From Gerson's February 26 Washington Post column headlined "TR: The conservatives' new demon":
So Glenn Beck, speaking recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, identified a great enemy of human freedom as . . . Teddy Roosevelt. Beck highlighted this damning Roosevelt quote: "We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used."
Ah, you don't discern the scandal in this statement? Look closer. "This is not our Founders' idea of America," explained Beck. "And this is the cancer that's eating at America. It is big government -- it's a socialist utopia." Evidently, real conservatives defend wealth that is dishonorably gained and then wasted.
The problem with America, apparently, is not just the Great Society or even the New Deal; it is the Square Deal. Or maybe Beck is just being too timid. Real, hairy-chested libertarians pin the blame on Abraham Lincoln, who centralized federal power at the expense of the states to pursue an unnecessary war -- a view that Ron Paul, the winner of the CPAC presidential straw poll, has endorsed.
Lincoln doesn't need defenders against accusations of tyranny -- the mere charge is enough to diagnose some sad ideological disorder. But the Rough Rider also does not deserve such roughing up.
TR picked a number of fights with conservative Republicans, fight-picking being his favorite sport. But Roosevelt hated socialism. "It would spell sheer destruction," he said.
After stating that "few today would wish to return to 19th-century labor, health and antitrust standards," Gerson added:
All those few, however, seemed to be in attendance at CPAC, determined to sharpen an ideological debate. In the name of constitutional purity, they propose a great undoing. Not just the undoing of Obamaism. Undo Medicare and Social Security. Undo the expansive American global commitments that proceeded from World War II and the Cold War. Undo progressive-era economic regulations. Undo the executive power grab that preserved the union. Undo it all -- until America is left with a government appropriate to an isolated, 18th-century farming republic.
This is a proposal for time travel, not a policy agenda. The federal government could not shed these accumulated responsibilities without massive suffering and global instability -- a decidedly radical, unconservative approach to governing.