Let's get right into it. Do "Reagan Conservatives" actually follow Ronald Reagan?
The quick answer: NO! Very few "Reagan Conservatives" today would be able to tell you very much about the man and his policies as president. Of course they are more than able to spew the rhetoric they've gleaned from their "Holy Trinity" of conservative doctrine (the Limbaugh, the Hannity and the Holy Beck), but beyond that, few have bothered to take an honest look at what "Good Ol' Dutch" actually stood for.
Why? Because if they did they would realize that Reagan himself would detest the tea-bagging, Paul Revere wannabe, doomsday rhetoric of 21st century neo-conservatism, which is more interested in twisting history, inflating a false sense of patriotism and making simple-minded stupidity a virtue (remember Joe the Plummer?). The conservatives who summon Reagan’s ghost for use in today’s arguments usually use him as a stand-in for doctrinal purity. Why? Because they have no real doctrine themselves.
Now, before you de-friend me on Facebook or start labeling me an evil, fascist, Nazi, Obama socialist hear me out. I am not trying to level an attack on Reagan here, nor am I saying that conservatism is a bad thing. As a person who generally favors conservative principles (i.e. fiscal responsibility, limited government, etc.) I believe that most RATIONAL Republicans embrace sound government principles that are far superior to those of their tax and spend, larger government opponents. Now, I say this in the general sense because I realize that there are Dems who favor less taxation and government, just like there are Republicans who are downright insane and stupid (Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, etc.). In addition, I also recognize that Ronald Reagan was a successful president who did a lot of good for this nation. However, I do NOT believe that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, nor do I share the sentiments of the "Reagan Conservatives" who embrace the man as the Messiah of truth, justice and the American way. I also think it's silly for these "Reagan Conservatives" to hold the man up as something he was not. How do I know they are wrong? See for yourselves:
When speaking with a "Reagan Conservative" you will typically hear something in line with the following:
"I am not a Republican. I am a Reagan Conservative who stands for the principles which Reagan embodied, those being lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, a strong military, zero tolerance for terrorism, Christian values and immigration reform. In short, I believe, with Reagan, that government isn't the solution to problems; government is the problem." ~Sean Hannity, Conservative Victory, 2010
Reagan created the greatest economic expansion in American history...He slowed the growth of domestic spending by vetoing spending bills and by shutting down the federal bureaucracy. In fact, Ronald Reagan proved something that to this day economists, elite economists do not believe. Ronald Reagan lowered inflation during the midst of one of the most unbridled economies and its growth period in history. No economist thought that possible, but he did. He brought inflation down to 4.8% from its double-digit figure when he took office, and significantly. ~Rush Limbaugh, June 7, 2004.Well, that sounds good to me too. Only one problem: It's not really true. Ronald Reagan didn't embrace these things like the "Reagan Conservatives" think he did. Here's what Reagan really believed:
Taxation and Spending
We've all heard the rhetoric about how AMAZING Reagan was with taxes. If you listen to the pundits its almost as if nobody paid any taxes of any kind during the "Glorious 80s." Sadly, the truth is something very different. As economist Paul Krugman points out:
Ronald Reagan does hold a special place in the annals of tax policy, and not just as the patron saint of tax cuts. To his credit, he was more pragmatic and responsible than that; he followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.In short, the man actually RAISED taxes when he knew it would benefit the country. That is one major reason he was a successful president. Reagan, like his idol FDR, knew that you had to be flexible with the economy. Sometimes you need to spend, other times you need to save. In short, Reagan understood that no fixed political position would solve problems. One needed to be willing to admit that the "other guy" had a point as well.
The first Reagan tax increase came in 1982. By then it was clear that the budget projections used to justify the 1981 tax cut were wildly optimistic. In response, Mr. Reagan agreed to a sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts. Over all, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut; as a share of G.D.P., the increase was substantially larger than Mr. Clinton's 1993 tax increase.
Mr. Reagan's second tax increase was also motivated by a sense of responsibility; or at least that's the way it seemed at the time. I'm referring to the Social Security Reform Act of 1983, which followed the recommendations of a commission led by Alan Greenspan. Its key provision was a huge increase in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance.
For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent more in taxes than they did under JFK, Johnson and Carter.
And how about fiscal spending? Wasn't Reagan the most fiscal president in the history of history? Isn't that was Rush and the like tell us?
Not so fast. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Ronald Reagan's presidency incurred the third highest level of deficit spending in American history:
And though I recognize that Reagan's deficit spending was not as bad as some might think (Reagan and his advisors knew that they could outspend the Soviets into oblivion) this chart illustrates the fact that Reagan was not the anti-spending guy that the tea-nut "Reagan Conservative" crowd believes. Anti-spending? Anti-taxes? Not ol' Dutch!
Military and Terrorism
Ok, on this one we need to clarify a few things. One of the main reasons Reagan spent so much $$$ was to create a strong military. That's a reality. Sadly, the "Reagan Conservatives" seem to believe that this simple fact means that Reagan was for increasing ALL aspects of the military. Not so.
On page 222 of his "book" Conservative Victory, Sean Hannity, the self-anointed founder of "Reagan Conservatism":
We must be committed to retaining our position as the world's greatest superpower, by maintaining the world's strongest military and supporting our troops on and off the battlefield. We must not dismantle our nuclear weapons and must persist in perfecting our strategic missile defenses. We must not dismantle our nuclear weapons, we can never return to a world without them.So "brave"; so "Patriotic", Sean. Only one problem. Here's what Reagan had to say on the issue:
Let's make no mistake. Reagan HATED war. He was from the WWII generation and knew first hand the horrible nature of it. In consequence, one of his primary goals was the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons. In December 1987, President Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union, which "requires destruction of the Parties' ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment within three years after the Treaty enters into force." Not only did Reagan want to control the Soviet nuclear stockpile but of ours as well!
As for terrorism, "Reagan Conservatives" are usually the first to uphold torture as a responsible, reliable practice:
On nearly every issue since the war on terror bean, Democrats have stood for the wrong principles and policies and have proved incompetent in carrying out their own policies as well...They [terrorists] have declared war on us and we're fighting a war and we know there is about 60-some odd detainees that have gone back to the battlefield. Why for the first time ever would we give rights to enemy combatants?...Waterboarding is a safe and effective tool for intelligence gathering." ~Sean Hannity on Fox's Hannity, broadcast Mar. 10, 2009.Now let's see what Reagan had to say about torture. When speaking of the United Nations convention on torture he said:
Waterboarding is not torture. It's a horrible experience that does no harm." ~Glenn Beck, January 17, 2008.
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.Reagan was admant about prosecuting torture; a practice he detested. In fact, Reagan prosecuted those who were found to be practicing waterboarding, including this Texas Sheriff. So clearly it is impossible for a "Reagan Conservative" to approve of torture...that is...if they truly want to emulate Ronny boy.
The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called 'universal jurisdiction.' Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.
These are just a few of the MANY obvious differences that exist between Ronald Reagan and the "Reagan Conservatives." If you want to see more, follow this link (which was one of the many sources used for my post).
In conclusion, I want to make something clear. Ronald Reagan was an effective president not because he clung to some rigid political dogma like the tea-baggers, but because he understood that different situations require different solutions. Reagan could effectively read America's economic and political barometer better than most, and as a result, he knew when to spend and when to save; when to tax and when to not tax. In short, he knew when to be more conservative and more liberal. Contrary to today's idiotic political division, which insists on complete and total subjugation to one rigid form of government (all of which claims to be the supreme guardian of American patriotism), Ronald Reagan's brand of conservatism knew when and how to adjust. It was a living, breathing and evolving idea, not a cold, dead and rigid fiction.
So, to the "Reagan Conservatives" out there I only ask one thing: will you follow the REAL Reagan? Or will you continue to believe the myth? Perhaps Reagan's own words best apply. Instead of the word "liberal" I will use "Reagan Conservative":
The trouble with our Reagan Conservative friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.