January 25, 2008


Reagan and McCain (Peter J. Wallison, 1/25/2008, American Spectator)

The similarities between Reagan and McCain begin with their extraordinary attachment to principle. Reagan never altered his views about Communism, the Soviet Union or the importance of shrinking the government, and it was this quality that made him a successful president. Washington is a city where everything is negotiable. In this world, a president with actual principles has a unique attribute -- credibility. When Reagan stayed the course on tax cuts, despite high interest rates and a weak economy in 1982, he was relying on his principles. When John McCain said, in supporting the surge in Iraq, he would "rather lose an election than lose a war," he is demonstrating the same attachment to principle that animated Ronald Reagan. And this firmness will give him the same credibility in Washington that Reagan enjoyed.

A second similarity is their view of the United States and its role in the world. Reagan, as we recall, described America as a shining city on a hill. What he meant by this was that the United States is an exceptional nation -- "the last best hope of earth," in Lincoln's words. This is the foundation of an aggressive foreign policy, respectful of other nations but ultimately doing what is necessary to defeat the enemies of peace and freedom. Thus, Reagan's foreign policy -- much to the chagrin of our European allies -- was the opposite of the accommodationist approach followed by his predecessors in dealing with the Soviet Union; as he summarized it: "We win; they lose." McCain sees the United States in the same way, having served in its armed forces, borne years of torture in its behalf, fought for a stronger military, and promised to follow Osama bin Laden to "the gates of hell." He wants to defeat our next great enemy, Islamofascism, not live with it, just as Reagan refused to accept the Soviet Union as a permanent fixture on the international scene.

Reagan and McCain also share the essential characteristic of leaders -- both set their own course without reference to polls or political pressures. When Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, he made a powerful statement about the rule of law, although customary Washington politics would have dictated compromise. When he said in his first inaugural address that "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem," he was putting himself in opposition to a half-century of growth in the government and its role in the economy. When McCain told a questioner at a New Hampshire town meeting that if he wants to limit free trade "I am not your candidate," or told Iowans that ethanol is not the solution to the nation's energy problems, he, like Reagan, was signaling that he will set his own course and not pander to the politics of the moment.

Of course, the Gipper also gave us the most protectionist measure since Smoot-Hawley, but, in that sense too, he showed a governing flexibility that the Senator shares.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2008 4:23 PM
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