When President Bush addressed the Class of '05 at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, he challenged them to be "champions of change," to cut through "established ways of thinking." Think outside the box and be innovative, he told them: "Pursue possibilities others tell you do not exist."
He accompanied the challenge with a warning. "The opponents of change are many, and its champions are few, but the champions of change are the ones who make history. Be champions, and you will make America safer for your children and your grandchildren, and you'll add to the character of our nation."
Do you notice something odd going on here? Political definitions have been turned upside down. A conservative president emphasizes change; the liberals in Washington, who for decades were the agitators for doing everything different, now suffer hardening of the arteries of the imagination. Curiously, neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times, the house organs of the liberal establishment, mentioned the president's call for creative thinking in their accounts of the speech. The Washington Times, whose editorial page defines the conservative resurgence, put it on Page One.
In a rare defense of the president's foreign policy, Martin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, the venerable liberal weekly, observed that "if George Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others." Such critics are the opponents of change and would rather depict the president as a dunce than cut thought the cant of narrow-minded liberal shibboleths.
Underestimating a conservative president is a professional hazard for liberals. They found that out the hard way with Ronald Reagan. When mossback liberals afflicted with cataracts failed to see his vision, many traditional Democrats simply switched parties. A new book, "Why I Am a Reagan Conservative," edited by Mike Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's deputy chief of staff and the author of his 49-state sweep in 1984, demonstrates why. (Full disclosure: I have a chapter in the book.) It wasn't easy to dissent from the received wisdom a generation ago. Mike Deaver notes that "liberal views dominated nearly every major institution for a good part of the century."
Liberal Democrats grew fat and lazy as conservatives grew energetic, organized the grassroots, built think tanks and spread their ideas through new media. Today liberals are huffing and puffing trying to find a way to play catch-up, but it's not easy for them, either.