The animal may be wounded, but E.J. Dionne still can’t touch it

For almost four years we’ve been trying to figure out whether E.J. Dionne is more of a cheap shot artist or a sloppy thinker. In his latest effort — “Run-Down Republicans” — Dionne again provides ammunition for both sides of this debate.

Dionne starts with an indisputable premise — that there are some divisions among Republicans. But Dionne quickly conflates this proposition with the notion that the Bush administration is not offering solutions to national problems. And by the end of his column he is proclaiming the “collapse of conservatism.”

But the existence of divisions among Republicans is not evidence that the Bush administration has run out of ideas. There may be more Republican resistance to the administration’s ideas than there used to be, but the president has offered imaginative solutions on key domestic issues such as immigration and social security. And the fact that Dionne finds health savings accounts an inadequate answer to health-care does not mean that the administration lacks ideas on the issue, it just means that Dionne doesn’t like its ideas.

As to foreign policy, Bush recently took bold measures to set our relations with India, the world’s largest democracy, on a better course. And it’s generally acknowledged that, for better or worse, Secretary of State Rice is taking our policy in a more “realist” direction. The president has his problems, but failure to “proffer solutions” isn’t one of them.

Nor do the divisions among Republicans entail the collapse of conservatism. The past year has seen the confirmation of two conservatives to the Supreme Court and the revival of the forces of fiscal conservatism in Congress. If anything, Congress is now less inclined than before to pass major non-conservative initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and prescription drug benefits. And John McCain, probably the most popular politician in the country, has moved decidedly to the right, as Dionne recently noted with consternation.

These aren’t happy days for the administration or for Republicans in general, and it’s okay for Bush-haters and Democrats to gloat. But it would be better if, in doing so, they didn’t spout nonsense.

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