The Corner

Re Reagan and Bush: Gosh, Fellers

I skimmed the Corner this ayem, saw a typically zesty but atypically mistaken comment by John Pod, then dashed off a response. I see now that there has been a mini-debate, on Dubya versus the Gippper, weaving its way through the Corner all day. A handful of notes:

Item: Ramesh’s observation that RR, like all good conservatives, was acutely aware of the importance of circumstance is acute.

Item: John Pod’s argument that the intellectual climate has changed since the Reagan years is a) true and b) beside the point. Whatever the intellectual status of statism, government spending remains a critical issue. You may be bored with it. Lots of folks are. (David Brooks studied with Milton Friedman when he was an undergraduate, and I’ve often suspected that David Brooks launched the notion of “big government conservatism” because he’d gotten sick and tired of hearing for so many years about the dangers of overspending.) And on domestic spending, what you have between Reagan and Bush is a difference in attitude so fundamental that it colors their policies, their public statements–every aspect of their administrations. Bush has never even attempted to control spending.

Item: The idea that what conservatives liked about the Gipper was what he mirrored in them is amusing, and, possibly, to some very tiny extent, true. But Reagan was a serious figure who played in national politics at a very high level for some three decades. And he did real things: He cut taxes, he transformed our defenses, he deployed missiles in Europe, invaded Grenada, launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, and then half-embraced and half-smothered Mikhail Gorbachev. He proved a critical figure, in other words, in the end of the cold war and the renaissance of the West. Let’s avoid deconstructionist nonsense, shall we, and admit that, until just over a year ago, we had in our presence a huge and historic figure.

Item: Reagan left ‘em wanting more–plenty of political scientists would argue that, in electing George H. W. Bush in 1988, the country was in effect voting for a third Reagan term. Dubya? He has three remaining years in office. But how will he fill them? What’s his agenda? See through the struggle in Iraq. Yes–and that could indeed prove a historic accomplishment. But what else? Does a domestic agenda even exist? There’s time for Dubya to regroup, as indeed Reagan had to regroup after Iran Contra. But regroup is exactly what he needs to do, and pronto.

Item: John Pod asks a good question: Between his inauguration and 9/11, did Congress send Bush any spending bills? (I’ll admit, in other words, that I simply passed along Lou Cannon’s remark without thinking it over.) Can a reader of this happy Corner inform me?

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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