Stepping out of his quiet retirement, George W. Bush dedicated his Presidential Library last month. Later in an interview with FOX News, Bush 43 commented that the Republican Party is "leaderless." This assessment has some substance if one surveys the Republican primary battles from the past two Presidential elections, where a "Ronald Reagan" cult has taken hold. The former Screen Actors Guild President cuts quite an example, and he was quite a leader.
As Governor of California, he took a state which was teetering under Pat Brown's soft-hearted liberalism, a mind-set which did not set well with voters as Brown failed to quell student revolts on campus, nor deal with spending problems. He won reelection, and left office with a state on the mend, with a surplus in the treasury. Ronald Reagan ran for President three times. He first ran for President in 1968, the same year that he called for the demolition of the Berlin Wall. In 1976, the more conservative element in the Republican party were rising up against the liberal-moderate faction. Reagan should have won, but didn't.
His perseverance paid off in 1980, and he united the otherwise fractious national, social, and fiscal conservatives into a winning coalition. Reagan triumphed over Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, and he trounced Walter Mondale in 1984. In 1988, the moderate George Herbert Walker Bush thrashed Michael Dukakis, riding Reagan's coattails. Reagan rescued conservatism, patriotism, and dedication to this country's future, fiscal prowess without military failure. For good reason, Ronald Reagan has been the standard-bearer for the Republican Party for the last six years.
But Ronald Reagan is dead. He has been dead for nearly a decade. Despite the tax cuts which spurred economic growth during his first term, today's America cannot ignore the budget deficits and the deficit spending which ensued during Reagan's Presidency. One of the 40th President's ardent supporters, George Will, noted that "Reagan's Conservatism " allowed Americans to love big government and hate it at the same time. This political schizophrenia has emerged into the Republican public consciousness, with the "superego" of fiscal restraint pressing against an Establishment bent on winning elections, maintaining power, principles and people be damned.
Ronald Reagan's conservatism was not just amiable patriotism, nor should anyone slam or discredit his policies to promote the preeminence of the American people. However, the defining element of his Presidency was not domestic discipline, but a foreign policy polarized around the Cold War. The Soviet Union was a useful and inescapable adversary, one which was teetering on the brink the moment that final premier Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. The Cold War is over, the "bad guys" lost, and Ronald Reagan is dead.
Not in 2010, Following his election, US Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul wrote that the Party has to cut the spending, not just say "government is the problem". Ben Shapiro slammed Reagan's support for an assault-weapons ban. "He's not a god ", Shapiro chided Piers Morgan. No he isn't. God are supposed to be immortal. While liberal bloggers have distorted his children's endorsement of Dutch's tolerance to gays as an endorsement gay marriage, no one should write off the strong policy legacies of the president who supported the traditional family, the parent as greater than the power of the state in the lives of our youth.
"The Gipper" was "The Great Communicator": a working-class background yet elite connections, including long-standing rapport with Hollywood as well as an affable ability to enfeeble the press. But Ronald Reagan is dead, and the country which he presided over, is with us no more. The United States is no longer navigating in an era of Conservatism relaunched against the "Keynesian" cult of the 1970's. The global markets, the teeming ethnic minorities with their divisions, are more than a mere diversion which a misplaced "amnesty (cf. Simpson-Mizzolli, 1986) can fix. Urban development and transportation renewal are a must, but so is a balanced national budget with diminished national debt. Entitlements consume 20-22% of GDP, and an unprecedented 43 million people are taking in food stamps.
To quote a recent article, it's time to " Tear Down This Icon ". Not a cult of Reaganite "leadership", but an aspiring culture of leaders from Republican governors in composite statehouses are advancing a new Conservatism. In Indiana and Alabama, voucher programs are reaching out statewide. In Wisconsin and Michigan, labor reforms welcome expanding business interests while cutting public costs and empowering individual laborers. In Kansas and New Jersey, tax cuts force surrounding states to compete.
The rhetoric of "return to Reagan" no longer works. With a decade marred by terrorism and fiscal crises, and a future dominated by Internet, Twitter, Facebook, the Republican Party needs to get out of the net of techno-ignorant twits who will not face the facts: the party's best years cannot be found going backwards, but stepping forward into a different schema, with a revelation of relevance for those who are down and out, for those who see no options, who hear, who feel that they cannot speak for themselves. Even Ronald Reagan would understand that.