Still Looking for New Conservative Leadership
In a Wall Street Journal editorial entitled Right and Ron: Republicans long for a new Reagan, Brendan Miniter offers this commentary on Republican Party leadership in the Congress and in the Oval Office:
…It’s telling that now, five years into the second Bush presidency, conservatives are still looking for the next Ronald Reagan to champion their ideas in Washington…Reaganism is the party’s philosophy, with its belief in small government, low taxes, forceful conservatism, a strong military and the view that this country is a shining example for all the world…
Both Messrs. Boehner and Shadegg are promising to bring Reagan back because over the past five years the party appears to have been seduced by the very forces it came to Washington to overturn–rampant spending with expansive new federal entitlements.
Of course, limited government wasn’t original to Reagan, and many of his ideas are inherent in President Bush’s governing philosophy, such as combating the nation’s enemies by spreading freedom around the world. But it was Reagan who branded these ideas into the nation’s consciousness by using them to remake one of the two dominant political parties. And it was Reagan who proved to be the change agent in Washington.
In part this was thanks to Reagan’s personality. He won political debates, won over allies and won popular support through sheer appeal, even if his policies were not always popular…Yet very few people today have a “Bush story” outside of the policy realm…
But it’s not all personality. One reason the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 did not prove to be the second wave of the Reagan revolution is that the dominant power in American government is the chief executive. And conservatives are still waiting for that second wave today because President Bush hasn’t effectively and consistently used one of the most powerful tools of the modern presidency: the bully pulpit.
Reagan did it in his first inaugural address by proclaiming an end to the brand of liberalism that had largely reigned uninterrupted since the Depression: “In this present crisis government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Today government largely remains the problem. Even Osama bin Laden and his followers would be much less of a threat if this country could bring its own bureaucracies to heel…But competence has long been the exception at the [CIA], which failed to assess Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities accurately, failed to stop A.Q. Kahn (father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb) from spreading nuclear technology to rogue regimes in North Korea and Libya and failed to uncover the Sept. 11 plot before it was too late. The FBI isn’t much better.
These days it’s hard to find a well-functioning government bureaucracy, or the political will to solve the nation’s problems. Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security all imperil the government’s financial well-being. Yet reforming them is proving to be impossible. Likewise, education reform is proving to be too tough a nut for our elected officials to crack.
Will Mr. Boehner, Mr. Shadegg or anyone else for that matter in the House be able to lead a governing revolution that tackles these problems?… but to really change the political culture, pressure has to come from outside Washington, with a little help from inside the Oval Office.