Writing in TNR Jonathan Chait makes the following case:

There are two basic ways to think about President Bush’s relationship with the religious right. The first is that Bush is a genuine ally of social conservatives who, while often cagey in public, takes every opportunity to advance their agenda. As liberals would phrase this interpretation, Bush is a tool of the religious right. The second–utterly diametrical–theory is that Bush is mainly interested in harvesting votes from religious conservatives in order to implement an agenda dominated by his economic backers. In liberal-ese: Social conservatives are hapless GOP dupes. At this point, five years and two Supreme Court nominations into the Bush presidency, we can arrive at a definitive answer. And the verdict is: hapless dupes.

He’s right. And, this dynamic also plays out on education though less destructively. The religious right would like to see Bush working hard to rollback the overall federal role in education, expand private school choice, and push social issues like prayer. Instead, Bush has expanded the federal role, done next to nothing on vouchers, and nothing on their other issues. He’s basically pushed the economic Republican agenda on education which is better performance, particularly in math and science, and more accountability. And, refreshingly, the economic Republican agenda on education is actually pretty mainstream and enjoys bipartisan support as opposed to that agenda on say, environmental regulation, tax policy, health care, etc…

Nonetheless, and despite the same dynamic in Texas for two terms, religious conservatives still think he’s pretty much their guy on education because Margaret Spellings periodically lashes out at cartoon characters. Dupes indeed.

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