Reagan the moderate?


Let me be clear from the outset.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America.  I think that it is very clear that the man did a lot of damage to this country.  Certainly there are a few positive things that can be said of him, but I am sure if we looked hard enough we could find positive things to say about anyone.  And, I am one of those who really does believe that he was really too far gone by the time he was president to actually be making very many decisions himself directly.  I tend to believe him when, during the Iran-Contra disgrace investigations, he repeatedly said, “I don’t recall.”

Having said that, today’s point is to illustrate fairly clearly that the demi-god of the right, Reagan would by today’s standards be considered too liberal to get a seat at the conservative table, much less be considered a conservative leader.  Let’s look at some examples.

Pro-choice/Anti-choice – In today’s world, this is a litmus test for many on the right.  “Are you opposed to a woman’s right to choose?  Would you support all moves to overturn Roe v Wade?”  So, what was Reagan’s record?

In 1967, Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act while governor of California.  While this was a move he later came to claim to regret, it was significant in that it dramatically increased women’s rights and made abortions safer.  It also increased the number of abortions in the state from approximately 5000 to over 100,000.  This was later followed by a clear recanting of this position, but simply having done this would have disqualified him forever more in today’s conservative world.

Can you imagine a Republican/conservative presidential nominee today who was not, at least publicly, staunchly anti-choice?  I know they’ll call themselves “pro-life”, but they give up the right to that title when they also support the death penalty and the movement as a whole gave up the right to that title in the 1980s when members started killing doctors and there was fairly widespread support of it.  There is still fairly mainstream support for it!

TaxesGrover Norquist is one of the most powerful men on the right of whom most people have never heard.  Since, 1985 Norquist has managed to twist arms and exact a pledge against raising taxes from so many Republicans that he has played King maker.  He has mythologized it to claim that he came up with the pledge when he was 12 years old.  Here’s the list of 2012 candidates that have signed, just to illustrate the reach today.  If a candidate refuses to sign, then Norquist supports his opponent and funnels massive amounts of money and other resources in to defeat the resister.

“In the 112th Congress, 238 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 13 governors and 1249 state legislators have taken the pledge.”

The pledge reads in part:

          ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and

TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates

I will leave aside the ridiculousness of this position for another time and discussion, and simply compare this to Reagan’s own positions, as that is my point today.  As we discussed in a previous blog (Abe Lincoln paid $1,296 in income taxes in 1864), the top marginal tax rate when Reagan took office was 70%.  Reagan came into office promising to reduce taxes, and he did.  Dramatically.  He then had to continually raise taxes.  A total of 11 times, and close tax loop holes like he did with the Tax Reform Act of 1986.  The two things that Norquist has squeezed out of the Republican party in the intervening years.

Where are the modern Republicans/conservatives that are willing to raise taxes or close loop holes in order to deal with the mess we’re in?  To pay for the two wars we fought?  To pay for the prescription drug coverage that was needed, “after all, Republicans created it”, and enacted under George Bush, but was not paid for? That would be far too liberal for a modern conservative, but that is precisely what their hero Reagan did.

Immigration – The conservatives have stood firmly against any “amnesty” for the last 20ish years.  They have used this to block every serious attempt at compromise from the center-right (Democrats) to reach a “solution” to the undocumented immigrant “problem” in the US.  At another time we’ll get into the issues surrounding all of that.  However, while the conservatives rallying cry on this issue has been “No amnesty!”, in 1986, Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act.  This act gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants AND their families that had been in the country prior to 1982.

Again, do you see any modern conservatives being willing to allow for this?  If it is even remotely suggested, then that person is attacked for being “outside the mainstream” and being a liberal.

LGBT Equality – Though we now see the advent of the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud, it is still very difficult to argue that the modern conservative movement is not solidly and broadly opposed to LGBT equality in any form.  While we cannot argue that Reagan was pro-LGBT equality, we do find interest facts.  For example, Reagan was instrumental in defeating the 1978 Proposition 6 in California which would have allowed the firing of teachers for being gay or lesbian.  He also was the first president to host an openly gay couple at the White house when for Nancy’s 60th birthday party, they hosted Ted Graber and Archie Case in the guest suite.  Hell, he even was the first president to give the highest possible security clearance to an openly gay intelligence officer!  In the days before  Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was supposed to be such a bit step forward.  All of which are significant for the time.

We do, of course, have to contrast that with his administration’s delayed response to the AIDS epidemic that was coming on at the time, and his own prescription that abstinence was the best way to respond, which were both unacceptable.  As I said, we can’t argue that he was pro-LGBT equality, but he was by comparison a lot further along than most of the right is today.  Compare that to what happened in the last few days with Richard Grenell who was driven out of his position as Mitt Romney’s spokesman on national security and foreign policy issues because he is gay.  We can compare that with Renew America’s statements regarding Romney’s appointment of Grenell:

 Since, as the saying goes in D.C., personnel is policy, this means Gov. Romney has some ‘splaining to do. This clearly is a deliberate and intentional act on his part, since he was well aware of Mr. Grenell’s sexual proclivities and knew it would be problematic for social conservatives. It’s certainly not possible that there are no other potential spokesmen available, men who are experts in foreign policy and who at the same time honor the institution of natural marriage in their personal lives.

So this has all the appearances of a deliberate poke in the eye to the pro-family community, and a clumsy one at that, coming right on the heels of endorsements from Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas and the National Organization for Marriage, and right after the governor accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University.

There was much about Reagan that would still be considered conservative even today.  These positions. though. are so “liberal” by today’s standards (even though they really aren’t), that the Gipper couldn’t even get a seat at the table with those who worship his name.  And, yet, the scariest part is that he has so much more in common with Obama, than their differences.

This is what I mean when I say that the right has been successful at dragging the political center to the right.  So far to the right that the “center” is now buried deep in “enemy” territory!  We have to reclaim the dialogue and let Liberal mean liberal again.  Not continue to allow them define liberal as center right!

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About Just Torch

Author of the SCIAMAGE column a space devoted to American political and social commentary and analysis. It is unabashedly liberal, but makes every effort to present clear, verifiable facts and sound reasoning. It also makes a commitment to clearly distinguish between facts and opinions. View all posts by Just Torch

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