Thursday, January 17, 2008

VDH demystifies Reagan

With Ronald Reagan's name being evoked by Republicans constantly and everyone looking for another Reagan in the current field of candidates and coming up empty, I've often said that Republicans are holding their candidates up to an unrealistic litmus test and that even Ronald Reagan himself was not the Ronald Reagan we hear so much about today.

I see Victor Davis Hanson is in agreement with me.

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.

Republicans forget all this - but so do Democrats, who for their own reasons want to perpetuate an unflattering myth of Ronald Reagan as an extremist right-wing reactionary.

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.

In other words, a great president like Ronald Reagan made mistakes. He sometimes reversed positions, played politics and baffled his conservative base - some of the very charges now leveled against Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.

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.


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