No doubt Ronald Reagan is a conservative icon. But today’s pundits ought to follow Cal Thomas’s lead and wipe away some of the cobwebs that obscure our memory. True, domestic spending did slow down under his watch as military spending (much needed) increased. In the end the Soviet empire was no more. Still would Reagan be conservative enough for today’s so-called base? I’m long on the opinion that McCain is a Reagan conservative. Both allowed for wiggle room and compromises.
This just in: Ronald Reagan is dead and he’s not coming back. Now, can conservatives please move on?
Reagan always spoke about the future and its possibilities. Today’s conservatives, however, can’t seem to break with the past and the nostalgia for the Reagan years. Even in his letter to the American people in 1994 in which he revealed he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, Reagan wrote of his ”eternal optimism” for the country’s future. Too many modern conservatives seem embedded in a concrete slab of pessimism, preferring to go over a bridge and drown rather than ”compromise” their ”principles.” If you can’t get elected, your principles can be talked about on the lecture circuit, but are unlikely to be adopted in Washington.
John McCain, some say, is not a true conservative. Was Reagan? Reagan campaigned as a tax cutter. He cut taxes, but he also raised them. He promised conservative judges and spoke of his opposition to abortion, yet named two justices to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy) who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. Against the advice of some, Reagan deployed Marines to Lebanon and saw them murdered by a homicide bomber. Reagan engaged in an arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. As president, Reagan seldom went to church, unlike his evangelical base. If conservatives knew in advance these things about Reagan, would they have voted for him in such numbers?
Add to Thomas’s observation the following: Reagan expanded the size of government by failing to eliminate the Department of Education and instead establishing a cabinet level Department of Veterans Affairs. One could argue that the deficit grew during Reagan’s tenure (prompting Dick Cheney to unwisely remark that deficits don’t matter but apparently forcing Bush 41’s hand in raising taxes.) Reagan, as Pat Buchanan, is willing to remind everyone was also a bit of a protectionist bailing out Harley Davidson. And perhaps most appalling of all, Reagan signed the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty bill. All in all Reagan was a success. A conservatism that cannot face its own history is unworthy of conservatism.