Shortly after asking the question, what would Jesus do, conservatives are likely to check their other wrist; the one that has the WWRD wristband on it. I am fine with the notion, as I have a slightly higher regard for the Gipper than my parents do. Lately however, I have begun to wish that conservatives actually knew what Reagan would do. The conservative movement has, for the last thirty years, succeeded in pushing the middle of American politics to the right; at least from a branding perspective. You will never hear a Republican claim that he or she is not a conservative. But Democrats who long ago despaired of finding their backbones run for the hills when they are called liberals.
The same force that has chased Democrats away from the open embrace of their liberal principles, has also chased conservatives away from issues for which they were long the sole proprietors. Richard Nixon started the E.P.A, put the brakes on Viet Nam, and signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Teddy Roosevelt started the National Park Service and was the corporate world’s public enemy number one. The Civil Rights movement was defined by the Republican Party, at least from Lincoln through to the middle of the 20th Century. Actions and appearances, alas, seem to indicate that the party has moved away from these positions. It has long been said that the Republican Party would no longer have room for the Rockefellers of the world; but Reagan is a different story. Isn’t he?
Ronald Reagan was certainly a conservative, but he would just pass the purity test proposed last year for Republican candidates; maybe. Mr. Reagan, after all, “turned his back on the troops” by missing the Arlington Memorial wreath laying four times in eight years Can you see Fox News running the banner,”Reagan breaks tradition”? Well, I suppose we should give him a pass on one, seeing as he was recovering from the assassination attempt. The Gipper raised taxes four times in his tenure, including 1983. During that year, he raised the payroll tax that funds Socialist government health care (Medicare), and the largest component of the welfare state, Social Security. In eight years, Reagan increased the federal government by 60,000 workers, in contrast to the shrinkage (by over 300,000), that occurred during Clinton’s term. Federal debt increased by almost 330%; Obama’s only managed a 40% increase. Perhaps Obama is more conservative than Reagan.
Still aren’t convinced? California resident Reagan signed the law granting amnesty to illegal aliens, and took no successful steps to secure the southern border. Given that Barack Obama sponsored the Secure Fence Act, is he more conservative than Dutch? And speaking of borders and security, how about national security? Mr. Reagan had many meetings with the “Evil Empire” (The Soviet Union, not Iran), most of them without preconditions. It was the policy of his Administration to prosecute terrorists, although he was not above attacking states that supported terror.
George W. Bush and the neo-conservatives (because apparently old fashioned conservatives just weren’t good enough), approached 9/11 and its aftermath in a unique manner. George W. seemed to still be smarting over Daddy’s finish to the first Gulf War, and Cheney was still upset that real Generals were happy that their mission during that war was narrowly focused and well-defined. They were both, to phrase it in Texas-speak, “itchin fer trouble”. Enter the fantasy that was Iraq. Try to remember when people say that “all of the world’s intelligence services thought there were WMD’s in Iraq”, that those people are full of shit. More than a few intelligence services, including many people in our intelligence services (and our military), said there were no WMDs. The United Nations inspections teams on the ground in Iraq, said there were no WMDs in Iraq. But Dick Cheney, hunter, Halliburton CEO and all around American hero, knew that everyone was wrong; and he told his co-President to do something about it.
What does that have to do with Reagan, you ask? He is the conservative idol and great protector of America. He is the patron saint of all that is red, white, and blue. What would Reagan do? How would the Gipper handle an oil-rich Arab nation, ruled by a self-styled military leader, filled with terrorist training facilities, and said to have contact with African nations with the intent of purchasing weapons-grade nuclear material. What if that country had proven that they had the willpower, know how, and capacity to carry the fight to America and Americans? Surely he would swing the whole might of the United States into action.
WWRD? He would bomb them, take them before the United Nations, and push for the prosecution (in civilian court) of their human assets. You see, we know what Reagan would do, because he already did it. The fantasy; the sheer lying, schoolboy fantasy that was Iraq, had a real life precedent in Libya. Neocons (you know, the guys that thought it would be just dandy to send Iran a nuclear reactor in the 1970′s…that would be Cheney and Rumsfeld) would have realized that, if they had ever stopped playing with little green army men. Libya had Khadafi, who liked to rattle his sword and threaten America. Libya had, by some credible estimates, as many as 60 active terrorist training camps in its deserts. Libya had documented connections with the nation of Chad in its search for nuclear material. Libya had proven that, not only could it attack Americans overseas, it could place successful barometric pressure-activated bombs on board U.S. bound flights; bombs that could conceivably spread nuclear material.
You see friends, the difference between Reagan and many modern conservatives, is that Reagan understood the difference between tough talk and tough action. He understood that there was a time and place for a variety of foreign policy and military strategies. He understood that the United States had the strength to be flexible; we could and can afford to wait for idiots like Chavez and Ahmadinezad to stick their necks out just a little bit more. Reagan had faith that we could give things a shot, and fix the mistakes…we were America after all.
Conservatives, I think, know these things. But they aren’t the ones running the show. Outfits that ignore facts and history, and commentators that think they are entertainers, are running the conservative movement. Today’s conservative commentators would reduce the United States to a terrified mass, walking out of the house into the dark, screaming at the shadows in fear of the unknown. “Kill them all..because I am a coward!”; that is their mantra (and I am writing of you, Erik Erickson). They revel in their new-found power; giggling like schoolyard gossips in their ability to control real policy-makers through rumors and innuendo. What would, I wonder, Ronald Reagan have to say of that rabble? What would Reagan do?
The Rational Middle is listening…