Political Animal


October 09, 2011 10:45 AM Adopting the Gipper

By Steve Benen

Michael Scherer noted the other day that Democrats “just can’t get enough of Ronald Reagan these days.” That’s true, but can you blame them?

He is a role model for President Obama, a liberal policy foil in the tax fight debate and a historical marker for campaign strategists. Reagan even gets applause at Democratic National Committee fundraisers. “There’s been a clip floating around lately on television talking about this radical guy who made the simple point that a bus driver should be paying lower tax rates than a millionaire,” President Obama said Tuesday night at a money event in St. Louis. “And this rabble-rouser was named Ronald Reagan.”

Read that again: Ronald Reagan, rabble-rouser. There is sarcasm, to be sure, but don’t be shocked if a variation of that phrase shows up at union rallies or on 2012 Democratic National Convention buttons. The Gipper is now a liberal savior.

I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The point of the left’s embrace of Ronaldus Magnus isn’t that the Republican icon is a center-left RINO — though that’s probably what the Republican base would consider him under contemporary standards — but that that Reagan stands out as the kind of Republican leader who’s gone missing in 2011. If any of those who claim to profess their love of the former president actually agreed with the former president, Washington would still be capable of functioning.

In other words, the point is that the “Party of Reagan” has rather deliberately abandoned the Reagan legacy, making plain what the political establishment is too often reluctant to acknowledge: this is a radicalized GOP that Reagan wouldn’t even recognize.

The ongoing fight over tax fairness only helps drive the larger point home. Reagan thought it was “crazy” for millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than bus drivers, and used rhetoric today’s Republicans consider offensive class warfare. If Barack Obama read Reagan’s 1985 remarks word for word today, the president would immediately be condemned as a socialist by many Republican officials and media personalities.

But Scherer’s also right about the frequency with which this comes up. For example, this came up quite a bit in July when Democrats, not Republicans, tied themselves to the Reagan legacy, noting that the GOP icon raised the debt ceiling 18 times, whereas today’s Republican officials consider a vote to raise the debt ceiling an “existential crisis.” To keep the budget deficit from spiraling out of control, Reagan also raised taxes 11 times, a step today’s Republicans consider fundamentally out of the question.

Indeed, the GOP agenda of 2011 — most notably the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan — would have made Reagan’s entire agenda impossible, including the military buildup that conservatives credit with winning the Cold War. Asked about the disconnect, Republican leaders generally prefer not to talk about it.

The key takeaway here isn’t to marvel at how often Obama and Dems are on the same page as Reagan; the point is to look at this from the other direction, and appreciate the ideological state of today’s GOP. What should Republicans take away from the fact that, by 2011 standards, their party would dismiss their demigod as a tax-raising, amnesty-loving, pro-bailout, cut-and-run, big-government Democrat?

Democrats “just can’t get enough of Ronald Reagan these days,” but that’s only because Republicans are the Party of Reagan no more.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • sick -n-effin-tired on October 09, 2011 11:02 AM:

    Me , I'll take Richard Nixon as a shining example of a good republican President.
    OSHA ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), ending segregation, revenue sharing, ending the draft, new anti crime laws, started the process of ending the Cold War, recognized and fought against foreign oil price gouging, and implemented a broad environmental program (he is largely responsible for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). He was the only President to achieve a balanced national budget between 1961 and 1998.
    Some of his most acclaimed achievements came in his quest for world stability. During visits in 1972 to Beijing and Moscow, he reduced tensions with China and the U.S.S.R. His summit meetings with Russian leader Leonid I. Brezhnev produced a treaty to limit strategic nuclear weapons. In January 1973, he announced an accord with North Vietnam to end American involvement in Indochina. In 1974, his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, negotiated disengagement agreements between Israel and its opponents, Egypt and Syria.

  • samsa on October 09, 2011 11:12 AM:

    We know what the Republicans are.

    What is Obama? If he is Reagan redux, it ain't cutting it for me. I remember the Reagan years.

    In any case, one 'Mr. President, I knew Reagan. I worked with him. You are no Ronald Reagan' from any of the Republican octogenarians will immediately cut him to Quaylian proportions, so he better watch out pretending to be yet one more of the heroes past.

    The misdirections and excuses for Obama's failure on the economic and unemployment front by his hardcore adherents are getting weirder and weirder. That's not a good sign. I don't want Perry or Romney to do the final deed on the liberal age of America. I would rather have the dark and perverse satisfaction of a Democrat doing it.

  • c u n d gulag on October 09, 2011 11:13 AM:

    While I don't mind using Ronald Minimus to make a point or two, it would be nice to hear more about FDR growing a recovering economy, and LBJ and Clinton and their growing economies, and the stewardships of Truman and JFK as America grew.
    Also, too - and Hell, throw in some Ike, too.
    Also three - and as 'sick-n-effin-tired' says above, a dash of Nixon.

    Also, too, remind people of George H.W. Bush's tax increases.

    But remember, Reagan was also the cause of "The Reagan De-evolution," and the decline of America. Made more rapid by Little Boots Bush.

    Democrats always grew economies, Republicans, with the exception of Ike, never did.
    And Ike and Nixon were Keynesian Marxist's when compared to todays troglodytes.

  • FRP on October 09, 2011 11:19 AM:

    ....this is a radicalized GOP that Reagan wouldn’t even recognize. ...

    This conveniently absents the recognition of the breezy raygun character , and its rock ribbed assent to all things possible . The simple situational facts were that given the raygun could dream , but time was wasted in Bircher Society fringy onanism , and other disgusting notions we have 'conveniently' become inured to . Ergo the raygun would not waste a wooden smile or frozen platitude in its general direction .
    I suspect the people responsible for bringing up the delicious frisson for our dear friends of the vacuum sealed right of being absolutely in control of this dog eared bit of contemporary history . I only wish to illustrate the immense ability of the raygun to adopt any camouflage required in order for the incremental destruction of our Democratic Republic . Dear dear ronnie no brains raygun would have been delighted with Eric Cantor , and Paul Ryan as eminent 'Statesman' .
    The raygun would enjoy no references of Lytton Strachey .
    Oh no , he would not .

  • slappy magoo on October 09, 2011 11:27 AM:

    Republicans often say and do un-Christlike things in the name of Christianity.

    They treat Reagan like the second son of God.

    Is it any surprise they'd bastardize his actual legacy while trying to hold him up like a savior figure? It's what they do!

  • DelCapslock on October 09, 2011 11:34 AM:

    I don't think Republicans are the "Party of Reagan" so much as the "Party of Power", and Reagan was successful in re-establishing Republican power. What his actual policies were are beside the point, and in any event if there's one thing that modern Republicans have learned it's that truthiness prevails over actual facts every time.

  • Bat of Moon on October 09, 2011 11:38 AM:

    Reagan might not recognize today's Republican Party, but today's Republican Party is the natural end result of the forces he helped set in motion.

  • zandru on October 09, 2011 12:08 PM:

    Quoting Reagan

    When I walked into a Republican Party HQ recently (don't ask), there was a larger-than-life cardboard cutout of Biggus Dickkus -er, Ronaldus Magnus - right in back of the receptionist's desk.

    Whenever Obama and the Democrats quote Reagan, it makes the reactionary right wing go crazy. He's deliberately yanking their collective chain. If you think President Reagan sounds "liberal" these days, you should have heard him back when he was a Democrat!(**)

    Maybe it's time we did. I'd personally like to see the President and the Democrats start quoting Reagan the Democrat, and phase into FDR and his cousin TR. Take people back gradually to when America was for Americans - and not the 1%. Remind them about this "government of the people, by the people, and FOR THE PEOPLE" that, ironically, was enunciated by yet another Republican, that blackest of their black sheep - Abraham Lincoln.

    I believe that Democrats have a much larger base than they realize, once they start talking real issues. We ought to help them realize this.

    ** Why'd he change from Dem to GOPer? Don't try to be reasonable, accurate, or fair; just note that he was developing Alzheimers at the time.

    "activity icywar" - Captcha SCORES again!

  • Roddy McCorley on October 09, 2011 12:43 PM:

    No, this IS the party of Reagan. Completely and utterly. Reagan is today what he was 30 and 40 years ago: Misdirection and distraction for a thoroughly radical agenda that sought to attack the people of this nation and undermine its institutions. Reagan was not more reasonable, sensible or centrist than today's crop of well-groomed puppets. He was merely more graceful about it.

  • samsa on October 09, 2011 12:51 PM:

    * Why'd he change from Dem to GOPer? Don't try to be reasonable, accurate, or fair; just note that he was developing Alzheimers at the time.

    You hit the nail on the head. No way the Dems cannot be 'nuanced'. That comes with the territory of being the uber nuanced guy in the seventh grade. They never graduate from their middle school persona. Unfortunately they grow up to be the leaders and the intellectual base of the Democratic party.

  • red*cted on October 09, 2011 1:35 PM:

    I believe that if Reagan were running for president today he would be every bit as radical as any of his opponents if not more so. He was a tool of the right wing then, and he would be a tool of the right wing now. What constitutes "right wing" thinking has become far more reactionary than it was then, but that is where the power and money come from, and that's where Reagan would be seeking his support.

  • drkrick on October 09, 2011 2:58 PM:

    This is the same rhetorical trick the GOP was using in the 80's and 90's when they kept quoting Truman. The idea wasn't to proclaim themselves as Dems, it was to shake loose so-called "Reagan Democrats" by pointing out that "even the liberal HST" believed such and such. If "Even the conservative RR" shakes loose a few "Reagan Republicans who decide "I didn't leave the GOP, the GOP left me," it's a GOOD thing.

    NOTE: just had Captcha fail because it was asking for diacritical marks. Really?

  • Rich on October 09, 2011 7:35 PM:

    It's the counterpoint to the GOP invoking Truman (roughly since his death) and, on taxes, JFK.

  • dweb on October 09, 2011 9:57 PM:

    Well to his credit, he did invade Grenada...