Will: Reagan Changed Conservatism, Maybe for Worse

George Will, who last year literally attempted to wave off global warming, this year types an unusually interesting assessment of a president he has often praised, Ronald Reagan.

Quoting a new book by New York historian John Patrick Duggins, he suggests that Reagan changed the nature of conservatism, and possibly for worse.

"God couldn’t create evil so the desires he planted in us are good." (Duggins wrote.) "Therefore there is no need for the people to discipline their desires. So, no leader needs to suggest that the public has shortcomings and should engage in critical self-examination."

Will goes on to mention that Duggins, an apparent admirer of Reagan, even brings up the  "unmentionable irony" of the right-wing icon, which is that "big-goverment conservatism is the inevitable result of Reaganism."

What Will means is George W. Bush, although these are words he seemingly cannot bear to commit to print. 

In fairness, he’s not thinking of the natural world, he’s thinking of Bush’s expansion of the government.

There’s no arguing that point, even on the right. From Bruce Bartlett (author of "Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America, etc.") to Rush Limbaugh ("there are no real conservatives on the national scene today") to George Will, it’s agreed that G.W. Bush has failed to reduce the size of government. In fact, it’s grown enormously on his watch.

But instead of training all our eyes on Washington, D.C., there’s another way to look at it. Not only did Bush’s mentor Reagan do all he could to diminish government, to take away its powers, he also did all he could to cut industry loose to do its work on the natural world we share.

That’s obvious in the legacy of James G. Watt, who promised when he took office that "We will mine more, we will drill more, we will cut more timber."

So has Bush cut loose the exploiters and the wasters. In 2001, when Vice-President Dick Cheney went back to the same ideas, Watt noticed, approved, and declared:

"Any reasonable, halfway intelligent person is going to come to the
same conclusion: you’ve got to have more oil, you’ve got to have more
coal, you’ve got to have more of everything," Watt said.

Back in 2001, the subject of global warming didn’t come up in the interview with Watt. After half an hour Googling, I find no evidence that in the years since anyone has asked James G. Watt his opinion of anthropogenic climate change. Maybe someone should.

But in the meantime, I will assume that the man who said "I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans" would scoff at the idea, as his fellow Reagan fans and followers almost always do (including Rush Limbaugh, James Imhoff, and Dick Cheney).

In truth, Watt at least was open about his intentions. Under the "big-government conservative" Bush, the same ideas were pursued with better lies ("Healthy Forests," "Clean Air Act").

Will isn’t interested in that, and he continues to scoff at the threat of global warming. But on one point I agree with him. He said Reagan changed conservatism.

The truth is, Republican conservatism sold out its legacy for a smile.

I wonder if George (the columnist) will ever admit it. The president obviously won’t.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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