What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.
It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:
“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.
“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”
Chilling, I know. Reagan would be criticized. Talk about Stalinism! It’s fair to say, then, that liberal reaction to Bush’s comments has been disproportionate to their content. It’s hard to imagine conservatives criticizing Reagan–unless, of course, you were alive during the Reagan administration. Here’s just one of many examples, from the L.A. Times, to which Richard Viguerie ran down a list of a few things conservatives were upset with Reagan about: “abortion, pornography, busing and economic issues, but at the core of the criticism is anti-communism. Across the board he seems to be deserting his anti-communist position he has had for the last 30 years.”
The headline on the story was “Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics.” Both liberals and conservatives have taken some poetic license during the years with Reagan’s legacy. But Reagan was criticized. He responded to the criticism. The right engaged in a debate. There was plenty of disagreement, yet Reagan continues to be lionized by conservatives who, unlike Milbank and the left, aren’t terrified by the clash of ideas.