The Elusive Reagan Spirit

Ronald Reagan’s disembodied voice opened the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the host, American Conservative Union President David Keene, boasted that Reagan spoke at CPAC seventeen times. Indeed, the very first panel was a discussion of the former president. “What better way to start a Conservative Political Action Conference than with a conversation about Ronald Reagan?” asked right-wing publisher Al Regnery.

But while the activists gathered at CPAC are unanimous in invoking Reagan’s legacy, confusion about what that means was evident from the start.

Starting off the first panel (the one about Reagan), Robert Novak posed the question, “Is George W. Bush really Ronald Reagan’s disciple?” If Reagan were president, he asked, would we still be in Iraq? This panel agreed: Nope.

However, this moment of agreement was interrupted by the early arrival of the next speaker: Vice President Dick Cheney, who received standing ovations for his hard-line statements on the war, domestic surveillance, and the administration’s “tough” interrogation policy. The Bush Administration’s legacy appeared secure with this crowd.

And then the Reagan panel resumed: Would Reagan, Novak asked, “conceivably” have proposed such projects as No Child Left Behind or the Medicare prescription drug plan?