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Time for a Reagan Smackdown

I've got a long rant up over at NRO's Corner about the folks complaining about Reagan nostalgia. Since it is long, I won't cross-post it here: click the link, and comment here if you want to.
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Discussions - 13 Comments

Spot on. The GOP should set up a "how to speak in public" program for its elected members.

Well done. One thing I want to raise is how Reagan finessed a lot of the moral issues that are so contentious today. I don't suppose it would have been wrong to perceive him initially as a kind of social liberal (Steve, please correct me.):

After all, he was divorced, came from Hollywood, and had signed a no-fault divorce law into effect. And, in a move that would have killed his chances for the Republican nomination today, Governor Reagan reluctantly signed into law an abortion rights bill, allowing abortions in California to skyrocket in number (see Hayward bio, pp. 163-64).

His most visible enemies (that created many of his friends) were the elitist leftist students at Berkeley. As Obama is showing, picking the right enemies is key to getting a lot of friends.

None of this suggests that a Republican presidential candidate should not be pro-life and a Reaganite--in fact, I'd insist on both. But we can't forget what enabled Reagan to be Reagan is a fuzziness that allowed him to present many sharp edges. Some saw only the fuzziness and missed the sharp edges. That seemed to permeate the good feeling on Reagan's passing that buried memory of the sharp edges that rightly compared the New Deal to fascism, and so on.

I think you were too hard on Jeb Bush given the context of his remarks. I got the pretty clear impression that he was taking on exactly the kind of lazy shallow appeals to Reagan that you yourself have attacked. Jeb Bush was also pretty good on the Reaganite issue of taxes and he seems to do him homework.

Having said that, reform conservatives like Ross Douthat and reformist politicians like Jeb Bush need to do a better job of connecting their policy agendas to principles like limited government, free market economics, and constitutionalist government. They might also work in a plausible explanation of how their agendas on education, healthcare or whatever accords with Reagan's principles and if they can't they might want to think again.

You make a good point that Obama is not repudiating FDR. And conservatives should not repudiate Reagan or move away from his principles to something like a Colin Powell "hey people are just into higher taxes and abortion these days" me-tooism. But there is also something to learn from how Obama talks about FDR's statist record and principles. Compare how Obama talks about FDR (and the implications for policy) with how Mondale talked about FDR. I think that many of the consevatives who invoke Reagan sound more like the hapless and bewildered Mondale. I don't think that the problem is one of principle. I can't find the words to define it though.

As we now know, he worked extremely hard, studying the issues in depth and preparing and practicing his speeches at great length.

You have confounded Ronald Reagan with Lyndon Johnson. IIRC, contemporary reports of his stereotypical workday had him behind his desk less than fifty hours per week. He was famous for the amount of vacation time he took. No, he was not highly conversant with the details of policy.

No more Bushes, ever, in the White House. While they "trend" conservative on many issues, down deep they believe in government as a panacea. We have trusted them twice now, and that's enough (a third time might well lead to the extinction of our movement, if you can call it that).

Well done. One thing I want to raise is how Reagan finessed a lot of the moral issues that are so contentious today. I don't suppose it would have been wrong to perceive him initially as a kind of social liberal (Steve, please correct me.):
After all, he was divorced, came from Hollywood, and had signed a no-fault divorce law into effect. And, in a move that would have killed his chances for the Republican nomination today, Governor Reagan reluctantly signed into law an abortion rights bill, allowing abortions in California to skyrocket in number (see Hayward bio, pp. 163-64).... But we can't forget what enabled Reagan to be Reagan is a fuzziness that allowed him to present many sharp edges. Some saw only the fuzziness and missed the sharp edges. That seemed to permeate the good feeling on Reagan's passing that buried memory of the sharp edges that rightly compared the New Deal to fascism, and so on.

I think you are confounding the effects of the (defensible) public ignorance of the details of his record on public policy with the effects of his rhetorical talents. There were occasional references in the newspapers to acts as Governor of California that he had implicitly or explicitly repudiated in the intervening years, but it was not emphasized and (with Hendrick Hertzberg a notable exception) his critics in the press corps did not regard his social conservatism as spurious.

(One might also note that Jane Wyman was the inititiator both de facto and de jure of Reagan's divorce. Reagan was by some accounts quite broken up about it and would have reconciled with her had she been willing. Jane Wyman contracted five civil marriages to four different men; her marriage to Reagan was the the only one which lasted longer than four years and the only one with any issue. By contrast, Reagan remained married to his second wife from 1952 until his death).

My observation about Reagan's divorce was not an assault on his character; I was simply noting that his election reflected a kind of toleration for divorce that is typically associated with social liberalism. It is quite unnecessary to delve into details about Jane Wyman.

It is now clear from Reagan's diaries that he was quite clear about policy and did his homework and knew the relationship between policy and principle.

"As the GOP stumbles around Washington trying to be the party of Herbert Hoover, it's sad to see so many Republicans drifting so far and so fast from the Reagan model that helped pave the way for the great, non-inflationary economic and jobs expansion of the past 25 years."--Jack Kemp

Palin has integrity that can't be bought, only sold--but she hasn't yet done her homework like Reagan. But few have. Fighting commies as a union leader, touring factories speaking for GE, two terms as a successful governor, studying the philosphical basis of conservatism and researching and writing his own topical radio shows; they called him lazy as president, but he was simply a man in full. "He knows so little, yet accomplishes so much!" said one aide. But the truth was, he knew more than you.

I'm not sure Jeb is as guilty as you say, but others certainly are. Which Reagan principles would they have us toss overboard? a strong national defense? limited government? strong families? Faith and patriotism? low taxes? No, they want us to throw the entire concept of principle overboard in an effort to chase voters. And chasing is the opposite of leadership.

People who didn't think like Reagan voted for him. Why? Because they responded to his principled leadership. Obama faked it long enough to get elected, but even he needed the Teen Heart-throb Media to pull it off. He even ripped-off Reagan's "City on a Hill" the other day. Oddly, Obams recognizes Reagan's greatness while some Republicans want to run from it.

The mantle is there for the taking. Who will step up?

I was simply noting that his election reflected a kind of toleration for divorce that is typically associated with social liberalism.

Even in 1980 I don't think that social conservatism was quite as rigid and unyielding as you're suggesting here.

But we can't forget what enabled Reagan to be Reagan is a fuzziness that allowed him to present many sharp edges. Some saw only the fuzziness and missed the sharp edges.

I don't think so. My recollection of those times is that nobody saw any fuzzy edges in Reagan. That was one of the many objections the left raised against him - that he "saw the world in black and white".

The image of Reagan as a genial, avuncular figure came later. At the time he was "Ronnie Raygun".

I was simply noting that his election reflected a kind of toleration for divorce that is typically associated with social liberalism.

One need not be 'tolerant of divorce' to overlook Mr. Reagan's situation. His marriage was dissolved in spite of his preferences, not because of them. For the small minority of us who are concerned with what a divorce proceeding says about someone's character, that detail is salient.

I do not think you can derive from the nomination or election of a divorce secure statements about general social mores. (Please recall that Grover Cleveland was twice elected President in spite of a credible charge (which he did not deny) that he had fathered a bastard child).

That Mr. Reagan had strong opinions about certain areas of policy, I would not deny. That he was knowledgeable, comparatively well-informed, and conscientious as an executive seems to have escaped quite a raft of people who worked for him or had occasion to observe him for extended periods of time, among them David Stockman, Donald T. Regan, Martin Anderson, Lou Cannon, Alexander Haig, Edmund Morris, Tip O'Neill, the Tower Commission, etc, etc. There was at least one member of his cabinet he could not have picked out of a police line-up ("hello, Mr. Mayor"). Why not try selling Lyndon Johnson as a faithful Cistercian?

The man made some good judgment calls, most particularly in the realm of war and diplomacy, and he was an early and lonely advocate of reconstituting the welfare system. On such matters, he was mostly right, and his critics were mostly wrong, one suspects because he had a better grasp of certain principles of human behavior than characters like Christopher Dodd and Anthony Lewis. Let's not pretend he was something he was not or that someone other than he was the author of his policy failures.

The image of Reagan as a genial, avuncular figure came later. At the time he was "Ronnie Raygun".

He was generally genial and avuncular in his manners, but I suspect if you did a serious content analysis of the public speeches, you would find he was rather more trenchant than all but a few national candidates in recent decades, Spiro Agnew the major exception.

If he was a little liberal socially (which I don't dispute) then that means that full on conservatism has to go back further than reagan so saying it can't win is foolish. I don't think anyone can state that the two bushes were hardline conservatives. Nixon is a complex figure, would he be the last or if it goes beyond him then who? The point is why are the conservatives (seperate from the GOP) thinking that their message and appeal has been lost due to McCain of all people loosing when they have never really had a candidate. I don't know that much about Goldwater, but does his failure make up some of the reasoning. I don't know how people souring on Bush and saying no thank you to McCain has lead to conservatives tyring to move farther left.

I will throw out a for instance here to try to clear up what I am saying. Manmade global warming. Rueters polls says the public does not buy it by a large margin. Legislation for it is anti-free market and yet we no Conservative in authority comes out against it. Why is this? They might get lampooned by the press, but that is the same press that has one foot in the grave and that people have very little faith in. If rueters is right and over 60% don't believe the hype then why not speek on this? I think rather than trying to skirt the sacred cows of the left you need to attack them in the areas they are wrong.

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