Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed two books that are highly critical of the Bush regime - one ostensibly from the left, Joe Conason's It Can Happen Here - Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (which I blogged about, and which I feel transcends the left/right divide), and one from the right, Michael Tanner's Leviathan on the Right - How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.
Michael Tanner is a Reagan Republican who feels the promise and glory of Reaganism has been squandered by those who would be his successors. "To dramatize this fall from grace," Heilbrunn, the reviewer, writes, "Tanner evokes a lost conservative golden age that stretched from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan." Then, much to his credit, he reminds us:
Tanner is a lucid writer and vigorous polemicist who scores a number of points against the Republican Party's fiscal transgressions, but he has ultimately produced a fairy tale.
The notion that Reagan actually fought for small government is wishful thinking. The Gipper didn't abolish a single major federal agency, he strengthened Social Security by approving a payroll tax hike and he added $1.4 trillion to the national debt. It was Bill Clinton who left behind a $236 billion surplus in 2000, which Bush promptly squandered. Contrary to Tanner and many other Reagan idolaters, Bush hasn't forsaken Reagan's legacy; by engaging in simultaneous tax cuts, massive military spending and deficit spending, he has continued it.
What's more, Tanner glides rather easily from linking the corruption of the Republican Congress to big government. There is no necessary connection between the two. The fact that a Republican Congress looted the government on behalf of big business and itself does not discredit Social Security, Medicare and a host of other programs. It simply testifies to the venality of the Republican Congress. Perhaps Tanner's most questionable claim is that "politically, for all the internal disagreements, support for a strong national defense remains the glue that holds the various wings of the Republican Party together. The debate that will truly matter is whether or not conservatives still believe in small government." Like it or not, conservatives such as Tanner will have to grapple with the political, moral and fiscal consequences of an imperial foreign policy.
This is a bit of a non sequitur, but any truth-telling about the Reagan presidency is a breath of fresh air, and worth mentioning.