Friday, September 23, 2005


High Noonan For The Bush Era?

After too much time putting together columns that were two-parts sacharine and one-part New Agey philosophy (think Elian Gonzalez and the dolphins), Peggy Noonan strikes back with one of her best efforts in years.

The main focus of her column is criticizing the Bush administration's budget profligacy. However, it should surprise no one that the true aim is to provide a defense of the legacy of her one-time boss and eternal hero Ronald Reagan from what Noonan perceives is unfair slights from the team currently occupying the White House:

The administration, in answering charges of profligate spending, has taken, interestingly, to slighting old conservative hero Ronald Reagan. This week it was the e-mail of a high White House aide informing us that Ronald Reagan spent tons of money bailing out the banks in the savings-and-loan scandal. This was startling information to Reaganites who remembered it was a fellow named George H.W. Bush who did that. Last month it was the president who blandly seemed to suggest that Reagan cut and ran after the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon.

"Last month"? I don't know where Peggy has been, but the trope of "Reagan running from Lebanon and empowering Islamist fundamentalism" has been a regular part of administration talking points for months. Indeed, it was repeated Thursday:

The terrorists saw our response to the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings in the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. The terrorists concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves, and so they attacked us.

Noonan would likely note that "leaving Saddam in power in the first Gulf War" didn't make the list this time -- and who was president at that moment.

Noonan's "iron fist in a velvet glove" approach shouldn't be ignored. This administration modeled itself after Reagan early on and tried to recreate the Gipper's emotional attachment with the conservative base. Indeed, it was not unusual for Bush aides to note approvingy a New York Times Magazine article by Bill Keller that was cover-branded, "Reagan's Son." So, Noonan's comment, "This was startling information to Reaganites who remembered it was a fellow named George H.W. Bush who did that," has a particular aim: She is likely to have been talking to more than a few Reagan veterans who are none too happy to have Reagan be used as some excuse for unconservative policy.

Is Peggy talking with Nancy? Who knows? But consider this a possible shot across the Bush bow.

She concludes:

Here are some questions for conservative and Republicans. In answering them, they will be defining their future party.
If we are going to spend like the romantics and operators of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society;
If we are going to thereby change the very meaning and nature of conservatism;
If we are going to increase spending and the debt every year;
If we are going to become a movement that supports big government and a party whose unspoken motto is "Whatever it takes";
If all these things, shouldn't we perhaps at least discuss it? Shouldn't we be talking about it? Shouldn't our senators, congressmen and governors who wish to lead in the future come forward to take a stand?
And shouldn't the Bush administration seriously address these questions, share more of their thinking, assumptions and philosophy?
It is possible that political history will show, in time, that those who worried about spending in 2005 were dinosaurs. If we are, we are. But we shouldn't become extinct without a roar.

Ah, there's a familiar name to toss into the discussion: Lyndon Baines Johnson. It's not the first time in recent days that the Son of Texas synonymous with the Great Society has been mentioned in the same breath as George W. Bush. Check here. And here.

Going from being compared to RWR to LWJ in two years is unhealthy for any president. For an ostensibly conservative one, it could portend a political death-spiral.

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