Many conservatives, maybe most of them, opposed the drug benefit. So did Democrats and liberals. And it appeared that the new program might not become the political bonanza that the White House and Republicans had hoped it would be. Month after month, polls found it to be unpopular.
Not anymore. Now that 30 million of the country's 43 million eligible seniors have signed up, the drug benefit has become popular. Ninety percent in a poll by the Tarrance Group say they understand the plan and how to use it. While enrolling may have been difficult and time-consuming, 65 percent say it was worth it. Plus, the monthly fee and the cost of the entire program has turned out to be less expensive than had been projected.
"What ranks among the single best issues Bill Clinton used to club Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in the 1990s?" a Bush adviser says. "Medicare. That issue has essentially been taken off the table since the program was created [in 1965] and over time our proposal may well make Medicare a net plus for Republicans. At a minimum, though, Republicans have been pretty much inoculated against the charges by Democrats."
So in this fall's midterm election, the drug benefit will hardly be an albatross. Republicans will have a positive achievement to brag about. If it helps Republicans stave off a Democratic landslide, its political value will have been confirmed.
There are two points in all this. One, conservative presidents--indeed, conservative elected officials at all levels of government--will always wander from conservative tenets. The test is whether there's a flip side, a strengthening in the fight for conservative aims. And second, even the most sainted conservatives--Reagan, for instance--harbor nonconservative thoughts. If this is an insurmountable problem for conservatives, my advice is, get over it.
I don't know if this will help Republicans or not, but I am sure that constantly demanding we cut seniors will hurt them. Old people vote and they dislike being treated like deadweight.
Sometimes it seems that some folks forget about that whole winning elections part of the equation.
Fred Barnes also touches on another phenomenon I have noticed of late: Ronald Reagan and the way he actually governed. He was not fiscally conservative, he was not always a hawk as far as that is concerned. Reagan was a politician, first and foremost. Here of late I have noted on some conservative blogs, at least in the comment section, a certain yearning for a real conservative like Reagan.
Yeah right. I remember Reagan, he was not Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater lost the election, Reagan on the other hand won. Maybe he did not always do exactly what the conservatives wanted him to do, but he was effective. He knew that alienating significant portions of the population for the sake of ideology was stupid, and he was not a stupid man. Bush isn't either. Too bad I can't say the same thing for some of his base.