WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Is George W. Bush the best Democratic president we have seen since Jimmy Carter? Consider the evidence.
A Republican president determined to shrink the size of Big Government has instead become the first since Carter to tie together a bewildering alphabet soup of federal government agencies in a new mega-bureaucracy: the Department of Homeland Security. Even Bill Clinton never did that.
A Republican president has boosted government spending and in less than half his term, turned a two-year-in-a-row healthy $100 billion-plus federal budget surplus into a looming one of at least $165 billion. Bill Clinton never did that. (For that matter, Jimmy Carter never did either.)
A Republican president committed to free trade approved protective trade measures for U.S. steel, infuriating America's main trade partners in Europe and northeast Asia. Bill Clinton, who infuriated his own traditional industrial union constituencies by his commitment to free trade policies certainly never did that.
A Republican president who sneered at Clinton's "unrealistic" and "idealistic" adventures in "nation-building" in places like Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia is now up to his eyeballs in a vastly more ambitious, dangerous and unrealistic nation-building adventure of his own in the mountains of Afghanistan. No outsider has succeeded in pulling it off there since Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago. Bill Clinton never even tried.
And even Bush's "moral" commitment to transforming the fate of Afghanistan pales beside the eager-beaver plans of his top Defense Department officials and strategists to redraw the maps of the entire world. They are already planning to do so in ways no American has been insane enough to do since Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. And he was a Democrat.
Even as you read these words, civilian analysts and officials appointed by Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are feverishly redrawing the maps, not just of Iraq, but of the entire Middle East, in ways no one has dreamed of doing for more than 80 years.
And this is being done of course, without reference to any actual political realities in the region. Bill Clinton never did that either.
Bush officials have been discussing and floating plans to "reward" Turkey with control of, or assured access to, the rich oil fields of northern Iraq, after they have toppled President Saddam Hussein, as they easily expect to do. They have insisted on free and transparent democratic elections for the Palestinians, but have already made clear that only pro-U.S. Palestinians need bother applying.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has even enthusiastically revived the Clinton administration's favored policy of trying to try and "persuade" India to accept U.S. "mediation."
This would lead to a de facto weakening or loss of Indian control of two-thirds of Muslim-majority Kashmir, which India has flatly identified as an inherent part of its sovereign nation since independence from Britain in 1947. India, therefore, understandably flat-out rejects it. Here at least is something Bill Clinton did do.
This Republican president, in his latest U-turn, has also approved a giant $30 billion bail-out for Brazil, after previously insisting he was flatly opposed to such things. And he actively pushed through a farm bill that was loaded to the gills with pork barrels in a way that would even have made a high spending 1950s-60s Democratic Congress blush. Bill Clinton would certainly have understood all that.
Bush is even working flat out on immigration policies that will assure a flood of new low-income Hispanic-immigrant voters, especially from Mexico, who will swamp California, Arizona and his own native Texas. That will assure these key Sun Belt states, the very bedrock of the Republican national dominance of the past 34 years, will be dominated by low-income, pro-Democratic voting blocks for at least a generation. And that will ensure the deathblow to the already crumbling Republican national coalition.
You can hear Bill Clinton cheering about that one.
What is going on? In large part, of course, Bush is discovering as 42 presidents before him did as well that the biggest problem any national leader faces in office is what late British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan called "events, dear boy, events."
Bush had to throw money as if it was water at national security after the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. He certainly had to send U.S. forces half a world away to try and hunt out the terrorist group responsible. And he is hardly the first president to ignore his own campaign platform in making U-turns either to avoid another international fiscal crisis, as in bailing out Brazil, or to try and woo key voting constituencies, as with the farm bill.
But this is only a small part of the story. There is a worrying and widespread disconnect at work here. Senior administration officials are not embarrassed, or even proud, about the contradictions between what they pledged to do and what they are in fact doing. They seem genuinely -- and overwhelmingly -- to be convinced that there are no contradictions at all.
It does not seem to bother any of them that so many of their core policies contradict the fundamental principles and traditional policies of their party. Anything that they do, they clearly believe, is therefore by definition a fundamental principle of the Republican Party.
So far, the president's own core ratings have remained extremely high. He is still hovering at around 70 percent in approval ratings, enough to ensure a historic blowout landslide -- if he maintained them -- against a weak and problematic Democratic candidate in the 2004 election. And right now every leading Democratic candidate looks weak and problematic. Where Bush has problems -- and they are big ones -- is with traditional Republican voters and core constituencies increasingly uneasy about what he is doing.
But once you start thinking of Bush as the best Democratic president since, not Clinton, but Carter, all these puzzling contradictions are easily resolved. Clearly, that Harvard and Yale education had more of a northeast liberal, elite effect on the young Dubya than is generally realized.
Once it is recognized that Bush is Carter's true heir, not Reagan's, his Dad's or even Clinton's, then the 2004 race becomes a lot clearer too. Let John McCain bolt the GOP and run as the highly popular Democratic Party candidate.
In reality, of course, he will just be using the Democratic power base to campaign as a traditional Republican. That will free up George W. Bush even more to be what he already so clearly is, the Democrats' dream candidate using the Republican Party as his own political vehicle.
Let Bush be Bush? He already is. That's the problem. No wonder Jimmy Carter is laughing.