Can we stop this already. I've written here before about how it's somewhat of a distortion to have Reagan stand for all things ultimately conservative. While yes, he was not exactly a moderate, but in comparison to Bush he was, and with regards to GW and conservative values, Bush is much closer to being a true conservative than Reagan ever was.
It's about a month old, but Peter Beinart wrote about this subject in TNR. Regarding this growing consensus that GW has strayed far from the ways of Reagan, Beinart writes:
Rarely has so widespread a view been so wrong. In fact, Bush is not merely conservative; he is more conservative than Ronald Reagan, the man whose ideological legacy he has supposedly betrayed....To listen to Bush's critics, you would think that discretionary, nonsecurity-related spending has exploded on his watch. But it hasn't. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, when you take account of inflation and population growth, it grew a mere 2 percent between 2001 and 2006. And, as a percentage of GDP, it actually fell. What has exploded -- rising 32 percent after inflation and population growth -- is spending on defense, homeland security, and international affairs. And the people most responsible for those increases are conservatives themselves, who demanded an expansive war on terrorism.And so with this past election, failed conservative policies were rejected. What voters chose was not some better form of conservatism (?) but rather a more moderate and reasonable of political ideology.
Compare all this with Reagan. For starters, domestic, nondefense discretionary spending was higher, on average, under the Gipper. Reagan made no effort to privatize Social Security, even though its 1983 fiscal crisis offered him a golden opportunity. Instead, he raised the retirement age and raised taxes. In fact, while Bush followed his initial 2001 tax cut with three more, Reagan followed his large 1981 cut with tax hikes in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Today, conservatives remember Reagan as an anti-government crusader. But, at the time, many called him a coward.
Bush has now appointed two Supreme Court justices whom the Christian right adores. By contrast, Reagan stuck by his 1981 nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor even after Jerry Falwell said that every good Christian should oppose her. Viguerie himself attacked Reagan for siding with the liberal establishment, and his fears proved well-founded. Not only did O'Connor support abortion rights, but Reagan's third Supreme Court appointee, Anthony Kennedy, also voted to uphold Roe v.Wade.
The latest [issue] is immigration, where Bush has been widely scorned for supposedly backing amnesty for illegal immigrants. Where on earth could he have gotten that idea? From Reagan, of course, who, in 1986, signed a bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
Then there is foreign policy....As National Review's Romesh Ponnuru noted in June 2003, when Bush launched the Iraq war almost everyone who considers himself a conservative did support it. In fact, Bush's foreign policy has proved more faithful to conservative principles than did Reagan's. When terrorists killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, Bush responded by invading two countries. When terrorists killed 241 American servicemen in Lebanon in October 1983, by contrast, Reagan promptly cut and ran. (The month before, when the Soviets shot down a South Korean airliner, killing 269 civilians, Reagan responded just as weakly: He did nothing.) And what about evil regimes? Bush shuns them. Reagan, by contrast, sold arms for hostages with Iran. And he placed so much faith in Mikhail Gorbachev that prominent conservative intellectuals called him a dupe. "Reagan," declared [George] Will, "has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West by elevating wishful thinking to the status of political philosophy."
Conservatives aren't turning on Bush because his policies aren't conservative. They are turning on him because his policies, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, have dramatically failed -- and failed policies, by definition, cannot be conservative.
With Bush, you're staring at raw, naked conservatism in all its glory -- and the problem is many conservatives don't like to look in the mirror. Their solution? Morph history and facts to fit their Walter Mitty reality, attempting to have us believe that Reagan was a 100% pure conservative. It's simply not true.