An intriguing (and extensive) debate has arisen between Mark Levin and Pete Wehner on who the more principled conservative was between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Now, for most reading this, you'd think this one would be a no-brainer, but this debate does more than just compare, contrast and ‘one-up’. This debate cuts to the core of the battle that's ensuing within the Republican Party right now between the Establishment and the Principled, and in turn, clarifies what it means to be ‘conservative’.
Before delving into this, here’s some background info on both men to give you a better perspective of where these guys are coming from. As everyone knows, Mark Levin is a popular conservative talk radio host and author, as well as president of Landmark Legal Foundation. However, Mark also served in the Reagan administration as advisor to several members of President Reagan’s Cabinet, eventually becoming Associate Director of Presidential Personnel and ultimately Chief of Staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese; he also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary education at the Department of Education, and Deputy Solicitor of the Department of the Interior. Pete Wehner is an author, writer and commentator, who served in the Reagan and Bush 41 Administrations prior to becoming deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush. Wehner is the former Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives. Prior to joining the Bush 43 Administration, Wehner served as a special assistant to the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under his father’s administration, and before that, as a speechwriter for then-Secretary of Education Bill Bennett (Reagan Administration). So now that you know a bit more about these guys, let’s proceed…
Jeffrey Lord has so profoundly commented on this debate, addressing the different perspectives that each held on the ‘civility’ or ‘courtesy’ in governance, pointing out that “Reagan was the first conservative president since Calvin Coolidge to sit in the Oval Office. And certainly the first post-New Deal conservative to hold the presidency….Republican predecessors Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford all having been moderates on the job.” Yet, we see Bush, as well as the elder, slip back into that ‘Republican Eastern Establishment’, in which that mindset of comity was key. Whereas, “Reagan, to his everlasting credit, spent his entire political career politely but forcefully opposing this idea of comity-as-government.” In the Bush administrations, particularly Bush 43, we see not only an adherence to ‘comity-as-government’, but a severely damaging silent consent given to those principles behind the progressive movement and the New Deal. Lord concludes:
“But the underlying difference between Reagan and Bush -- and indeed between Reagan and some putative GOP successors in the 2012 elections -- was (and is) a fundamental understanding of conservatism. And a refusal to buy into the idea that comity meant going along to get along.
In some respects that simply should not have happened in a Republican post-Reagan presidency, the Bush White House seemed to not quite understand that a dime store New Deal was even more expensive then when the likes of Tom Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller were pushing it.
There is a reason Mark Levin sees Reagan as the gold standard for conservatives.
And he's right in doing so.”
Indeed. I don’t recall “going along to get along” ever being a new mantra for conservatism; yet, we see this resurgence throughout too many Republicans today. This reminds me of what Levin accurately describes in Liberty and Tyranny:
“This is not the way of the Conservative; it is the way of the neo-Statist – subservient to a “reality” created by the Statist rather than the reality of unalienable rights granted by the Creator.”
Sources: Wikipedia, EPPC