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6/1/2009
CONSERVATIVES KEEP LEARNING THE WRONG LESSONS FROM REAGAN

Salon’s “Dear Abbey” for hilariously confused and clueless lefties who ask questions of Glenallen Walken about conservatism - “Dear Wingnut” - is one of the most entertaining things about that publication. The childlike and simple minded questions asked by liberals of the author (and the comment threads his column generates) remind me of a kid asking his dad, “Why is the sky blue?” or maybe “How many stars are there, daddy?”

This week’s entry is typical:

Ronald Reagan left office 20 years ago and died five years ago. When are you conservatives finally going to move on?

Walken patiently tried to explain that Reagan’s convictions and principles were timeless and that “moving on” would be impossible because the Gipper showed conservatives how to win:

Part of that is because Reagan was, to borrow a phrase from Lady Margaret Thatcher, “a conviction politician.” He operated out of a set of deeply held beliefs that governed his view of the world, of morality and the presidency. Unlike Nixon or Clinton, Reagan’s concerns about public opinion were addressed in the way he dealt with issues and crises, not whether he dealt with them at all.

Ronald Reagan came into office in 1980 promising to do three things: 1) Restore America’s national pride; 2) Revive an economy crippled by stagflation; and 3) Win the Cold War. He did all three even though, thanks to Tip O’Neill and friends, he had one hand held behind his back. At the same time he cruised to re-election in 1984 with the largest Electoral College majority in history, winning 49 states while losing only the District of Columbia and, by 7,000 votes, his Democratic opponent’s home state of Minnesota. That is a feat that may never be matched.

[...]

Most importantly, it was Reagan’s achievement of building or at least maintaining a successful political coalition composed of social conservatives, libertarian-leaning voters concerned about the economy and the size of government, moderate, “birthright” Republicans, working class Democrats and voters worried about foreign policy issues that make him the enduring standard against which the party and conservatives measure their success today. The ongoing debate between many national Republican leaders and pretenders over what the party should now stand for, following back-to-back routs in 2006 and 2008 — is really a discussion of how best to replicate the Reagan model of campaigning and governance.

Walken also points out that asking the GOP to abandon Reagan would be like asking the Democrats to abandon FDR - neither party can escape the shadow cast by those two giants.

Walken has it about right although I wonder how might one replicate Reagan’s “model of campaigning and governance.” George Bush tried to emulate Reagan’s style of White House management to some extent by giving his underlings and cabinet secretaries enormous leeway in accomplishing broad goals set out by the president. It worked quite well in Reagan’s first term, much less so in the second due largely to poor choices in picking personnel. Bush had even less success, I think, due to his incuriosity about so many things. Reagan was known to grill his people about policy while Bush was, from what we know, much too trusting of his staff.

Also with regard to Reagan’s governance, there is one thing that the base never tires of pointing out to me; that Reagan stood on his principles. This is true - as far as it went. Reagan was also a master compromiser who was a lot less ideological than his critics ever gave him credit. According to many conservatives today, compromising with the Democrats is is worse than making a deal with the devil. Those who work with the other side are RINO’s or misguided fools and have no principles. They point to Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Medicare drug programs as the result of consorting with the enemy. Reagan himself was snookered once or twice by Speaker Tip O’Neil. But on the really big issues, where the Gipper needed Democratic votes to pass his agenda, both Reagan and Bush compromised in order to realize success.

I might mention that so far, I have yet to see any competence by President Obama in governance. The breathtaking reversals, the piss poor communications strategies, the laughably incompetent congressional liasoning, and the fact that most of his administration does not seem to be on the same page on many issues reveal a White House in turmoil with Obama uninterested in anything but campaigning for his agenda. If it had been a Republican administration, the press would have declared it a failure already.

This incompetence is manifested by the fact that nothing - I repeat, nothing - is getting done in Congress with all of his major initiatives either bottled up (health insurance) or dead in the water (EFCA, and TARP II). Everything that is happening in the Obama administration is the result of executive fiat. Anything that needs congressional approval is nowhere to be seen despite the fact that he has massive, overwhelming majorities in both chambers.

And as far as using the Reagan campaign “model,” as a path to victory for Republicans, that would really be sweet - if there was another Reagan hanging around somewhere. Unfortunately, such world-historical figures saunter by only once every several generations. And being able to excite the base (Palin, Huckabee) does not always translate into being able to win over a majority of voters.

But Walken does not address something that I feel many conservatives insist is also a lesson that should be culled from the Reagan playbook; that his agenda should be grafted on to a modern political campaign and that this is the key to victory.

The mantra of tax cuts, increased defense spending, and “small government” (whatever the hell that means) is repeated by many conservatives so often that it almost seems they think that sheer repetition will make it so - sort of like clicking your heels together 3 times and mouthing “I want to go home” except we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

With nearly 50 million families not paying any taxes at all and a budget deficit that will be close to a trillion or more dollars for the foreseeable future, it seems to me that someone who calls themselves a fiscal conservative might want to walk very quietly when talking about tax cuts - unless we are still in a bad recession in 2010 and they are designed to stimulate the economy in which case they will be targeted and perhaps even temporary.

As far as defense spending, that’s a subject that deserves its own post but suffice it to say, we’re already spending half a trillion - much of it buying weapons to fight the Soviets in the cold war. Temporary increases to make up for losses from the wars are needed but we have really got to get serious about changing our thinking on defense spending to address the needs of a modern, 21st century military.

My feelings about running on a “small government” platform have been made known on this site in numerous posts but a summary would be, I am 100% for that concept except no one who spouts about it ever gets around to truly, realistically defining it. It’s one thing to get rid of the Department of Education. But is it the position of small government conservatives that the hundreds of programs administered by the Department of Education are a waste of money and should all be terminated?

I am constantly amused by conservatives who say we should lop off one department of the federal government or another without realizing that one man’s “waste of money” is another’s lifeblood. And the reason many of these programs have been federalized is that the states won’t or can’t deal with the problems of special education and the like. You can’t just yank $62 billion from education spending and believe kids, teachers, and schools wouldn’t be catastrophically affected.

Does that mean we can’t take a very sharp scalpel and start cutting? Absolutely not. Reducing the size and scope of government should be any conservative administration’s top priority. But most conservatives are revanchists on the subject of cutting government, wishing to repeal the Great Society and even the New Deal in order to realize some mythical America where everyone is self reliant and if you needed help, you went to your church or your family. Such nonsensical thinking ignores the reality of living in a 21st century industrialized democracy of 300 million people.

So yes, adopt Reagan’s principles which are timeless artifacts of conservative thinking. Adopt his optimism about the future, his belief in the wisdom of crowds, his determination to overcome obstacles to achieve goals. But beyond that, there is not much the Gipper can teach us about society today that would help Republicans back up the ladder.

By: Rick Moran at 11:04 am
29 Responses to “CONSERVATIVES KEEP LEARNING THE WRONG LESSONS FROM REAGAN”
  1. 1
    Surabaya Stew Said:
    11:17 am 

    So yes, adopt Reagan’s principles which are timeless artifacts of conservative thinking. Adopt his optimism about the future, his belief in the wisdom of crowds, his determination to overcome obstacles to achieve goals.

    Doesn’t this sound like our current president?

    Our current president has no discernible principles. And his faith in the American people is lacking if he believes we can’t make our own decisions about everything from health insurance to EFCA.

    ed.

  2. 2
    michael reynolds Said:
    11:48 am 

    And his faith in the American people is lacking if he believes we can’t make our own decisions about everything from health insurance to EFCA.

    We did make those decisions: we elected a president to do what Obama is doing.

    As for Mr. Reagan, I always enjoy reminding the cult of Saint Ronnie of a number: 241. The cult’s least favorite number.

  3. 3
    c3 Said:
    12:06 pm 

    It seems the Republican Party’s has or has had as much difficulty moving beyond the legacy of Ronald Reagan as the Democratic Party has had with Franklin Roosevelts’ legacy.

  4. 4
    busboy33 Said:
    1:40 pm 

    “This incompetence is manifested by the fact that nothing - I repeat, nothing - is getting done in Congress with all of his major initiatives either bottled up (health insurance) or dead in the water (EFCA, and TARP II). Everything that is happening in the Obama administration is the result of executive fiat. Anything that needs congressional approval is nowhere to be seen despite the fact that he has massive, overwhelming majorities in both chambers.”

    Aw, now be fair. It’s certainly not his fault that Blues are wear-a-helmet-indoors incompetent. The Dems in the Legislative branch have the teamwork and organizational skills of chicks (the baby chickens, not the hot babes). They run around in circles (or not), randomly squeaking (or not), and whenever momma herds them back into the “group” they’re off on a tear again before she even turned around. Of course everything is getting done be executive fiat — The Legislature is Deep Blue, nothing’s gonna come out of there for another 18 months at least. Heck, to me that’s good leadership. Things need to be done, and the people that are supposed to do it are uselessly looking for a Prozac refill. He could try to keep herding the cats while the fires spread . . . or he could just take the damn hose and try to put the fire out.
    Now, if Congress suddenly remembers what they get that sweet health care package for and start trying to . . . y’know . . . legislate . . . and Obama doesn’t step back, THEN I have a big problem. But with Reid, Feinstein and the rest of the Incompetents running the show, somebody’s got to get things done.

  5. 5
    MAS1916 Said:
    1:50 pm 

    If holding up Reagan philosophy as a fossil from the conservative age is useful, then let’s take a look at Obama’s warmed over Marxist world and economic view. Progressives successfully repackaged their brand of socialism under a new banner. It is at its core however, the same old barnyard dung - Socialism.

    As Maggie Thatcher once said, the problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. Obama has achieved this in just over 100 days.

  6. 6
    Gayle Miller Said:
    2:03 pm 

    The quality that most distinguished Ronald Reagan from the current crop of twits is that he genuinely was a patriot! Not a lip service jingoist but a man who deeply and genuinely believe in the American dream.

    The current so-called leadership (Reid, Pelosi, et all.) are endlessly corrupt, morally bankrupt and without a single principle among them!

    And yes, I have recovered from my recent serious illness quite thoroughly!

  7. 7
    Gayle Miller Said:
    2:04 pm 

    Read elsewhere on the Web: There’s a village in Kenya that has lost its idiot!

    While I don’t necessarily or even remotely subscribe to the conspiracy theory regarding our current “leader’s” citizenship status - it makes the point quite well. He’s still RUNNING for office instead of realizing that he now must GOVERN.

  8. 8
    Anonymous Said:
    2:23 pm 

    So every perceived need that the states won’t handle, the federal government must? I think not. That is a preseciption for continued definition of new “needs” and federal growth to meet them. That is not the right path.

    If you take away the federal assistance and supervision, the states would be forced by their citizens to meet the real needs of their population. No-strings grants from the feds might help as well.

    Where do you get that from what I’ve written? Where in God’s name did you come up with that?

    See below, moron.

    ed.

  9. 9
    matt Said:
    3:19 pm 

    good grief again.

    i started to write a reply to this blather, but #7 is concise and to the point.

    Why do you insist on reading into the words I write meaning that isn’t there? You and the brave anonymous evidently have enormous problems with the English language. You are so eager to trash me that you just make shit up rather than respond to what is written on the page.

    You and #7 are pathologically unable to grasp simple concepts. I said nothing about “perceived needs.” They are real needs, ninny. For example, every school district in America has special needs classes - mandated by the Supreme Court, btw who determined that children with handicaps are deserving of a public education where possible. Voters have nothing to do with it. It’s not a question of choice. Federal dollars are the difference between these kids getting an education or being shuffled in with the severely handicapped and retarded.

    And I know that it is difficult for you to read but perhaps you should have perused the next paragraph where I point out that there is much to be cut from these departments without obliterating necessary and vital programs. This is what I mean by people like you not having a clue in the universe of what you’re talking about when you mindlessly spout about “small government.”

    God help the GOP now that you and Rush and your ignorant friends are in charge.

    ed.

  10. 10
    Jon Dough Said:
    4:56 pm 

    Heh, I love coming to this place.
    Keep it up, Rick.

    Love your work at AT, too.

    JD

  11. 11
    Allen Said:
    5:11 pm 

    The problem with the GOP right now is they’re looking for Reagen in all the wrong places. Reagen built up a certain trust factor. The current GOP, would you trust them with your kids’ lunch money?

    As far as I’m concerned they squandered any trust I might have in them on fiscal matters. They created other problems for themselves as well: abject cronyism, corruption, and charging forward to slay mythical social demons.

    What GOP in Congress need to do is show that they are serious about government. That is to say maximum efficiency with minimum waste. They can do this by standing on the floor, after exhaustive research, and point out the waste and profligate spending. They can go on to show that each budget item would have metrics attached. This would entail extensive work on their part with some deep thinking about how our money is spent. In other words build spending policy on knowledge, not slogans.

    Then I might start to think they might be trusted. A Whitehouse run will have to be built on succeeding in Congress first.

  12. 12
    Kevin Brown Said:
    5:48 pm 

    We are very helpful in our ability to answer the following question: “The Republicans lost the last two elections for the following___reason/reasons______________ .”

    Of course there are other questions to ask such as “Why is the Republican leadership inept blah blah?

    However I have news for all of you and the message has not leaked into all of your heads yet. The DEMOCRATS are in charge of everything so if all goes well the get full credit, if things go to pot then God help them because the American people will take care of the problem.

    Republicans should to follow the lead of all great minority parties be patient and develop ideas and our turn will come.

    On another note I remember President Reagan and he cut deals when needed esp if the deal advanced his higher priorities cutting income tax rates and defeating the Soviet Union. But my friends situations change and the relevant issues in 2009 must be debated upon such as two important debates that are upcoming CAP and Trade and of course Obamacare. These debates will be the meat and potatoes of 2010 and 2012 and since the economy’s green shoots are really weeds the economy…

  13. 13
    cdor Said:
    6:25 pm 

    Here we go bashing conservatives again. Most of your commenters truly love you for it. Not me.

    Your attitude, Rick, kinda reminds me of a joke I learned from an old salesman mentor of sorts. He used to say, “Remember young man, when it comes to selling, never drop your pants before you knock on the door.”

    From my perspective, you are a quick-draw sharpshooter when it comes to reaching for your belt buckle. What success can one hope to achieve if half of the prize is surrendered before negotiation even starts?

  14. 14
    Joe Said:
    7:14 pm 

    So,Obama is incompetent, huh Rick?The same man that ran a presidential campaign that will be discussed in history books for it’s brilliance. But magically that all disappeared when he entered the White House. Sure it did. And if conservatives tell themselves that enough times, doesn’t that make it true? Are are you only trying to convince yourself?Because thats the sense I get. Yes, the poor waif Obama just got lucky to get elected, thats what it was Rick, he’s not really that smart.Right.

  15. 15
    Michael S. Said:
    7:45 pm 

    Hey Joe -

    Sorry, but you are a complete idiot. Don’t know if you’re new, but Rick has admitted on many occasion that Obama is a brilliant politician. But, that is all he (Obama) ever has been and all he ever will be … a politician. Political astuteness does not necessarily equate to acutal leadership capability and as evidenced by our current crop of congress critters (on both sides of the aisle) the two are usually mutually exclusive.

  16. 16
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    8:13 pm 

    Michael S. Said:

    But, that is all he (Obama) ever has been and all he ever will be … a politician.

    Right, because being a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law and a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years don’t count.

  17. 17
    michael reynolds Said:
    8:45 pm 

    Chuck:

    It’s hardly worth bothering. They’re just throwing out random snarls and limp insults now. That’s what the GOP has become: a bunch of constipated, toothless old white guys snarling and snapping about the good old days when “Ronnie Reagan was president, why these young whipersnappers today, garrrh, you can have ‘em. Things were different in my day. . . now where’s my tapioca?”

  18. 18
    cdor Said:
    9:24 pm 

    Gotta hand it to you Rick, you got it from both sides this time. What does that say? Um.

    I should probably mention that I think ObieOne is cooler than M&M’s (is it a singer or a candy treat?). He won by a landslide against the absolute best ever candidate a conservative tapioca slurper could ever dream of. Now look at all the really out there stuff he’s done while majestically doing daily battle with a hardened and steadfast Democratic congress and meanspirited media. Wowee!!

    Peace will come to our planet, our economy will roar, every citizen will have warm homes in the winter and cool breezes wafting in the summer, food will be plentiful, our sexual appetites satisfied. And cdor will bow down as if to a Saudi king while singing praises before the greatest One, Barack Obama.

    Does that work for you Mikey R and Chuckie?

  19. 19
    Michael S. Said:
    10:00 pm 

    Wow … responses from both the resident leftard moonbats, I feel so honored.

    Sorry Chuck, but part-time ‘Senior Lecturer’ at U of C does not the Professor of Constitutional Law make. In all honesty, until Obama shows some of his vaunted and self-ascribed ‘openess and transparency’ there is absolutely nothing I believe about his so-called academic achievements. Sorry, but by his own admission in his auto-biographies he was drifting into drugs, hanging with the wrong crowd and underachieving at Occidental College. He then drops out, magically transforms himself and somehow gets admitted to Columbia University despite himself. The MSM wet themselves over the falsified Bush National Guard documents, but continue to give Obama a complete pass regarding the complete and utter dearth of any documentation to substantiate his so-called academic prowess. No transcripts, no thesis, no nothing to include absolute ZERO published papers, positions or opinions during his tenure as the President of the Harvard Law Review or during his time at the Univ. of Chicago. So ya, in my book, none of that counts for squat. I got a sheepskin hanging on my wall too, but I also know while it may represent something academic in nature it doesn’t necessarily mean a damn thing in real practice.

    And Michael, I used to almost agree with you at times, but that time has come and gone. You lost what little credibility you might have ever had when you started using situations in California to try and justify the ‘Hope and Change’ we’re getting from the Obama Administration. The cluster fuck that is now know as California is exactly what we are heading for on a national scale, only ten times worse, if we continue down our current political path. Texas may still have the legal right to secede from the Union, but I would much rather the rest of the nation have the right to secede from California.

  20. 20
    michael reynolds Said:
    8:04 am 

    Michael S:

    You lost what little credibility you might have ever had when you started using situations in California to try and justify the ‘Hope and Change’ we’re getting from the Obama Administration.

    Perfectly understandable. Except that I never did any such thing. I think you have me confused with someone else.

  21. 21
    Gayle Miller Said:
    8:38 am 

    I HOPE the CHANGE stops really soon before Hugo Chavez Obama utterly destroys our nation!

    Rick, I don’t appreciate being insulted by you so blatantly! I made a very valid point that our president is STILL running for office instead of settling down to the hard work of governing. Or to put it another way - he’s still voting present! Although he is doing it from every foreign locale he can find. How many days has he actually SPENT in D.C.? And when he is here - he’s very fond of taking little field trips which screw up the commutes of little guys like me!

  22. 22
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    11:34 am 

    Gayle Miller said:

    How many days has he actually SPENT in D.C.?

    Seriously Gayle? Are you really going to go there? Maybe look at your score card and let us know when he’s been away from D.C. more than 1,020 days.

  23. 23
    Gayle Miller Said:
    12:51 pm 

    We are paying this incompetent amateur to GOVERN, not to go swanning around the world apologizing for our strength, our goodness and our well-earned standard of living. We also are not paying him to go flitting off to NYC for a dinner date with his wife (they have excellent chefs at the White House) or to tie up already-dreadful D.C. traffic while he and Plugs go running out for a hamburger! When he took office, I was hoping we were all wrong about him. Sadly, we were not.

  24. 24
    Maggie's Farm Trackbacked With:
    6:51 pm 

    Ask the Wingnut…

    This observation from Rick Moran

    Salon’s “Dear Abbey” for hilariously confused and clueless lefties who ask questions of Glenallen Walken about conservatism - “Dear Wingnut” - is one of the most entertaining things about that publication. …

  25. 25
    mannning Said:
    8:54 pm 

    You can’t just yank $62 billion from education spending and believe kids, teachers, and schools wouldn’t be catastrophically affected.

    Does that mean we can’t take a very sharp scalpel and start cutting? Absolutely not.

  26. 26
    mannning Said:
    8:56 pm 

    Seems fair enough. Maybe cut only $32 billion out.

  27. 27
    Thomas Jackson Said:
    11:44 pm 

    Yeah the concept of small government is just too difficult a concept to grasp. It will make some people’s heads explode, especially those who haven’t bothered to read the Constitution and cannot grasp how few duties and responsibilities the government has.

    Mandating light bulbs and toilet bowls are not among these duties. But hey, is a crushing, titantic state that can regulate every facet of your life just what the founding fathers intended.

  28. 28
    mannning Said:
    2:54 pm 

    Most fiscal conservatives would support an agenda that included: 1)taking a very hard look at every government program and agency to reduce its budget responsibly; 2)to eliminate duplication and regulatory redundancies in government; 3)to plan and execute a greatly decreased spending agenda more fitting to our GNP and revenues; 4)to reduce the number of personnel in government accordingly in a humane manner, such as not replacing retirees in the sectors reduced; 5)to work to reduce the deficit and reach a balance in a responsible manner over time; 6)to align defense budgets with both long and short-term threats; and, 7)to stop nation-building efforts where possible, while living up to our commitments.

    Most fiscal conservatives would go along with tax increases to pay down the debt and stabilize Social Security and Medicare, if they could be assured that the increased revenue would be spent for the purpose intended.

    The problem is, any increase today would most likely go to programs that have the effect of growing government greatly, and not to the economic stability we want. Universal health care, universal college education for all, subsidies and earmarks left and right, and little fiscal restraint or careful supervision is what we believe would take place. As Senator Grassley said, government agencies go over their
    authorized limits in a heartbeat if they think they can get away with it. Those universals may be highly desirable, but not when we are serious debtors. Nations that have such benefits also have tax levels that are onerous: 60-70-80% at the high end plus VAT at 18-20% for everyone for everything purchased.

    The key is fiscal responsibility, and the current Congress and Administration leave us with zero faith and trust that they are acting responsibly.

  29. 29
    Simon Templar Said:
    9:28 am 

    Joe said, “So,Obama is incompetent, huh Rick?The same man that ran a presidential campaign that will be discussed in history books for it’s brilliance. But magically that all disappeared when he entered the White House. Sure it did. And if conservatives tell themselves that enough times, doesn’t that make it true? Are are you only trying to convince yourself?Because thats the sense I get. Yes, the poor waif Obama just got lucky to get elected, thats what it was Rick, he’s not really that smart.Right.”
    —- When did it become common and agreed fact that running a supposed great campaign was evidence, clear and substantial that a person is fit for leadership and governance? Yeah, Nixon, Carter, Clinton, etc. all ran great campaigns and were great talkers but great governors and leaders? You will get both sides of the aisles taking exception with that! Are conservatives saying that the obamasiah is stupid? NO, we know he is a very clever…he fooled a great number of people…it is time to give O’s brilliance a rest and start opening your eyes to what he is doing..this is where, I am sure, we part..because you do not have a problem in the slightest with his New AmeriCCCa.

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