January 17, 2008


St. Reagan: Idealizing ideological purity (Victor Davis Hanson, 1/17/08, National Review)

[R]onald Reagan has been beatified into some sort of saint, as if he were above the petty lapses and contradictions of today’s candidates. The result is that conservatives are losing sight of Reagan the man while placing unrealistic requirements of perfection on his would-be successors.

They have forgotten that Reagan — facing spiraling deficits, sinking poll ratings and a hostile Congress — reluctantly signed legislation raising payroll, income, and gasoline taxes, some of them among the largest in our history. He promised to limit government and eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy. Instead, when faced with congressional and popular opposition, he relented and even grew government by adding a secretary of veteran affairs to the Cabinet.

Two of his Supreme Court appointments, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, were far more liberal than George W. Bush’s selections, the diehard constructionists, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Reagan’s 1986 comprehensive immigration bill turned out to be the most liberal amnesty for illegal aliens in our nation’s history, and set the stage for the present problem of 12 million aliens here unlawfully. [...]

In foreign affairs, Reagan was not always sober and judicious. He shocked Cold Warriors by advocating complete nuclear disarmament at his Reykjavik summit with Michel Gorbachev.

In the middle of Lebanon’s civil war, he first put American troops into a crossfire. Then, when 241 marines were blown up, he withdrew them. That about-face, and the failure to retaliate in serious fashion, helped to embolden Hezbollah’s anti-American terrorism for decades.

The Iran-Contra scandal exploded when a few rogue administration officials sold state-of-the-art missiles under the table to Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring theocracy, and prompted opposition talk of impeachment. [...]

When a candidate today says, “Reagan would have done this or that,” he apparently has a poor memory of what Reagan — the often lonely, flesh-and-blood conservative in the 1980s — was forced to do to get elected, govern, and be re-elected. While in office, he proved more often the pragmatic leader than the purist knight slaying ideological dragons on the campaign trail.

Which leaves out his rescue of SS in its most Second Way form when he had an opportunity to force real change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2008 8:06 AM

Sorry can't help it - I still love the guy.

Posted by: mike in europe at January 17, 2008 3:53 PM

Of course we love him. He was one of our greatest presidents, just not a "conservative" one.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2008 8:11 PM


He was conservative, just not to quite the extent that some folks on the Right portray him. Most presidents acquire haloes with their compatriots after they're out of office. Heck, even media folks say nice things about Reagan now.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 17, 2008 9:29 PM

Sure, Reagan was no 'purist'. But he had established where he stood over a long period of time. He was also far more conservative than anyone who could have reasonably been expected to win the Presidency in 1976-79. It wasn't until the country saw Carter in complete meltdown during the campaign that Reagan surged into a 10-point lead.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 17, 2008 11:05 PM

He was a more liberal governor of CA than Jimmy Carter was president of the United States.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2008 8:45 AM