Gerson, Wehner, and the Losing Old Ways Crowd - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Gerson, Wehner, and the Losing Old Ways Crowd

It is remarkable to read pieces like these.


Time after time moderate Republicanism loses the presidency or wins by the skin of the Supreme Court’s teeth or 100,000 votes in Ohio – and this is held up as a successful way to run a political party.

The latest two pieces are here from ex-Bush 43 aide Michael Gerson and here from ex-Bush 43 aide Pete Wehner.

Gerson, who holds the distinction of boasting that “the Bush (2000) campaign was purposely attempting to alter the image of the Republican Party. And the party — rendered more open to change by eight years in the presidential wilderness — gave Bush the leeway to make necessary ideological adjustments.”

So again: How exactly did this disavowal of Reagan and conservatism work out for the Republican Party? Obviously, to say not well is a laughable understatement. Bush’s own narrow re-election in 2004 over John Kerry, his departure from the White House with an approval rating hovering in the frigid 30’s, and his inability to elect his successor—the similarly moderate John McCain—should in fact serve as an object lesson of what the GOP should not do.

Yet here is Gerson blithely saying that “the GOP needs its own Bill Clinton or Tony Blair — a leader to reposition the party and reinvigorate its political appeal.” He adds that the GOP should resist what he strangely calls “an oversimplified Reaganism.”

What needs to be said here is that, when all is said and done, Gerson is busy advocating the same old moderate Republicanism that has been losing elections since the Days of Dewey. In point of fact, were time travel available, we could pack Michael Gerson off to 1948 and he could write the same things for Dewey that he wrote for Bush and now writes for the Washington Post, and no one would notice the difference.

The GOP needs “its own Bill Clinton and Tony Blair”? You’ve got to be kidding. The reason Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were successful in the first place is because they convinced their respective parties – the American Democrats and the British Laborites – that they had to adapt to the huge successes of conservatives Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher respectively. Who in turn had successfully led the GOP to smashing successes by steering their respective parties away from “Me-Too” Republicanism and “Wet” Toryism. It would seem obvious, then, that the route to political success – the real “modernization” of the GOP – is to go back to future: to the conservative principles of Reagan and Thatcher. It was Reagan and Thatcher who succeeded – not their respective moderate successors George H.W. Bush and John Major, both of who followed precisely the Gerson path and wound up being humiliatingly dumped from office.

Then there’s Mr. Wehner, who has penned a piece titled “The Reckless Rhetoric of Palin and Cain.”

Perhaps I should have titled this reply the “Wimpy Wussings of Wehner”?

He writes:

But some of us also believe that those who claim to be conservative need to be held to certain standards as well; that to berate only the left for rhetorical overkill is to employ a double standard; and that irresponsible and careless language used by former governors and vice presidential candidates like Sarah Palin and former presidential candidates like Herman Cain helps discredit conservatism and the GOP. It is prima facie evidence of intemperate minds. And it actually helps Mr. Obama when his critics sound apocalyptically detached from reality…..

I’d add one other point: What Cain and Palin are doing damages public debate because it corrupts language and thought. Thinking clearly, George Orwell wrote in his classic essay on the debasement of our language, “is a necessary step toward political regeneration.”

This is amazing.

Once again a reminder that this is precisely the kind of accusation that was routinely thrown at Ronald Reagan is necessary. Reagan was called an “extremist” with regularity, and not simply because of his conservative views (views, as Gerson correctly notes, not shared by the Bushes). Whether giving his famous 1964 televised speech for Barry Goldwater (in which he bluntly referred to the Soviet Union as a “dangerous enemy” and accused liberals of the day of dragging America “down to the ant heap of totalitarianism”), or his various speeches or remarks as president (in which he said of Soviet leaders – to gasps from reporters at a press conference – that “they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” and called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”), Reagan was regularly pictured exactly as Wehner describes Palin and Cain. Reagan was regularly depicted…and I’m quoting here…as “deeply reactionary…negative…mean-spirted” (The Nation), a man who was leading the American equivalent of “Nazi nationalism and militarism” (a Claremont College professor). Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad depicted Reagan, according to one biographer, as “plotting a fascist putsch in a darkened Munich beer hall.” No less than Gerald Ford told a reporter in the New York Times that Reagan was too “extreme” to even be elected in the first place. (No word on whether Gerson was writing Ford’s speeches.)

In short?

In short, both Gerson and Wehner are doing the same-old, same-old moderate Republican schtick. There is not a thing new in their criticisms of the GOP or conservatives in general or, in this latest case, Palin and Cain in particular. Change their names and decades and they could have been right at home in the campaigns of – pick one or any – the vast majority of losing Republican nominees from Dewey to Dole or, yes, unpopular presidencies from Bush to Bush.

There’s nothing personal here. I’m sure both men love their wives, kids, dogs, and the flag. The point is that they are but two of what seems to be an eternal chorus inside the GOP of what one of Margaret Thatcher’s colleagues referred to as “collectivist conservatives.”

They struggle with principle and positively get the vapors over Reaganesque rhetoric. Just as the moderate Republicans – not to mention the liberals – of Reagan’s day did.

Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is why the GOP loses so many presidential elections with moderates or wins by the skin of the Supreme Court’s teeth.

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