Stories by Clifton Yin

Clifton Yin was the youngest Asian-American delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at Georgetown University.

Christie is Ready for the White House

October 4th, 2011 at 1:49 am 36 Comments

Speculation is rampant as to whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will enter the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Almost all the media focus thus far has been on political calculations, cheap such as Christie’s ability to raise money, sick put together a national campaign organization, and withstand the rigors of the race.

For the most part, however, pundits are ignoring the most important consideration of all: Is Christie actually ready to be President of the United States?

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The Freedom Agenda Gets Vindicated

August 23rd, 2011 at 8:50 am 112 Comments

George W. Bush’s place in the pantheon of celebrated American presidents is far from secure. Nevertheless, the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya sheds new light on President Bush’s vigorous support for democratic values across the entire Middle East.

An Obama administration starved of good news will likely seek and receive credit for helping topple the dictatorship, but his predecessor deserves substantial credit for envisioning and perhaps even helping instigate the Arab Spring – of which the events in Libya constitute only the latest chapter – as a whole.

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Huntsman Jumps In!

June 20th, 2011 at 8:01 am 27 Comments

Jon Huntsman’s presidential candidacy will likely generate increased scrutiny due to both his imminent formal campaign announcement and his surprise second place-finish in the recent Republican Leadership Conference straw poll, generic in which supposed frontrunner Mitt Romney placed fifth despite an outright win last year.

Interestingly, remedy his stint during President Obama’s administration as ambassador to China has emerged as a contentious issue for partisans of both parties. Most of the criticism of Huntsman’s diplomatic service, however, has been shallow political posturing.

When the president tapped him for the ambassadorship in 2009, Huntsman had already been laying the groundwork for a potential national campaign. U.S. News and World Report described

Huntsman as the only possible Republican candidate that made Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, “a wee bit queasy.” As such, when the president appointed Huntsman to the diplomatic post little more than a week after Plouffe’s pronouncement, many saw the move as a cunning political calculation. “Brilliant,” GOP strategist Mark McKinnon remarked at the time, “Keep your friends close and your enemies in China.”

To be sure, Huntsman–  a seasoned diplomat and excellent Mandarin Chinese speaker — was very well-qualified. But as Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter later opined on the reasoning behind the appointment, “Whether Obama wants to admit it or not, when he surveyed the Republican Party for who had talent…and could potentially pose the most threat for him in 2012, believe me, Obama would prefer to run against Romney or Huckabee or Palin than against Jon Huntsman.”

It is therefore somewhat ridiculous that White House officials were supposedly “furious” at what they deemed to be Huntsman’s “audacious betrayal” in stepping down to explore a run, as reported by Politico, considering how the appointment was steeped in political considerations in the first place.

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative blogger Erik Erickson has essentially echoed the absurd argument that Huntsman was disloyal to the president for even thinking of launching a campaign while serving as ambassador.

The fact is that as Huntsman did not actually coordinate campaign activities, he was well within his rights to muse about his future in public service. Only in a Stalinist regime could we expect public servants to be absolutely loyal to the person of the president, as opposed to their own conscience and the nation as a whole. In America, principled dissent has long been a hallmark of our democracy.

If Huntsman believes he can do a better job as president than the incumbent, then all power to him.

Of course, White House officials and the president himself have been publicly attempting to kill his candidacy with kindness. “I’m sure that him having worked so well with me,” President Obama has remarked, tongue-in-cheek, “will be a great asset in any Republican primary.” Indeed, some partisan Republicans play right into the Obama campaign’s hands and characterize Huntsman as a stooge of the president.

Huntsman, however, also served with distinction in the administrations of three Republican presidents – Ronald Reagan, H.W. Bush, and W. Bush – in addition to that of President Obama. Clearly, he takes public service seriously.

“My president asked me to serve in a time of war, in a time of economic difficulty in this country,” Huntsman commented on the subject. “I’m the kind of person, when asked by my president to stand up and serve this country…I do it. And we were honored to serve two years.”

And now that he is formally seeking the honor of serving as president himself, he has already begun to detail key differences with the incumbent on fiscal policy and the management of the war in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, regardless of whether or not either of the extremes is true and Huntsman’s time as ambassador was a case of him being supremely disloyal or slavishly loyal to President Obama, what matters to the nation is the quality of his service.

On that note, Huntsman has earned accolades for his ambassadorial tenure. Although he was “unfailingly urbane and diplomatic in public,” as The Christian Science Monitor put it, he was an aggressive advocate for US interests in China behind closed doors.

Indeed, Huntsman both charmed and unsettled the Chinese government. He was consistent in his defense for human rights, going as far as criticizing the government’s record outright in his last public speech in China as ambassador. And in a private cable to the president, he pushed for a harder stance on North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Huntsman, for his part, seems unfazed so far by criticism of his record in general. “It’s OK. You [have] got to be who you are and march forward,” he remarked in response to questions about the political wisdom of his policy views. “Some people will like it.” Hopefully, those people see him elected president.

GOP Should Sign On to Daniels’ Social Truce

October 14th, 2010 at 8:12 am 16 Comments

Earlier this year, The Weekly Standard reported Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as opining that the next president will “have to call a truce on the so-called social issues,” given the nation’s pressing fiscal issues. When questioned further, Daniels said that we face a “genuine national emergency” in regard to the federal budget and “maybe [social issues] could be set aside for a while. But this doesn’t mean anybody abandons their position at all. Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic.”

Daniels’ comments generated a torrent of criticism from social conservatives, but he refused to back down. “It wasn’t something I just blurted out,” he remarked on his call for a possible social truce. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.” His words are made all the more striking given the fact that he is a strong social conservative. The first article by the Standard points out that Daniels is pro-life, serves as an elder at the Indianapolis Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, which he has attended for 50 years, and helped found a “Christ-centered” school which he claims “is the most important thing I’ve ever been involved in.” The devout Daniels previously stated that “atheism leads to brutality.”

Nor is Daniels alone in his sentiments. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was elected despite largely avoiding social issues, has kept a laser-like focus on fiscal issues while in office and become a national conservative hero partly because of it. What is more, he has specifically called for Republicans to “rebrand themselves credibly with the candidates they run, and what they espouse, as the person who will keep an eye on the cash register, who will rein in the spending and the debt.” When pressed on the social truce idea at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored discussion, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour replied, “I think what Mitch said is very similar to what I have responded to today”:

The voters have on their mind the economy, jobs, spending, debt and taxes and good campaigns are about the issues that are on the peoples’ minds.”… “I’ll put my bonafides up against anybody as a social conservative,” he added, noting that as governor, Mississippi was voted the safest state in the country for an unborn child. “But that ain’t going to change anybody’s vote this year because people are concerned about jobs, the economy, growth and taxes…you are using up valuable time and resources that can be used to talk to people about what they care about.

Socially conservative congressman Mike Pence, however, could not disagree more. “To those who say we should focus on fiscal issues, instead of the right to life, I say ‘what is more fiscally responsible than rolling back this administration’s effort to expand funding for abortion at home and abroad?’” he said in Iowa earlier this month. “What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?”

The congressman may or may not know, however, that federal domestic funding for abortion in the next fiscal year will be at most $327.4 million, with an additional $700 million for international family planning programs. When combined with the $349.6 million in government funding received by Planned Parenthood in fiscal year 2007-2008, the total federal expenditure (even disregarding the fact that the Planned Parenthood figure includes money from state and local governments) on abortion constitutes just 0.00036% of the roughly $3.8 trillion that will make up the 2011 U.S. federal budget. The collective figure also pales in comparison to America’s other economic ills: an umemployment rate that has remained above 9.4% since May 2009 and a national debt estimated at $13.63 trillion as of this writing.

To answer Congressman Pence’s questions, while the amount of government funding for abortion is deplorable, it would be far more fiscally responsible to focus on repealing parts of this year’s massive healthcare reform legislation, whose price tag may exceed $1 trillion over the next ten years. It would be far more fiscally responsible to work to ensure that there are no additional stimulus packages akin to 2009’s wasteful $787 billion plan. It would be far, far, far more fiscally responsible to focus on reducing the size of government in a meaningful, substantial way, growing our economy, and paying off some of our horrendous collective debt.

Governors Barbour, Christie, and Daniels: bring on the social truce!

The Tea Party’s Low Expectations

September 16th, 2010 at 11:31 am 31 Comments

Christine O’Donnell’s showing in the Delaware GOP Senate primary was a victory for the Tea Party movement, ailment a defeat for Republican moderates and pragmatists, drugstore but most significantly, ed a triumph for tragically low expectations.

It is altogether understandable that Tea Party supporters and activists have tenaciously backed political candidates who share their convictions. It is admirable that they have done so in spite of “electability” arguments, for that debate can often prove meaningless, political “inside baseball”. But it is troubling when they have done so – as in the cases of Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell – without concern for the quality of the candidate. In short, Palin, DeMint, et al seem more interested in boosting conservative talkers and less interested in actually cultivating conservative leaders.

A wealth of troubling facts have emerged regarding O’Donnell’s past – Politico describes her as “a perennial candidate with a sketchy employment history who has dissembled about her education, defaulted on her student loan and her mortgage, sued a former employer for mental anguish, railed against the evils of masturbation and questioned whether it would have been OK to lie to prevent Nazis from killing Jews during World War II” – with more details emerging every day. If leaders inspire by example, then O’Donnell is no leader.

In their endorsement message, the Sacramento, California-based Tea Party Express lauded her for having established “a reputation as a strong voice for conservative constitutionalist principles.” This is the height of political cynicism. How can we expect her to be a strong voice for fiscal responsibility in the Senate when she has been anything but responsible with her personal finances and campaign mismanagement? How can we expect her to bring more honesty and openness to the Senate when she has exercised neither virtue in describing her academic background and campaign history? And how can we expect her to hold her ground against Senate Democrats and the president when she cannot do so against a conservative, hometown radio talk show host or a primary opponent without resorting to absurd accusations? At a time when the country requires elected officials of the highest caliber, the Tea Party movement has enabled the nomination of a candidate who meets an exceedingly low standard for membership in the world’s greatest deliberative body.

As they campaigned for ratification of the Constitution in 1788, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison laid out their vision for the U.S. Senate in magnificent detail in Federalist No. 62. As so many Tea Party activists call for a more originalist interpretation of the Constitution, I turn now to the words of two of our Founding Fathers to illustrate their own high hopes for our senators at the dawn of our nation. Senators – by virtue of being members of the upper legislative house – would require “greater extent of information and stability of character,” they wrote, and be unyielding “to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and [seduction] by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.”

Messrs Hamilton and Madison, please forgive us.

Only the GOP Can
Act on Climate Change

August 3rd, 2010 at 10:56 am 18 Comments

On Thursday, July 27, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the abandonment of comprehensive climate and energy legislation despite months of effort. Environmental groups and political pundits were quick to point fingers, with everyone from the fossil fuel industry to Republican and moderate Democratic senators to Reid himself held responsible. But significant ire has actually been reserved for President Barack Obama, with Rolling Stone citing the possibility that he “doesn’t have the spine for this fight.” Politico encapsulated the widespread criticism of the president:

Many say it was Obama who didn’t do enough to make the climate bill a big enough priority, allowing other monster big-ticket items like the economic stimulus, health care and Wall Street reform to suck up all the oxygen and leaving environmentalists grasping for straws too late in the game – well past the expiration date for other big accomplishments during the 111th Congress. “The absence of direct, intense presidential leadership doomed this process,” said Eric Pooley, author of “Climate War,” a just-published book that chronicles the past three years of debate on global warming. “We did have a window there, and now the window is shut.”

The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, observed that President Obama had been “largely AWOL in the fight, didn’t speak up in the final innings, though his run for the White House was partly built on environmental appeals.” In October 2008, then-candidate Obama did in fact declare “There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy…That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office.” Nevertheless, the president – armed with a Democratic Congress amidst the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history – could not get the job done.

New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin presented an intriguing idea: “Could it be that the White House has concluded what some political analysts have quietly told me — that only a Republican president could muster the Senate votes to pass a meaningful climate bill?” The cap-and-trade framework that dominates the contemporary debate over climate legislation, after all, was partly an invention of the first Bush administration. Furthermore, a study found that “over the last four decades, almost 70 percent of major federal environmental protection legislation has been brought about by the combination of a Republican president and an all-Democratic Congress.” And prior to 2010, some of the most meaningful legislative proposals on the subject – including the Climate Stewardship Acts of 2003, 2005, and 2007 and the Climate Security Act of 2008 – were authored by Republicans, Senators John McCain and John Warner, respectively. President Obama’s short stint in the Senate, of course, saw no such leadership on his part.

Bradford Plumer of The New Republic goes as far as to posit, “If McCain had won in 2008, with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate, then it’s quite possible we’d have a climate bill by now.” The political reality is that with environmentalism having long been a province of the left, a liberal like President Obama will always be hard-pressed to win Republican votes for climate legislation in Congress, but a more moderate Republican president in the vein of McCain can attract support from both sides of the aisle. Counterintuitive though it may be, Americans looking for comprehensive climate and energy legislation may have to turn to a Republican president to get the job done.

The GOP’s Policy Deficit

July 26th, 2010 at 12:35 pm 30 Comments

Earlier this year, rising Republican star Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin introduced “A Roadmap for America’s Future,” a comprehensive budget plan that would freeze most discretionary spending and includes a wide array of entitlement and tax reform measures. Liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, of all people, called the proposal “daring” and gave Ryan measured praise for attempting to deal with America’s massive deficit. “[Ryan’s] proposal is among the few I’ve seen that’s willing to propose solutions in proportion to the problem,” Klein wrote. “Whether or not you like his answer, you have to give him credit for stepping up to the chalkboard.” But the roadmap has few supporters within the Republican congressional caucus and as The Atlantic noted, Ryan recently offered a blunt explanation as to why this is the case:

The GOP is running away from a realistic deficit plan because they’re afraid that it would kill their political prospects in November, Rep. Paul Ryan said at a presentation of his budget roadmap at the Brookings Institution [on July 22]. When asked why Republicans aren’t flocking to his bold government reform, Ryan responded, without hesitation: “They’re talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, ‘Stay away from this, we’re going to win an election.’”

Ryan’s candid statement goes to the heart of a troubling political reality: Republicans are well-positioned to take back control of the House and possibly the Senate this fall, but have offered little to no explanation of what they actually intend to do with their newfound authority in the event of a takeover. Congressman Pete Sessions and Senator Jon Cornyn – the respective Texan heads of the party’s two congressional campaign committees – appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on July 19. When asked by the host, David Gregory, “if Republicans do get back into power, what are they going to do?” the former could only talk vaguely of the need “to live within our means” and “make sure we read the bills.” The two fared no better as Gregory continued to press them on the potential policy agenda of a new Republican Congress:

MR. GREGORY:  But, Congressman, that’s a, that’s a pretty gauzy agenda so far.  I mean, what specific–what painful choices are Republicans prepared to make?  Are they going to campaign on repealing health care, for instance, repealing financial regulation?  Would you like to see those two things done?

REP. SESSIONS:  Well, first of all, let’s go right to it.  We’re going to balance the budget.  We should live within our own means, and we should read the bills and work with the American people.

MR. GREGORY:  How do you do it?  Tell me how you do it.  Name a painful choice that Republicans are prepared to say we ought to make.

REP. SESSIONS:  Well, first of all, we need to make sure that as we look at all that we are spending in Washington, D.C., with, not only the, the entitlement spending but also the bigger government, we cannot afford anymore. We have to empower the free enterprise system.  See, this is where…

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman, these are not specifics.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator, I’m sorry, I’m not hearing an answer here on specific–what painful choices to really deal with the deficit.  Is Social Security on the table?  What will Republicans do that, that, that would give them–like ‘94, there was a Contract With America.  What are voters going to say, “Hey, this is what Republicans will say yes to”?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, the president has a debt commission that reports December the 1st, and I think we’d all like to see what they come back with.  We’ve got three of our most outstanding members on that commission–Mike Crapo, Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg–and I–my hope is they’ll come back with a bipartisan solution to the debt and particularly entitlement reform, as you, as you mentioned.  But I…

MR. GREGORY:  But wait a minute, conservatives need a, a Democratic president’s debt commission to figure out what it is they want to cut?

Republican House leaders hoped the public could help develop a policy agenda by soliciting suggestions via a website: America Speaking Out. Unsurprisingly, however, the site has been hobbled by a lack of serious participants and a slew of ludicrous submissions – some probably the work of Democratic pranksters.

Thus far, most Republicans seem content to avoid laying out concrete legislative proposals and simply ride the wave of frustration and anti-government sentiment currently gripping the country to victory this November.

Sidestepping the battle of ideas is not worthy of the Republican Party and not worthy of America. “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better,” President Teddy Roosevelt famously remarked. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” Paul Ryan, at least, is in the arena. Who will join him?

Can Jon Huntsman Save the GOP?

July 8th, 2010 at 10:57 pm 24 Comments

While on a promotional tour for his new book, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter recently made some interesting comments on the 2012 presidential race. “Whether Obama wants to admit it or not,” Alter claimed, “when he surveyed the Republican party for who had talent…and could potentially pose the most threat for him in 2012, believe me, Obama would prefer to run against Romney or Huckabee or Palin than against Jon Huntsman.”

Who?

Jon Huntsman is the former governor of Utah and current U.S. ambassador to China. In addition to serving both Bush administrations – as ambassador to Singapore for 41 and a deputy U.S. trade representative for 43 – he is a member of what Fortune termed “an iconic family dynasty that’s one part Marriott (another business clan with Utah roots) and one part Kennedy (only Republican).” Early 2009 saw Huntsman clearly preparing for a possible presidential campaign as he developed contacts in early primary states, began the process of establishing a national PAC, and consulted with leading GOP strategists Frank Lutz and John Weaver. U.S. News and World Report noted that Huntsman was the only potential Republican presidential candidate that made Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, “a wee bit queasy.”

Little more than a week after Plouffe’s pronouncement, however, Obama tapped Huntsman for the ambassadorship to China, thus effectively taking the wind out of the sails of a potential 2012 challenge. This was the move Alter alluded to, and at the time it was hailed as a shrewd political calculation. “Brilliant,” GOP strategist Mark McKinnon remarked on the appointment, “Keep your friends close and your enemies in China.”

Of course, the decision was surely not solely political, as Huntsman is in many ways ideal for the post. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, a byproduct of having served in Taiwan as a Mormon missionary during college. As a trade official, he helped negotiate the opening of markets in Africa and Asia, including China’s. Huntsman is also something of a seasoned diplomat. He was 32 when tapped to be ambassador to Singapore by President H.W. Bush, making him the youngest head of an American diplomatic mission in more than a century. And he has a personal connection to China – one of his seven children was adopted from Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. He has received rave reviews for his work there thus far.

Huntsman’s record as Utah governor is similarly impressive, with the Pew Center rating his state the best governed in the nation in 2008. He left office with an 86 percent approval rating, a fact reflected in a glowing Deseret News editorial commenting on his legacy upon his departure:

When he was elected, nobody knew what to expect. The chattering classes feared he’d be an empty suit — that his privileged upbringing would insulate him from everyday Utahns and his lack of experience would isolate him from power brokers…[But he] has filled his resume with some impressive accomplishments. He has presided over record tax surpluses and record tax cuts. He has been a progressive on climate issues but a conservative in business circles. He has championed education and the four-day work week. But most of all, he has shown an ability to adjust to circumstances. The old saying is old because it’s true: Politics is the art of the possible. And as governor, Huntsman always dwelt in possibilities. The fact he has achieved so much success speaks well of his managerial skills. In short, send that old empty suit to the cleaners. The man headed to China has both looked and acted the part of a leader. What’s more, his future looks tailor-made for national politics.

A presidential run, however, would not be without considerable obstacles. As a Mormon, Huntsman would be competing with Mitt Romney over some of the same supporters and financial backers and have to overcome the same religious prejudices that bedeviled the former governor of Massachusetts in 2008.  Huntsman is also not the most popular figure with the GOP establishment – he excoriated the party’s congressional leadership in 2009, making him, dare I say it, a little bit of a maverick.

To be sure, barring a dramatic break with the Obama administration over foreign policy, it is now highly unlikely that Huntsman will take on the president in 2012. But Republicans can still benefit from emulating his intellectual honesty and recognition that good policy requires nuance, as he pointed out to Politico: “We will be irrelevant as a party until we become the party of solutions and until we become the party of preeminence. It’s easy to fall back on gratuitous rhetoric and that’s kind of what this town is all about.” In a party seemingly bereft of good leadership, with the head of the RNC being derided as “gaffe-master GOP honcho” and the House Minority Leader characterized as lazy, it is comforting to know there are still good leaders out there – even if they are currently in China.

How Significant is Djou’s Hawaii Victory?

May 23rd, 2010 at 3:20 pm 12 Comments

Charles Djou’s victory on Saturday will make him the first Republican to represent Hawaii in Congress since 1991 and only the third since statehood in 1959. Democrats will attempt to downplay Djou’s achievement as a fluke, physician with two high-profile candidates – Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa – splitting the supposedly-Democratic vote in a winner-take-all special election. To be sure, patient America’s newest congressman has an uphill battle come November, patient when he will face only one Democratic nominee. Furthermore, the unique nature of the race certainly makes for a convenient excuse for Democrats who are eager to dismiss Djou’s election as politically insignificant. But the Charles Djou victory is worthy of admiration nonetheless for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Djou’s win in President Barack Obama’s home congressional district is a symbolic one, especially seeing as how the GOP is currently well-positioned to also seize the old U.S. Senate seats of the president and vice-president, after taking that of Democratic icon Ted Kennedy late last year. In addition, Djou won in a district where the president beat John McCain 70 to 28 percent less than two years ago, a margin of 42 points. Djou took 39.4% of the vote to Democrats Hanabusa and Case’s 30.8% and 27.6%, respectively. He may have failed to earn an outright majority, but the ballot was crowded with 14 candidates listed, including four other Republicans. And Hawaii is a deep-blue state: a 2009 Gallup poll found only 27.6% of voters there identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning, compared to 54.1% who considered themselves Democrats or Democrat-leaning. The Djou campaign deserves great credit for running a grassroots campaign that rightfully focused on the economy and government spending.

Djou will bring much-needed ethnic diversity to the Republican congressional delegation as one of only two Asian-American members, the other being Lousiana’s Joseph Cao. As an attorney, law professor, military reservist, and child of immigrants, he will also bring a diversity of experience to his new job. But more importantly, his will be an independent voice in Congress and his campaign a model for future Republicans looking to earn votes in a blue state. He has only six or so months before he must once again win the approval of the voters, but if his accomplishments thus far are any indication, Djou can do it.

Reagan Was No Tea Partier

April 26th, 2010 at 3:08 pm 32 Comments

Earlier this month, sickness Jon Stewart humorously contrasted the difference between Governor Sarah Palin’s perception of President Ronald Reagan and his actual record. During an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity, Palin blasted the current president for seeking nuclear arms reductions, declaring, “We miss Ronald Reagan, who used to say, when he looked at our enemies, you lose, we win.” As Stewart pointed out near the end of this clip, however, in an April 30, 1984, speech at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Reagan proclaimed, “We must never stop at all until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of this earth.”

Palin’s statement was not the only recent high-profile Republican mischaracterization of the Gipper. At a January 2010 meeting in Hawaii, members of the Republican National Committee considered a resolution that would require candidates to support at least eight of ten listed policy stances in order to be eligible for campaign funding from the national party. The proposal was entitled “Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates,” a tribute to the former president’s alleged declaration that “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” Ironically, even a cursory review of Reagan’s decades-long policy record would indicate that the former president would not pass the test named in his honor. Tim Mak has already pointed this out on FrumForum, with John Nichols of The Nation going as far as to argue that Reagan’s actions in public office would not pass muster with even a single one of the ten resolution criteria.

Reagan nostalgia is not at all new among Republicans, but is altogether understandable given the widely-acknowledged transformational nature of his presidency. He is a larger-than-life figure in American politics, due to his bringing together a wide swath of Americans as part of his “Reagan Revolution” electoral coalition, presiding over the end of the Cold War, and, notably, his charisma – even Democrats give him credit for being “The Great Communicator.” It is thus a no-brainer that Republican leaders would seek to venerate him, and in doing so, hope to capture some of his luster. But the act of doing so, over and over and over again in the many years since the end of his presidency, has resulted in the blurring of his legacy. Reagan has become a blank slate upon which Republicans of all sorts project their most idealized hopes and wishful thinking.

While many in the GOP choose to remember Reagan as a doctrinaire conservative who might have supported the Tea Party movement, they conveniently forget the pragmatism that underlined his conservative principles. An avowed budget hawk, he nonetheless ran up huge deficits in order to finance a military buildup to intimidate the Soviet Union. The Americans for Tax Reform organization was founded in 1985 at his urging, and today a multitude of Republican candidates and officeholders sign their “Taxpayer Protection Pledge’ to oppose any and all tax increases. Reagan, however, raised taxes at multiple points during his tenure as Governor of California – in order to balance the state budget – and as president – partly in order to both simplify and broaden the tax code. Another reason he raised taxes as president, in fact, was to help pay for “government-run health care” in the form of Social Security: the Social Security Amendments of 1983 that he signed into law both accelerated an increase in the payroll tax and increased the proportion of benefits eligible as taxable income. The move arguably saved the program from fiscal insolvency, at least in the short term. And yes, Reagan granted amnesty – read again, amnesty – to roughly 3 million illegal immigrants by signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law in 1986. Why? Probably because he believed it was the right solution for a growing problem. “I am pleased to sign this bill into law,” he declared at the signing ceremony at the Statue of Liberty. “The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”

Reagan famously commended Republicans for “raising a banner of bold colors – no pale pastels,” but I daresay his achievements in office are colored by a streak of what some of today’s so-called conservatives might chide as something less than conservatism. Reagan might argue that the difference between rhetoric and governing can be measured by results.