As noted briefly in this space yesterday, Pete Wehner is upset with me.
Shallow, he says of me in Commentary. Interesting comeback, I suppose, until one realizes that before writing “The Shallow Musings of Jeffrey Lord” Pete had penned “Walter Russell Mead’s Shallow and Misleading Attack on the Bush Legacy.” And that is separate and apart from his thoughts on Governor Sarah Palin when he said “she relies instead on shallow talking points.”
I get it. You get it. Pete is apparently deeply into shallow.
Umbrage — pretentious, humorless, umbrage? (relax, Pete! Chill!) — is taken in my response to Wehner’s alliterative title The Reckless Rhetoric of Palin and Cain. Taking this as an apparent effort at rapping or perhaps poetry, I began by asking if my own post should be titled The Wimpy Wussings of Wehner. To which I was compared to “the Oscar Wilde of the second grade.”
Well! Take that, Lord! You clueless, shallow fool! Never get into a rap contest with Wehner!
OK! OK! Lesson learned! I’ll never do it again! I swear!
But humorless pretension aside, or maybe it’s just irritation at being challenged on his ideas, Pete insists: “Then there’s Lord’s claim, laughable to anyone who is familiar with my views, that I am a ‘collectivist conservative.’”
Where would I get such a nutty idea? After all, as Wehner says, he once wrote:“A posture of bold fiscal conservatism is simply not compatible with timid evasions on Medicare reform…”
I was also a fairly active presence both privately and publicly when it came to urging the GOP House leadership to embrace Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, including his advocacy for premium supports in Medicare. All of which leads me to wonder if Mr. Lord even understands what collectivism actually is.
Good for Pete.
But alas, unless there’s another Pete Wehner out there, I have to assume it was this same Pete Wehner in this piece where, along with another ex-Bush aide Michael Gerson, the two write:
At the center of any such effort lies a thoroughgoing reform of the federal role in education, focusing on public and private choice, charter schools, testing and accountability, and merit pay for teachers and principals. But a mobility agenda might also include measures to improve job training, encourage college attendance and completion among the poor, discourage teen pregnancy, improve infant and child health, and encourage wealth-building and entrepreneurship.
A thoroughgoing reform of the federal role in education? How about abolishing the Department of Education? Well, no. That is not a Wehner favorite or a Gerson favorite. Nor, in fact, was it a Bush favorite. The Bush/Wehner/Gerson approach — No Child Left Behind — was to expand the federal role in education.
In that very same article there is Pete Wehner presenting one liberal proposition after another as accepted gospel. The GOP is seen as anti-Hispanic! The GOP is seen as anti-science! The GOP is “judgmental and retrograde”! Oh nooooooooooooo! What to do? Well, instead of seeing government as the problem, this Peter Wehner is everywhere insisting on a “limited but active role for government” or that “government shares some responsibility” or going on about “anti-government paranoia.”
This is what Margaret Thatcher called “accommodationist politics” that makes conservatives part of the “socialist ratchet,” to use a phrase of Thatcher colleague Keith Joseph. Liberals in America and Britain constantly want to move America and Britain left toward statism, and moderate Republicans (or Tory wets) like Wehner and Gerson stand pat or say “just a little but no further.” In Goldwater’s phrase this is the “dime store New Deal.” To read Wehner and Gerson is to read the American version about Thatcher’s formulation of Tory wets dealing with the socialist ratchet by loosening the corset, never removing it. Collectivist conservatism, if you will.
And of course, as Wehner never addresses, well aside from the dreadful governmental consequences that inevitably flow from this business, the politics are ghastly. As it happens, much is being made at this moment of President Obama’s approval ratings. Clarus Research has just sent out their latest, which shows the President at 48%. For comparison? Bush 43 at this point was at 47%. Clinton: 55% And Ronald Reagan? That would be 63%.
Which returns us to the old argument.
Like clockwork moderate Republican presidential candidates lose. Or, as noted — and I understand it may be too painful for Wehner to address — in the case of Bush 43 (whom, if it matters, I liked — he was magnificent post-9/11 and yes, he was right on Iraq — this well aside that in person he’s both a nice guy and a genuinely good soul) “compassionate conservatism” needed the Supreme Court to get it into the White House and it barely survived the 2004 re-election. Reaganesque landslides these were not.
As to what Wehner calls my “anger” (????) at his comments on Governor Palin and Herman Cain’s remarks, one has to be amused. As your basic happy-go-lucky Reaganite optimist I save my anger for serious things.
My point, which Wehner either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand, is that Reagan was criticized not just for his views — but just like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain — for his rhetoric. (And, it should be noted, that Palin, like Reagan and Thatcher, has had to endure a boatload of snarky, condescending commentary from people…hmmmm… who quite amusingly have nothing to condescend about. Would-be intellectual or social emperors without clothes, as it were.)
When Reagan went on national television in 1964 and accused Lyndon Johnson and liberals of dragging America down to “the ant-heap of totalitarianism,” saying LBJ was leading the U.S. to — Reagan’s words — “socialism” — moderate Republicans gasped in horror. And that’s before he asked, “Should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross?” Oh my. Vapor City!
Alongside these comments — made 49 years ago in a nationally televised address that in fact launched Reagan on the road to the presidency — Palin’s comment that America is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state” and Cain’s comment that the country is “running full speed down the tracks towards socialism and towards communism” are beyond tame. In fact they are nothing more than not-so-updated versions of what Reagan himself said that October night of 1964. And for that matter, what Reagan said that night was the core of a speech he had been delivering for a decade on what he liked to call “the mashed potato circuit” – and would continue delivering in one form or another until the day he became president and well beyond. In fact, it was just this direct approach that did lead exactly to what Wehner sneers at as “the political promised land.”
In unpleasant truth? It’s a good bet that without Ronald Reagan speaking exactly this way – there would have been no Bush 41 or Bush 43 presidency. Period.
Again, my criticism isn’t personal of Pete Wehner, although he seems to have taken it that way.
But he does, along with his friend Michael Gerson and too many, many others (Jennifer Rubin call your office), represent the brand of thinking that has repeatedly spelled political disaster for Republicans and ushered them out of the political promised land to the wilderness.
So there you go, Peter.
Shallowly yours but best wishes anyway,
Your conservative friend,
Oscar from the Second Grade.
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