In today’s Impromptus, I have some comments on Chief Justice Roberts, including a gibe. (Columnists must gibe.) A reader writes, “I fear he has grown in office, and will keep growing.” Yes, that is a fear. For political newcomers, we’ll need a brief history lesson.
During the 1980s, Tip O’Neill and other liberals said, “We were hoping that Reagan would grow in office, but he hasn’t grown at all.” What they meant was, he had not shed his small-government principles and his hawkish views. He had not accepted the post-LBJ state, and détente. He had not learned to love Big Brother. He was still clinging to guns and religion, so to speak. He was as provincial, blinkered, and right-wing as ever.
Truth is, some conservatives lamented that he had indeed “grown” in office. He had gone out of his way to accommodate liberals and moderates, and to accommodate the Kremlin. He was raising taxes, spending like crazy, welcoming wetbacks, pursuing arms control. One common cry from the right was, “None of this would be happening if Ronald Reagan were alive.”
Anyway, that was a long time ago. He is now our Saint Ronald. We have moved on to calling Mitt Romney a marshmallow. No conservative ever said a bad word about Reagan (and all Frenchmen joined the Resistance).
But I was talking about language, wasn’t I? Since the 1980s, “to grow,” in the conservative lexicon, has meant to become more liberal and less conservative, conforming to the consensus, and winning the approval of the Establishment. Which brings us back to John Roberts . . .
In the current NR, I have an essay that quotes an Associated Press headline, appearing on July 1: “More nuanced view of Roberts after health care law.” Yup. And, you know? Once a guy has heard the approval of the cool kids in school, it’s hard for him to go back to being an outsider. An upsetter of the apple cart. A square.
Mrs. Roberts surely hoped her boy would grow — but we righties are saying, “Please, no.”