In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. asserts, “Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word.” This is a silly claim, of course, but also a revealing one. When a liberal like Dionne insists that a liberal like Obama is the “true” conservative in the 2012 race, it shows the broad appeal of conservatism. It also shows the enormous damage liberalism has inflicted on itself when no one, not even Obama, wants to run on what he is. There is a reason reactionary liberalism in America has been discredited. It has been a failure in almost every significant way.
There are two other things worth noting in Dionne’s column, one of which is that like Sam Tanenhaus, he believes the role of conservatism is to ratify every radical gain of liberalism. Once ObamaCare is the law of the land, for example, repeal efforts become antithetical to conservatism. It’s also why Dionne was a passionate opponent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s; he believed that any effort to undo the welfare state achievements of liberalism was by definition un-conservative. This was (and remains) a terribly simplistic interpretation of conservatism.
The other statement worth noting from Dionne is when he writes, “[Obama] is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went.”
This is a rhetorical trick Dionne has been relying on for years now. When a conservative and/or Republican is president, he is a ferocious critic of that individual. And yet that individual’s reputation is restored by Dionne from time to time, if only to argue that every new Republican candidate for president is far more radical and dangerous than the ones who came before him. So Reagan, who looked very bad during his presidency, looked very good compared to George W. Bush. And now Reagan and Bush look responsible compared to the radicalism of the likes of Mitt Romney. And so it goes, like clockwork. And if Romney were fortunate enough to win the presidency, you can be sure that he would be portrayed as the most radical and destructive figure imaginable — until a new Republican monster comes down the road to replace him.