August 4, 2006

Not As Sagergacious As He Thinks

Hatched by Dafydd

Is anyone else getting as tired of Ryan Sager at Real Clear Politics Blog as I?

I don't mind his libertarianism; I'm a libertarian myself (though I don't have the brazenness to lecture conservatives on how they should define their movement).

Nor am I particularly bothered by his relentless and pugnacious Giuliani boosterism and babbittry: although I don't particularly share Rudy Giuliani's smug satisfaction with liberal bromides on abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other issues; and though I would prefer either George Allen or Mitt Romney to Giuliani; still, I think he did a fairly good job as mayor of New York City, on the whole... and I would have no difficulty voting for Rudolph Giuliani for president, were he the Republican nominee.

What I find incomprehensible about Ryan Sager is the double standard he employs anent Giuliani and George W. Bush, screaming for attention in this most recent piece on RCP.

Sager takes the side of E.J. Dionne, who pronounced "the end of the Right" (or at least conservatism) yet again in a new column, also posted on Real Clear Politics: Ryan overlooks anticonservative tendencies in his beloved Giuliani (and Reagan -- see below) that he denounces when they crop up as forced compromises between Bush and the more liberal Republicans in the Senate.

Even Sager notes that Dionne has written this column before (I think "incessantly" is the word required here):

E.J. Dionne may have a special affinity for declaring various ends to conservatism. But that doesn't mean he's wrong.

Then Sager continues on to agree with many of Dionne's examples of where "conservatism" has gone wrong -- laying the blame squarely on Sager's usual whipping boy, George W. Bush... who (by a strange coincidence) is also the favorite bugaboo of "movement" libertarians from Virginia Postrel, et al, of Reason Magazine; to the LP under the bumptious and odious influence (I wouldn't say leadership) of L. Neil Smith; to the growling Buckleyites left lurking in the House; to the Randroids:

Under George W. Bush, conservatism has ceased to mean much of anything at all. It's not about small government, it's not about fiscal discipline, it's not about states' rights, it's not even about competent war leadership....

How has Bush led us to such incoherence? Andrew Busch, author of Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right, put it well in an op-ed on OpinionJournal earlier this week: "Mr. Bush has neglected the critical task--carried out by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich--of advancing a public argument that connects his otherwise disparate policy decisions to a broader philosophical framework. He has failed to articulate the philosophical argument for limited government that once defined the Republican Party."

Here Sager -- along with Busch -- falls into the insidious trap of misunderestimating George W. Bush: because Bush has a more low-key style than did Ronald Reagan and doesn't give speeches ringing with references to "a shining city on a hill" or stirring pronouncements that Mr. Gorbachev should throw open those gates and tear down that wall, many who were first brought to some inkling of conservatism by Reagan (or Goldwater) assume that Bush is an inarticulate Alley Oop.

But in fact, Bush has grasped the essential fact that eludes many self-described libertarians (including Buckley himself recently): that safeguarding the country is at the core of preserving any rights or liberties at all. And that "limited government" means a very different thing when a country is in a state of open war than when it's in a state of (presumed) peace.

At this, Bush has made an amirable and eloquent case indeed. Sager errs to think that Reagan would have fought this war differently; I have faith that the Gipper would actually have been able to distinguish between strategies that work well against international Communism, which is a Western heresy, and those that must be pursued when the enemy is fanatical Islam, whether the radical Shiite or Sunni Islamists who want to destroy all modernity and replace it with a 7th-century theocracy, and who consider death a promotion (as somebody said, danged if I can remember who) -- or the openly fascistic, more or less secular Islamic tyrannies like the Baath Party.

Sager seems to have forgotten the entire decade of the 1980s if he thinks Bush compares unfavorably to Reagan on economic policies. As Fred Barnes so ably demonstrated in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, reposted on Yahoo for the benefit of those who don't subscribe:

But it's also on the spending issue that the Reagan myth--Reagan as the relentless swashbuckler against spending--is most pronounced. He won an estimated $35 billion in spending cuts in 1981, his first year in office. After that, spending soared, so much so that his budget director David Stockman, who found himself on the losing end of spending arguments, wrote a White House memoir with the subtitle, "Why the Reagan Revolution Failed."

With Reagan in the White House, spending reached 23.5 percent of
GDP in 1984, the peak year of the military buildup. Under Mr. Bush, the top spending year is 2005 at 20.1 percent of GDP, though it is expected to rise as high as 20.7 percent this year, driven upward by
Iraq and hurricane relief.

In fact, Barnes' entire piece, which Sager must have read, is almost a point-for-point refutation of Sager's thesis; yet he makes not a single reference to it! Not even to respond to Barnes' arguments.

Honestly, Sager's vein of Bush-is-anathema-to-conservatism ore is pretty much played out. He is not helping the Republicans for either 2006 or 2008 by trying to drive away their support. I know that libertarians like to pretend there is no difference between the "Republicrats" and the "Democans," but every single thing he lambastes Bush for doing (or not doing) would be a thousand times worse under a Democratic president and Congress.

And virtually the entirety of Sager's list (Busch's list, actually) of conservative actions that could rescue the party at, Sager believes, the minor cost of sacrificing George W. Bush, is in fact already being vigorously pursued by that same President Bus,h with the sole exception of "holding the fiscal line on both taxes and spending." Bush has done the former admirably; and even with the latter, it was in fact the GOP caucus in Congress that has gone on a spending spree like Imelda Marcos at a Versace's Shoe-Mart, not Bush. And in all the most egregious cases, there were more than enough votes to override any presidential veto of some spending "compromise" legislation, rendering such a veto useless.

  • Just like Reagan, Bush has chosen to ramp up the military in response to a frightening military threat, and to worry about paying that particular piper later.
  • Just like Reagan, Bush cut taxes dramatically; and he has held the line even better than his 1980s predecessor.
  • Just like Reagan, Bush has "re-energizing a public philosophy of constitutionalism and limited government" by appointing John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
  • Unlike Reagan, Bush has maintained the GOP majority in both houses throughout his administration, except for a two-year period of nominal Democratic control of the Senate due to Jumpin' Jim Jeffords turning his coat.
  • Unlike Reagan, who famously cheered on the anti-abortion forces while never actually doing anything to help them, Bush has pushed many policies of "measured cultural traditionalism," on embryonic stem-cell research, on parental-notification before abortion, on partial-birth abortion, on faith-based initiatives, and against same-sex marriage.

So please, somebody who knows him tell Ryan Sager, before he attacks Bush again tomorrow -- that he should consider the alternative.

And he should remember his history: those who cannot remember Georges Santayana are comdemned to repeat him.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2006, at the time of 11:47 PM

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Tracked on August 7, 2006 3:58 AM


The following hissed in response by: RattlerGator

Well done.

It almost seems like some folks are worried about one legacy (Geroge W. Bush) eclipsing another (Ronald Reagan) and I find that odd as hell.

The above hissed in response by: RattlerGator [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 6:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: bpilch

You hit the nail on the head with this one. Sager reminds me of some know it all in the bar that just spouts his own opinions without listening to anyone else...I was thinking this morning how tired I have gotten of him and how much his comments degrade RCP

The above hissed in response by: bpilch [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 8:21 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I am getting tired of a lot of the talking heads. Present company excluded ofcourse. I don't know what makes them think they are serving a useful function.

I remember Ronald Reagan and he was not a fiscal conservative, or that socially conservative and I doubt very much if he would ever have gone for building a wall. I don't think conservatism left people like Sagar, they left it.

This is something that both and left and right are dealing with...a bunch of loud mouth self styled experts trying desperately to drive their respective movements off a cliff because they themselves don't fit anymore.

George Bush tried to reform Social Security, Ronald Reagan raised payroll taxes. Which one of them sounds more like something a conservative would do?

Besides when it comes to fighting a war, it was Ronald Reagan who walked away from the Middle East after an attack on our Marines that killed hundreds. I can't see Bush doing that.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 10:55 AM

The following hissed in response by: levi from queens

Amirable -- a great word fusing amiable and admirable (with a vague middle eastern tint about the whole thing).

Kudos to the lizard for a well-thought post.

The above hissed in response by: levi from queens [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 7:20 PM

The following hissed in response by: JenLArt

Excellent piece, Dafydd, and one I wish had the exposure of Buckley's ravings on NRO and TV...
I'm sure that Bush himself has been very aware of being reminded that "he's no Reagan" and as with every thing else, he has grinned and borne it.
Thank God he's a secure man and is OK with not being Reagan, but with being himself and as you so clearly pointed out, he's very much a Conservative and maybe even more of one than even RR!
I believe that History will show both he and Reagan to have been 2 of our greatest Presidents.
Don't pay much attention to Sager, but I'm getting awfully tired of certain GOP-ers (like NRO staff, Laura Ingraham, some of the American Spectator crew, etc.) getting all misty-eyed over their late, great Reagan, asking "What would Reagan do?" and then criticizing Bush ad nauseum because he's disappointing to them.
Why President Bush hasn't gone back to drinking when he gets slammed all the time from both the Left and now the Right, I have no idea...all I can say is, the man must have a phenomenal prayer life!

The above hissed in response by: JenLArt [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 10:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

You forgot one item Reagan proposed missile defense, Bush actually went and built it.

Bush has played the cards he was dealt by history. Not expertly, but with some skill.

Bush's problem has been is inability to articulate what he believes and wants for the country in a glib and interesting way. This was Reagan's gift alone.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2006 9:16 AM

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