Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Carter-Reagan continuities?

Philip Jenkins is a bold man, arguing in his review of this book that we exaggerate the differences between Ronald Reagan and his predecessor:

just how different was Reagan from his predecessor? In terms of popular memory, the contrast seems absurd: the Gipper versus the Wimp. But Carter and Reagan had much in common. Carter was more conservative than is often recalled, and Reagan more liberal. On issues of gender and morality, Reagan had a distinctly moderate record, having endorsed the ERA and opposed California’s anti-gay Briggs initiative. His two terms as governor included liberal measures on abortion rights and no-fault divorce, not to mention a fairly progressive tax policy and a respectable environmental record. At times, he looked like the kind of politician the Reaganites were warning about. The two men also shared much in their idealistic moral vision and their religious sense of national purpose. Both saw national problems in moral terms, as issues of the human heart. Neither was reluctant to invoke moral justifications for policy or to see a divine hand in political destiny, and both were attacked for religious sentiments that the secular-minded regarded as naïve or hypocritical.

Having read
this book and having lived through both presidencies (not to mention much of the Carter post-presidency at first-hand here in Atlanta), I couldn’t disagree more. Carter’s moralism was much less friendly to American patriotism than was Reagan’s and his character ultimately much less generous and patient.

Steven Hayward, what do you think?

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