Opinion: Ronald Reagan wouldn't recognize these conservatives
By Mickey Edwards
Posted: 01/27/2009 07:03:38 PM PST
In my mind's eye, I can see President Ronald Reagan perched on a cloud and watching all the goings-on down here in his old earthly home.
Rolling his eyes and whacking his forehead over the absurdities he sees, he's watching his old political party twist itself into complex knots, punctuated by pauses to invoke "the Gipper's" name.
It's been said that God would be amazed by what his followers ascribe to him; believe me, Reagan would be similarly amazed by what fervent admirers cite in their desire to be seen as true-blue Reaganites.
On the premise that simple is best, many Republicans have reduced their operating philosophy to two essentials: First, government is bad (it's "the problem"); second, big government is the worst and small government is better (although because government itself is bad, it might be assumed that small government is only marginally preferable).
Government is "... us
This is all errant nonsense. It is wrong in every conceivable way and violative of the Constitution, American exceptionalism, freedom, conservatism, Reaganism and common sense. In America, government is "... us.
What would Reagan think of this? Wasn't it he who warned that government is the problem?
Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel
room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state's all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress.
Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this: "In the present crisis," referring to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Reagan then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work."
Government, he said, "must provide opportunity."
He was not rejecting government, he was calling — as President Barack Obama did at his inauguration — for better management of government, for wiser decisions.
This is the difference between ideological advocacy and holding public office: Having accepted partial responsibility for the nation's well-being, one assumes an obligation that goes beyond bumper-sticker slogans. Certitude is the enemy of wisdom and, in office, it is wisdom, not certitude, that is required.
How, for example, should conservatives react to stimulus and bailout proposals in the face of an economic meltdown? The wall between government and the private sector is an essential feature of our democracy. At the same time, if there is a dominant identifier of conservatism — political, social, psychological — it is prudence.
If proposals seem unworkable or unwise — if they do not contain provisions for taxpayers to recoup their investments; if they do not allow for taxpayers, as de-facto shareholders, to insist on sound management practices; if they would allow government officials to make production and pricing decisions — conservatives have a responsibility to resist.
But they also have an obligation to propose alternative solutions. It is government's job — Reagan again — to provide opportunity and foster productivity. With the nation in financial collapse, nothing is more imprudent, and more antithetical to true conservatism, than to do nothing.
The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, President George W. Bush and Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party; it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.
Not too long ago, conservatives were thought of as the locus of creative thought. Conservative think tanks (full disclosure: I was one of the three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation) were thought to be cutting-edge, offering conservative solutions to national problems.
Rejection of ideas
By the 2008 elections, the very idea of ideas had been rejected. One who listened to Barry Goldwater's speeches in the mid-1960s, or to Reagan's in the 1980s, might have been struck by their philosophical tone, their proposed (even if hotly contested) reformulation of the proper relationship between state and citizen.
Last year's presidential campaign, on the other hand, saw the emergence of a Republican Party that was anti-intellectual, nativist, populist (in populism's worst sense) and prepared to send Joe the Plumber to Washington to manage the nation's public affairs.
Over the past several years, conservatives have turned themselves inside out: They have come to worship small government and have turned their backs on limited government. They have turned to a politics of exclusion, division and nastiness. Today, they wonder what went wrong, why Americans have turned on them, why they lose, or barely win, even in places such as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina.
And, watching, I suspect Reagan is smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are who want so desperately to wrap themselves in his cloak.
Mickey Edwards, a former congressman from Oklahoma, is a lecturer at Princeton University"s Woodrow Wilson School and author of "Reclaiming Conservatism." He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
What Reagan Actually Said About Government
SJ Mercury News
Posted by Humbug at 12:43 PM