Ronald Reagan


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Ronald Reagan Was Far From A “Reagan Conservative”

While arguing that the Republican Party should move to the ideological right by purging more moderate members, the conservative inteligencia has apotheosized President Ronald Reagan as the paragon of Conservatism. “Reaganism” has become the foundation from which all conservatism rests. The radio airwaves are consumed with self-professed “Regan Conservatives.” They point to Reagan as a man who enjoyed immense popularity with the American people because he was never recreant to conservative orthodoxy.

While Reagan certainly had many conservative stands, modern conservatives are engaging in revisionist history when suggesting that Reagan was ideologically pure. They present the fortieth President as a man who was intransigent in the struggle against communism abroad and a pure freemarketeer at home who never raised taxes.

This is a fallacy. In fact, these conservatives may suffer from a case of selective amnesia when it comes to conservative opposition to many of Reagan’s policies during his presidency. As time passes, conservatives have effectuated a romantic mental picture of Reagan as an unadulterated conservative, and have forgotten the disagreements they had with him when he was President.

Conservatives affectionately remember Reagan for signing the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which lowered marginal tax rates. Yet they ignore the fact that just one year later to reduce the ballooning national deficits, Reagan signed what in today’s dollars would be a $100 billion dollar tax hike, the largest since World War ll. In fact, the act jettisoned about a third of the 1981 tax cut. Moreover, conservatives fail to mention that in 1983 Reagan signed the Social Security Reform Act that increased the payroll tax. What is more, it was Reagan who signed legislation that increased the federal gas tax by $50 billion over three years. Contrary to conventional belief, the amount of federal taxes fell by just a half a percentage point during his administration, from 19% to 18.4%. Concomitantly, annual federal spending went from $590.6 billion in 1980 to $114 trillion in 1989.

On foreign policy, the conservative inteligencia remember Reagan as the man who dared to brand the Soviet Union: “The Evil Empire.” He is presented as a President with a manichean view toward the Soviets, who won the Cold War by increasing defense spending and supporting a missile defenses program. While it is true that Reagan was a steadfast proponent of missile defense, refusing to abandon his support for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) at a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, the rest of the record is far different than the conservatives remember.

It was Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, not Reagan, who approved deployment of both nuclear cruise missiles and the Pershing II IRBMs--intermediate range nuclear forces--in Europe as a counterpoint to the Soviets. In addition, Reagan’s increases in defense spending were not that much bigger than Carters. Under Reagan, defense spending was 25-27% of total spending. Under Carter it was 23%.

On the issue of nuclear weapons, Conservatives forget that Reagan stood against the prevailing conservative consensus, and came to favor abolition of all nuclear weapons. This was to the left of many realist mainstream politicians who favored a simple reduction in the amount of new nuclear weapons built. Conservative were less than enthusiastic of Reagan’s dream of a nuclear-free world. Many of the same people who today oppose President Obama’s willingness to meet with U.S. adversaries, such as Iran, forget that Reagan forged a cordial relationship with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev In 1987 culminating in the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with the Soviet Union. The treaty, approved by the U.S. Senate, eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges. At the time, the right was vociferous in its opposition to the treaty. Sixty organizations signed a petition warning that the treaty would bring the United States “Into strategic or military inferiority.” In fact, conservatives ran newspaper advertisements comparing Reagan’s deal with Gorbachev to the infamous Munich agreement where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to abrogate the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to German Chaneler Adolph Hitler in 1938. The ad read: “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938,”

Furthermore, modern conservatives preach the gospel of nominating only strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. Yet two of Reagan’s four appointments, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, respectively have been judicial moderates. Conservatives should recall the opposition they displayed toward Reagan at the time that he made these appointments.

O’Connor’s nomination inflamed many conservatives because of her support for abortion rights as a member of the Arizona state Legislature. Reverend Jerry Fallwell said: “Every good Christian should be concerned” about the O’Connor nomination. During the nomination hearings Kennedy incensed conservatives by supporting the right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution which the Supreme Court used to substantiate its decision in Roe v. Wade (the 1973 case which allows the mother the right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is: “potentially able to live outside the mother's womb.”) As justices, the two have less then stellar conservative records, often siding with supporters of abortion rights and affirmative action.

Additionally, conservatives excoriated GOP Presidential nominee John McCain for his support for a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration which would allow illegals to earn citizenship. Yet Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, giving “complete” amnesty to almost 3 million illegal immigrants.

On Gun Control, Reagan implemented a policy curtailing gun rights in public parks, and after leaving office became a proponent of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring background checks for the purchase of handguns. This came on the heels of then Governor Reagan’s signing of the all-embracing Mulford Act in 1967, "prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one's person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street.”

Ideological purists must demythologize Reagan as the house organ of conservatism. His record was not as ideologically homogeneous than they would lead us to believe. They must remember what conservative activist Richard A. Viguerie said during Reagan’s presidency about conservative sentiment toward the Gipper. “ Mr. Reagan is now seen as untrustworthy by many conservatives who believe he has betrayed his own principles in an effort to appease his critics on such domestic issues as education, welfare, the budget and taxes.”

Ronald Reagan was far from a “Reagan conservative.” The caricature painted of Reagan is not commensurate with the actual record.

www.politicsdmz.ning.com

About the Author

Rich Rubino, a resident of Marblehead, Massachusetts is the Managing Editor of www.politicsdmz.ning.com

The Humor of Ronald Reagan


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