Real Reaganites Don’t Demonize Their Opponents

December 23rd, 2011 at 12:25 am | 26 Comments |

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Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention provides a welcome jolt amidst the atmosphere of the current Republican nominating contest. Instead of hypocritical invective and mindless tribalism, Reagan offers a fundamentally optimistic and cooperative narrative of America.

Though this speech has moments of anger, it is not, at heart, an angry speech. Consider some of these lines near the opening:

I know we have had a quarrel or two, but only as to the method of attaining a goal. There was no argument about the goal. As president, I will establish a liaison with the 50 governors to encourage them to eliminate, where it exists, discrimination against women. I will monitor federal laws to insure their implementation and to add statutes if they are needed.

More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country; to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values.

Not a single word about destroying those rotten, freedom-hating “progressives” or “liberals.” Not even an invocation of “union thugs”! Instead, we see a defense of anti-discrimination laws and an advocacy for the broader purpose of bringing the country together. Rather than inveighing against enemies, Reagan reaches out to potential allies.

Though Reagan criticizes Carter throughout this speech, his criticism seems to emphasize Carter’s incompetence and unfitness for the task of government. He does not claim that Carter hates freedom or despises capitalism or has bad intentions for the country.

A politician today might be denounced by certain factions as a “statist” or “collectivist” for repeating these lines by Reagan:

Isn’t it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them–for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?

Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families; to have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

Let us pledge to restore, in our time, the American spirit of voluntary service, of cooperation, of private and community initiative; a spirit that flows like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation.

Reagan here seems to suggest that the needy should not be blamed for their poverty but helped from it. Praising “private and community” initiatives is not necessarily elevating government actions, but it does dismiss the celebration of selfishness. From this Reaganite perspective, liberty is more than the celebration of private profit; it is also the opportunity to do public good, beyond the scope of the business ledger.

Reagan goes on to embrace RINO apostasy in his defense of the social safety net and Social Security:

It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved.

This isn’t winner-take-all crony capitalism. This is instead a faith in the growth of markets complemented by a compassion for human need.

In this speech, Reagan is a defender of small-government thinking. And he does make a compelling case for it, but this case does not depend upon demonizing his opponents. Reagan knew that venom was the common friend of failure. Instead, a spirit of optimistic faith in the potential of liberty motivates this address.

Reagan speaks from a time when conservatism meant more than having the right enemies, when it offered a vision of bringing together Americans in the dream of a greater freedom. This dream does not merely entail getting rich but also emphasizes building, by oneself and in cooperation with others, a fairer, juster, and happier society.

2012 could be a great opportunity for conservative and Republican politics. If they are to make the most of it, Republicans should keep in mind that Reaganite spirit of hope over despair, unity over division, and empathy over scorn. It’s easy in a time of trials to settle into a complacent alienation. But, for the sake of this American republic, it is even more necessary as a matter of civic spirit to work to renew the civic compact and face our problems with temperance, reason, and, yes, some measure of good cheer.

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer



26 Comments so far ↓

  • Greuven

    A rare voice of sanity from the right. I may disagree with specific policies that you support, but I absolutely respect your right to support them, and am perfectly willing to regard them with an open mind and give you the chance to cause me to reconsider. If only the current batch of Republican Congressmen and Senators would adopt your approach…

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Every last one of the Teabag jihadists who claim that mantle of Reagan is palpably not Reaganite. This is so bleedingly obvious one doesn’t need Fred Bauer to tell one so, although his proffered assistance here is greatly appreciated for the friendly jesture that it no doubt is.

    Take as a case in point one Joe Miller. Immediately after making one of the most unReagnesque pronouncements ever heard of– i.e., that the Berlin wall was such a cracking success that the United States should imitate it on its southern border to help keep out the Mexicans– he responded to a center-right journalist critical of his remarks by having his security detail arrest him.

    About a month before this incident Miller implied that his opponent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was a streetwalker.

    Joe Miller: unReagan-like in his ideas and attitudes, his public manners and his tactics, and especially in his treatment of opponents.

  • SteveThompson

    Here is a look at the increases in the debt associated with the last 10 Administrations in the United States showing which ones are responsible for the greatest annual percentage growth over the term of each President:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/08/americas-presidents-who-was-biggest.html

    The answer to which President is responsible for the greatest annual percentage growth rate in the federal debt is rather unexpected.

    • Houndentenor

      Why is that surprising? Reagan increased spending and cut taxes. The only result from that would be debt. There can be economic stimulus from both tax cuts and increases in government spending, but not enough to pay back the money borrowed.

  • LaLupa

    I am so tired hearing about Reagan. He ran for president 36 years ago. Different time. Different issues. Let it go!

    • PracticalGirl

      + 1

      The GOP, base in tow, moved away from his particular brand of politics decades ago. And frankly, Mr. Bauer- we knew President Reagan. Even he wasn’t the “Reagan” of current mythology.

  • Oldskool

    Ronnie had the words and the music but then he stripped programs that helped people he supposedly sympathized with. Early in life he was a huge fan of FDR and later he became the godfather of “greed is good”. He ignored AIDS until it turned into an epidemic because he thought the gays deserved it. He had his share of contradictions, just like his teabagger flock.

  • jorae

    Reagan Jr.’s remarks came when the BBC’s Matt Frei asked him, “Are you happy the way [Ronald Reagan] is remembered in this country, especially by the conservatives?”

    “Oh, I just think it’s inevitable,” Reagan Jr. responded. “Who else are they going to remember that way? Richard Nixon? I don’t think so. Warren Harding? Maybe

  • Graychin

    Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be able to get to to double digits in Iowa in 2012 – if he had to run on his record.

    But back then he was remarkably good at selling himself as a fiscal conservative with compassion, although both sides of that coin were false – as they were with a more recent Republican president.

    Your father’s/grandfather’s Republican Party is gone – probably forever. The guy who is most to blame for that is a leading contender for your 2012 presidential nomination.

    Will you give him his just reward?

    • LaLupa

      The social issues alone would stop Reagan from getting traction among today’s SoCons. In any case, time to move on. Reagan ain’t coming back.

  • bdtex

    “If they are to make the most of it, Republicans should keep in mind that Reaganite spirit of hope over despair, unity over division, and empathy over scorn.”

    It’s too late for that.

  • cporet

    For crying out loud it was 30 years ago. Nothing is as it was then. Even Saint Ron would have to run to the right to be viable in Iowa.

  • Falling Rock

    Reagan might need to run to the right today, or not. Depends on what you believe about Reagan and what he truly did for the country and for the party.

    If there’s a transformational figure in the future for the GOP it won’t be somebody who’ll run to the right. That horse has been whipped. It’ll be someone who has a bit more to say and will be able to step out of the current left-right paradigm.

    • Ogemaniac

      One can put forth a darned good argument that Obama has been well to the right of that amnesty-granting, tax-raising, Social Security-saving fool Reagan. In the worst case, they are comparible.

      In fact, the only Republican presidents in the last century that were clearly to the right of Obama were Coolidge and the Illustrious Shrub himself.

  • NRA Liberal

    Reagan would be a Democrat today if you subtracted his “Southern Strategy”/dogwhistle moments, probably to the left of some of the prominent Democrats now in office.

    “This is instead a faith in the growth of markets complemented by a compassion for human need.”…Excellent description of Obama-style centrist liberalism as it exists today.

  • valkayec

    Mr. Bauer, this is a fine blog post, and frankly I’d like to see more of the attitude about which you wrote in action today.

    However, when Reagan grew up, then became President, our country was very different. His generation had endured the Great Depression and WWII where everyone experienced the same hardships and knew they all had to pull together, regardless of the numbers of pundits and political opportunists attempting to split the nation apart.

    The demonization, caused by Atwater policies, extended by Rove and practiced to great and lasting harm by Gingrich, have severely harmed our national dialogue. But as Peter Orszag reminds us, the nation itself has self-segregated along red and blue lines since Reagan was President. Add in technological advances, i.e., email, blogs, facebook, twitter, the rise of partisan media, and partisan gerrymandering, and you end up with even more self-segregation wherein the one’s own ideology is not only never questioned by rewarded. Where even the most outrageous remarks are applauded.

    Moreover, we have an entire class of people, based on wealth, that no longer aligns itself with our country. While they hold US citizenship, they are truly citizens of the world who don’t have the same loyalty to this country and its success as those of generations ago. As a result, they use their power and influence to fulfill their own desires rather than advocating for policies that will help the nation. And too often their voices add to the divisiveness because of their non-country aligned self-interest.

    I’m not sure how we can change the spiteful dialogue to once again accept that those with differing opinions are just as loyal and patriotic and just as much American citizens and just as many have good ideas too. Having honest differences of opinions on policies does not make one a traitor or an evil person…and good ideas can come from anywhere, so it’s worth listening at the very least.

    As an aside, I suspect the reason the GOP praises Reagan so much is not because of his policies or politics which were mild by comparison to now, but rather that he ushered in the beginning of GOP majorities.

    • armstp

      “Moreover, we have an entire class of people, based on wealth, that no longer aligns itself with our country. While they hold US citizenship, they are truly citizens of the world who don’t have the same loyalty to this country and its success as those of generations ago. As a result, they use their power and influence to fulfill their own desires rather than advocating for policies that will help the nation. And too often their voices add to the divisiveness because of their non-country aligned self-interest.

      Precisely right and the central message of OWS.

      I would only add we have a wealthy class in this country that just use the country to ever increase their wealth to the detriment of the 99%. We are more like Russia than we think. The Koch brothers are like vampires. They just suck as much as they can out of government to subsidize their businesses. They gorge on the tit of taxpayers while raping our resources and polluting the crap out of us.

      • valkayec

        In response. Have you read Chrystia Freeland’s piece in the Atlantic, The Rise of the New Global Elite? It’s worth reading to gain an understanding of who the new wealthy are and the way they think. Then, read Matt Taibbi’s rant: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/a-christmas-message-from-americas-rich-20111222

        Taibbi and Freeland are correct. No one hates the rich per se. No one wants to take all their money from them. What most people, I believe, want is a sense of fair play, honesty, and respect…as well as good jobs and a chance to build a secure future.

        • armstp

          The Koch brothers are a prime example. They could actually care less about “conservatism” or the Republicans. They are just interested in themselves. They just want to manipulate government to their own benefit.

          Koch Industries is the second largest privately owned company in the U.S. Its businesses in forest products, mining, energy, chemicals, and agriculture are some of the biggest and most heavily government subsidized businesses or industries in the world. They heavily rely on taxpayer subsidies. They preach small goverment for everyone else, but rely on big government to subsidize their businesses and make them billions.

        • valkayec

          Don’t forget their very profitable commodities derivatives business.

    • nitrat

      You left out Reagan ending the Fairness Doctrine by executive order. I’m sure that then new citizen Rupert Murdoch had something to do with that so that he and Reagan buddy Roger Ailes could form Fox “News” as a part of the GOP permanent propaganda machine.

      Bring back the Fairness Doctrine and bring back some of the good ole days.

  • armstp

    “Though Reagan criticizes Carter throughout this speech, his criticism seems to emphasize Carter’s incompetence and unfitness for the task of government. He does not claim that Carter hates freedom or despises capitalism or has bad intentions for the country.”

    Conservatives have very little to actual critize Obama on as he has been an extremely competent leader. He has been absolutlely perfect on foreign policy. He has proven to be a very good manager of government itself. And although the economic recovery has been slower than what we would all want, you can hardly blame Obama for that. He has clearly kept the economy from going into depression and over the abyss (the direction it was heading), he stabilized the financial markets, saved the auto industry and it was not Obama that created the economic and fiscal mess in the first place. Under McCain the debt and deficit would have been exactly the same.

    Now when you have nothing much to critize Obama for you make-up stuff. Like being a socialist, being a fascist, being a commie, being black, being whatever… That is the only way you can attempt to tear him down.

  • think4yourself

    Funny, reading those portions of Reagan’s speech that are quoted – it reads like an Obama speech.

    • Ogemaniac

      This shouldn’t be surprising at all. Obama and Reagan are the third and fourth most right-wing presidents we have had in the last century, behind only Coolidge and the younger Bush. You can quibble about who is third and who is fourth, but it’s pretty much a toss-up.