding a clear stance on energy;
Third, the administration actually has no clear position regarding energy policy;
Fourth, the administration's stated position is simply not to be trusted, were one to assume that a "true centrist" position is automatically suspect.
One must look more closely at the Executive Order and Proclamation record on US Energy Policy to test which of these interpretations is most likely. In any case, the Bush administration's energy policy is perhaps the issue to watch.
The last few months' Major Speeches identified by the White House included a statement on the War on Terror, an address to graduates from the Naval Academy, the President's Memorial Day address, a press conference at the end of May, a statement on Iraq, a short address marking the tenth anniversary of the Srebenica massacre, and an address promoting the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
What is particularly intriguing is that on average these public speeches favor libertarian rhetoric rather than conservatism. A track of the shifts in ideological preference over time appears below (Click to enlarge):
Over the last few months it appears that President Bush has been drifting between libertarian and conservative rhetoric--that he is still attempting to find a balance between the language of the Inaugural Address and his re-election campaign. A closer look at the context of these occasional addresses, however, reveals a somewhat more coherent split in the President's position. With the lone exception of the Srebenica speech, those occasions that focus entirely on foreign policy matters yield a higher number of references to "liberty", while those that focus on domestic issues or else a mixture of foreign and domestic issues tend to favor "order" -- this includes the Memorial Day address, which one expects to focus on ideas such as duty to country and sacrifice, as well as to liberty. What is surprising, however, is the relatively low "liberty" score for Bush's Memorial Day address.
On the whole, one can say that the Bush administration has found itself walking a tightrope between libertarianism and conservatism, and has become more moderate as result. Nevertheless, for those who follow specific issues (especially education, where the administration's rhetoric would warm the cockles of a communist's heart), the picture is far more peculiar.