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Dutch Treat

By Ryan H. Sager - February 16, 2006 12:00 AM

At last week's 33rd annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a clear frontrunner emerged for the 2008 Republican primary: Ronald Wilson Reagan. Everyone wants to be Reagan's heir, it seems. Absolutely no one wants to be George W. Bush's -- at least when it comes to domestic policy.

The criticism of Bush started with the very first panel, on immigration. "Open borders are wrong ... no matter how good they are for the restaurant industry," said Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), blasting the president's proposed guest-worker program. "It is the president who is out of step with his party, not Tom Tancredo."

And Tancredo's criticism of Bush didn't stop at the Mexican border. He also questioned whether the Republican Party under Bush stands for anything at all anymore. The president's No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare prescription-drug bill -- the two major legislative accomplishments of the Bush administration -- both were tremendous errors, Tancredo said, and the GOP should admit its mistakes and repeal them. "We are not the party of bigger government," he said.

Things didn't get much better for Bush from there. Even the presumed presidential candidate most closely affiliated with Bush-style conservatism, Sen. George Allen of Virginia, blasted the Republican Party's "spending problem" as the keynote speaker on the conference's first night. But the real fireworks came on the morning of the last day, as Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, laid it all on the line.

Pence has been an open critic of the Bush administration since the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill in late 2003. His first real shot across Bush's bow came when he gave the keynote address at CPAC a few months later in early 2004. At the time, he compared the Republican Party to a ship that had drifted off course. And then in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Pence led a full-on rebellion of conservative House members against the president's out-of-control spending.

That rebellion having led to little in the way of concrete changes in either the White House's or the House leadership's attitudes toward the size of government, Pence arrived at this year's CPAC in a mood that can best be described in one word: pissed.

"Two years ago," Pence said, coming on stage to thunderous applause, "I likened the state of the Republican movement to a tall ship at sea, a ship that had drifted off course ... I believed we could get back on course ... I no longer believe that.

"It's one thing to drift off course," he said, "it's quite another to continue on that course when half the crew and passengers are pointing out that nothing looks familiar ... not to mention tens of millions of Americans lining the shoreline yelling, 'You're going the wrong way!'

"Whether it's called 'compassionate conservatism' or 'big government Republicanism,' after years of record increases in federal spending, more government is now the accepted Republican philosophy in Washington," he said. "We are in danger of becoming the party of big government."

That the Republican Party has arrived, to paraphrase Reagan, at another time for choosing, has become undeniable. While all candidates for the GOP nomination in 2008 will be positioning themselves as the heirs to Bush's leadership in the War on Terror (though, perhaps, with some refinements), it is difficult to imagine any candidate declaring himself or herself Bush's domestic heir.

In looking for a way forward, then, many -- as they did over and over again at CPAC -- reach back to Reagan. There was a conservatism that was sunny, optimistic, resolute in its pursuit of American security and wedded to conservative principle.

Republicans may recall, as Pence quoted Reagan saying in a 1975 address to CPAC: "A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, simply to swell its ranks."

Republicans have had quite enough of political expediency from 1999 to now. The question is whether conservatives can any longer agree on their fundamental beliefs. They've got roughly two years to figure it out.

Ryan Sager, a columnist for The New York Post, is writing a book about the future of the Republican Party, due out in September. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at editor@rhsager.com.

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3 Comments

Nice try
Yes Bush has not vetoed any spending bills, but, the legislative branch has been doing a land office business in puffing them up and sending them forth for signature. If the congresscritters are, in fact, '****ed' then for starters they could stop sending overwrought spending bills across the street. The President has no authority to appropriate funding w/o the approval of congress, so that dog's not hunting.

Line Item Veto
"..more government is now the accepted Republican philosophy in Washington," he said. "We are in danger of becoming the party of big government."

If Mr. Bush had Line-Item-Veto authority, he would likely be even more despised today...if that were possible.

The Mexican problem
Illegal immigration is not really the problem.
The problem is corruption in Mexico that does not let them take advantage of NAFTA to create the kind of jobs to keep the ambitious workers of Mexico happy at home.
Who in their right mind would not prefer to have a good job at home rather than make a perilous journey to make more money in a place that has a higher cost of living?

The solution? Some of the American Imperialism we are always being accused of: Add another star to our flag.

Congress would just have to pass a law inviting Mexico to be our 51st State. This would be followed by a vote in Mexico in favor of joining the USA.

Annexation would make the legal versus illegal debate moot.

Annexation would also allow for the cleaning out the corruption that keeps most Mexicans poor.

Annexation would also make our southern border more defensible (the current Mexican/Guatemalan border is a lot shorter.

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