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E. J. Dionne Misunderstands the Tea Party

1:10 PM, Oct 25, 2010 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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Having unsuccessfully defended the view that the Tea Party is small and inconsequential, Dionne proceeds to misstate the disagreement between left and right in America.  He declares that, “Liberals do differ with the right-wing in believing that the federal government has the authority under the general welfare and commerce clauses of the Constitution to support programs for social security, health care, environmental and food safety regulation, and the protection of the rights of labor.”  Although some right wing voices, and some of them loud, call for repeal of the New Deal, most conservatives do not quarrel with the authority of the federal government to enact social welfare programs and regulate our complex post-industrial economy.  Rather, they challenge progressive views about where the lines should be drawn.  And Tea Party supporters and almost all conservatives believe that the Obama administration has drawn the lines in the wrong places, in the process unleashing uncontrolled spending, unaccountable bureaucracy, ballooning deficits, and nearly double-digit unemployment.

In conclusion, Dionne urges me, and conservatives more generally, “to apply the example of their distinguished forebears, notably William F. Buckley Jr., by challenging the sometimes exotic extremism that is now taking hold on parts of the right, including parts of the Tea Party.”  Apparently, Dionne hasn’t done his homework.  In essays since January 2009 in the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere—for example, here, here, here, here, and here—I have argued that conservatives must cultivate moderation, recover the spirit of reform, and undertake the nuts and bolts work involved in crafting viable reforms including of health care.  And publications such as City Journal, The Claremont Review of Books, National Affairs, and Policy Review brim with thoughtful efforts to translate conservative principles into responsible public policy.

Dionne is right to want a reasonable conservatism.  He is wrong to promulgate the myth that it does not exist.

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. 

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