Tensions in the conservative coalition, between libertarians and neoconservatives, religious traditionalists and traditional Republicans, businessmen big and small, are not new. The fissures between social conservatives and market conservatives usually closed, and they joined to win elections. Bob Dole, criticized for not being conservative enough, nevertheless called himself a Ronald Reagan conservative and declared that liberty should not be perceived as license. What Ronald Reagan called the "magic of the marketplace" often required conservatives "to raise our voices in protest when the profit motive turns poisonous, coarsening our culture, polluting our air or airwaves."
It's a mark of conservatism that hope must be tempered by experience. George W. learned that from his father's defeat. "Read my lips," can't morph into "Swallow the taxes." He's late in calling for spending restraint but he says he means it. (We'll see.) "The farther back you look," said Winston Churchill, "the farther forward you see." The late Robert Bartley, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal for 30 years, said it succinctly: "Conservative principles and conservative approaches start in the real world as it exists, not in some lovely but imaginary utopia."
I grew up in a card-carrying New Deal family, where Republican women were ridiculed as little old ladies in tennis shoes guarding the water against fluoride or as buxom Daughters of the American Revolution looking backward to their ancestors with little interest in the future. Ronald Reagan restored my patriotism with his clear-eyed view of "the evil empire."
George W. Bush is not Ronald Reagan, but in some ways he echoes the earlier president's foreign policy vision. He has not fought the war in Iraq with the competence we expected, but his vision sounds like the vision Ronald Reagan shared with the British parliament in 1982: "We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable right of all human beings. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy."
We'll have to wait and see whether this can apply in Iraq. That will be the president's legacy, for better or worse, no matter how we characterize his ideology.
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