Reagan was a RINO!

This latest piece of mine was posted at AmericanThinker.com yesterday. In reading the comments there, I realize that either AT readers have a very poor grasp of sarcasm (and blind loyalty to Trump) or I was not clear enough about the title of the article being sarcastic. Make no mistake; I do not believe Reagan was a RINO. I believe knee-jerk purists that would rather cut off their noses to spite their faces than win an election would call Reagan a RINO were he running for president today.

Various groups across our great nation have many traditions. Latino families may celebrate their daughters’ quinceañera. Marathoners may travel to Boston or New York. Hippies may attend a myriad of outdoor festivals, from Burning Man to Banaroo. And Republicans, or should I say a subset of Republicans, engage in a quadrennial event referred to by some as the conservative litmus test, or the circular firing squad, in which they enjoy comparing their chosen Republican presidential candidate to Ronald Reagan and comparing every other Republican candidate to Karl Marx (or possibly Groucho Marx). The length of this festival of futility usually runs from late November in the year preceding a presidential election and can end as late as the first Wednesday in November of the following year if the Democrat ends up winning the general election.

Republicans did this in 2008, when the party nominated “that RINO” John McCain (Lifetime ACU rating of 82.13) instead of the “true conservative” Mitt Romney. They did it again in 2012, when the party nominated “that RINO” Mitt Romney instead of the “true conservative” Rick Santorum (or maybe it was Rick Perry; the consensus among firing squad members is still out). And Republicans have trotted out the tradition once again. This year the “Establishment” candidate (aka the “RINO foisted upon us by the RNC”) seems to be either Marco Rubio (who, along with Ted Cruz, is the only candidate beating presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the one beating her by the greatest margin) or Jeb Bush.

Besides citing things like the “Gang of Eight,” “RomneyCare,” and “McCain-Feingold” during this period, these “true conservatives” pine over their memories of the 1980s and that gold standard of conservatism, President Ronald Reagan.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge Reagan fan. I don’t know any self-proclaimed Republican who isn’t. And, by and large, Reagan was quite conservative. But, were he to run today, it’s quite possible he’d have already gone the way of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki. Why? Well, let’s just imagine some of the things today’s “true conservatives” may bring up about Reagan were he making the rounds:

“Reagan is pro-gay-rights!” He vigorously opposed the 1978 Briggs initiative [CA Proposition 6], which would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools.
“Reagan is pro-abortion!” Six months into his term as governor, he signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which led to a rise in abortions in California from 518 a year to an average of 100,000 during his last two years in office.
“Reagan is pro-tax!” He raised taxes more than $1 billion during his term as governor.
“Reagan is pro-illegal immigration!” He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act while president, which led to a rise in illegal immigration.
Reagan is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He didn’t join the Republican Party until 1962, before then being an ardent supporter of FDR and the “New Deal.”
I raise these points about Reagan not to sully his good name and memory, but simply to point out that you can take nearly anyone and cherry-pick from his record to make him look liberal.

Besides being just poor form and inaccurate, chastising one Republican candidate over another is just bad politics, for when the nominee is eventually named, it leaves him open to attack not just from the jaundiced views of the Democratic nominee herself, but through the proxy of his supposed ally, maybe even his VP nominee. (Anyone remember all that footage of Biden commenting on Obama’s shortcomings?)

So Republicans should keep their eyes on the prize. Any one of their candidates would be vastly better for the conservative cause than Clinton or Sanders (with the possible exception of Donald Trump). Any Republican who doesn’t believe that needs to take an honest look in the mirror and ask himself: what would Hillary do with ISIS and Iran? What would she do with taxes? (Even if you believe that Rubio would be feckless in the face of a proposed tax-hike bill from a Democrat-controlled Congress, isn’t it logical to assume that Clinton would do even worse?) Whom will she appoint to the Supreme Court?

The choice is clear. As conservative activist and founder of the Leadership Institute Morton Blackwell is quick to point out, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

And if Reagan were alive today, I am fairly certain he’d pull out at least one of his old standards. “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20-percent traitor.”

Keeping it simple

“They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer- not an easy answer- but simple.”

– A Time for ChoosingOct 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1911-2011)

President Reagan made this particular statement in reference to the conflict in Vietnam. He knew the simple answer was to do the right thing and fight the ever-growing threat of Communist expansion in Southeast Asia (and Eastern Europe). It’s never easy to go to war, risking life and limb in defense of liberty, but once the decision is made it is quite a simple proposition, especially with right on our side not to mention a superior arsenal. This simple strategy of war is best summed up in another quote from Reagan, “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.” Until the day the Berlin Wall fell and greater freedom was granted to millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain there were plenty of critics of this simplistic philosophy, but on November 9, 1989 Reagan was vindicated and totalitarianism was largely relegated to the ash heap of history. (Or so many thought but no, to answer Francis Fukuyama, there is never an end of history, for, as the quote erroneously attributed to Scottish Historian Alexander Tytler states,

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always vote for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.”)

And just as the strategy for winning the Cold War was one of simplicity so, too, is the strategy for addressing all other problems that we face as a society. Contrary to what ivory towered intellectuals would like us to believe, Occam’s razor (lex parsimoniae) is correct; things are black & white. It may appear that the solution lies in that grey area for it may be difficult for some to discern the answer but in all probability this difficulty arises out of an over-complication of the problem.

In general, the solution to most of the problems being addressed by public policy is to do the exact opposite: make it private policy, eliminate the government program created to “solve” it and let the private sector take over. Privatize education. Privatize health care. Privatize welfare. As Albert Einstein said, “The only justifiable purpose of political institutions is to assure the unhindered development of the individual.” In other words, the government’s only job is to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known as property); to ensure equal access, not equal results. Beyond that it is up to the charity of the community to ensure that the poor and enfeebled not go hungry, for the government cannot give assistance to one citizen without first taking it from another (and skimming a fairly sizable portion off the top in the form of bureaucratic inefficiency).

To this philosophy I devote the majority of this blog. These are my rants and ramblings on public policy, politics and pop-culture. And because I am a devoted Christian I will, from time to time, weigh in on matters of faith and religion as the Spirit leads me. I may throw in the occasional post on food, travel or some other truly enjoyable pastime, for as John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail,

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”


A “true” conservative

Let me first preface my remarks by saying that I have not endorsed any candidate for president so please don’t take any of what I say as such.

Over the course of this campaign much mud has been slung within our own party. Now this is not the first time this has happened. Look back 200 years and you’ll see what dirty politics was really about. Back then candidates went as far as literally dueling it out and members of congress would get into bare-knuckle brawls. Still, you have to admit, this election season, in terms of GOP in-party fighting, has been one of the worst in recent memory and this is not good. And it’s not just the everyday supporters that are going at it with name calling and petty accusations. During last week’s GOP debate from the Reagan Library, McCain and Romney displayed inexcusable behavior, arguing for several minutes over whether Romney supports timetables or not. They both behaved like children.

The epithet that has most frequently been thrown around is “he’s not a real conservative.” Sometimes it has even been as drastic as “he’s a liberal”. Having run for office myself and been accused of this I find it especially deplorable. This is not the way to win elections. If you disagree with someone’s point of view, fine. That’s what the primary process is for. But everyone needs to follow Reagan’s 11th commandment and not throw out accusations with little substance or bend the truth and truly misrepresent your opponent’s viewpoints or prior actions. Not only is it in poor form, when our candidate makes it to the general election the Democrats will have that much more ammunition to throw at him. The Clintons have built a legacy on this type of politicking and it’s not something that many people hold them in high regard for.

Now to the point of why claiming that “our” candidate is the “only true conservative in the race” is not only bad politics but in this case a pretty far stretch of the truth, no matter who that candidate might be.

Sure, not one of them is perfect in his ideology, because after all, what is perfect? There are as many opinions of what policy should be as there are people. There’s always going to be something to disagree with. The difference with our political system compared to a parliamentary one is that we make our coalitions before the election. This means that the people who want to actually win elections and not just be third party candidates shouting into the wind need to find the people that they agree with most of the time and count them as friends. As Reagan said, “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally; NOT a 20 percent traitor.”

So let’s just look at a few of the candidates’ records under the lens of one definition of conservatism which I think we can all agree on: the traditional three legged stool of social conservatism, the right to life; fiscal conservatism, low taxes, smaller government; and defense policy, “peace through strength.” All of our candidates, save for one, have fine credentials on all of these policies. At the very least they’re way better than Obama or Clinton. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. But would you believe the American Conservative Union? If so then you’ll have to explain to me why Fred Thompson was the great conservative hope for the party and McCain was a big liberal since their lifetime ACU scores are within 5 points of each other. Seriously, has the American Conservative Union lost its credibility or is the dividing line between liberal and conservative set somewhere around 84? Because those are the only two explanations I can think of.

And finally, let’s just take a look at the continued invocation of Reagan’s name during this race. Everyone is set on convincing voters just how much like Reagan they would be, as if Reagan’s conservative credentials were unmatched.

Now as an aside, let me be clear, I love Reagan. If we could bring Reagan back from the dead and stick him back in the Oval Office I’d be the first to cheer him on. But let’s get real folks. Reagan, although one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had and someone I’d have no problem calling a conservative, had he been in the race today, he would have been skewered by every group from The Club For Growth to the national Right to Life movement and yes, even those whose number one issue is “traditional family values”.

If Reagan were running today these are some things you might be hearing from other candidates and their supporters:

  1. Reagan is pro gay rights. He vigorously opposed the 1978 Briggs initiative (CA Prop 6), which would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools.
  2. Reagan is pro abortion. Six months into his term as governor he signed the “Therapeutic Abortion Act” leading to a rise in abortions in California from 518 a year to an average of 100,000 during his last two years in office.
  3. Reagan is pro tax. He raised taxes more than $1 billion during his term as governor.
  4. Reagan is pro illegal immigration. He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act while president, which led to a rise in illegal immigration.
  5. Reagan is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He didn’t join the Republican Party until 1962, before then being an ardent supporter of FDR and the “New Deal”.

Again, I don’t raise these points about Reagan to sully his good name and memory, simply to point out that you can take nearly anyone and cherry pick from his record to make him look liberal.

So let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Any one of our candidates would be vastly better for the conservative cause than either Obama or Clinton. There’s too much on the line this time around to give it to the other team and let them run the country into the ground. What will Obama or Hillary do with the War on Terror? What will they do with taxes? Who will they appoint to the Supreme Court? Now what will McCain, Romney or Huckabee do?  The choice is clear. As conservative activist and founder of the Leadership Institute, Morton Blackwell, is quick to point out, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”