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We Don't Need Another Reagan

Today would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday. A lot of folks are taking the opportunity to talk about our 40th president, his life, and his legacy. And one of those reminiscences got me thinking.

Last week, I heard Michael Reagan being interviewed by Jim Bohannon. And one thing Michael said that really struck me was about how many people are quoting Reagan, citing Reagan as their role model, and endless variations of "WWRRD?"

That, according to Michael, is very un-Reagan. Ronald Reagan didn't talk about the legacy of Goldwater or other prior conservatives. Reagan didn't litmus-test his ideas against some idealized figure from the past. And Reagan didn't idolize any one source for quotes of wisdom.

That struck me as profoundly true. Ronald Reagan wasn't The Second Coming of anyone, he was The First Coming of Reagan. And we shouldn't look for a new Reagan.

Ronald Reagan was the right man in the right place at the right time -- much like how George W. Bush was immediately after 9/11. He was uniquely qualified to deal with the economic mess Carter had left, and to face the Soviets at the height of their power.

But even more to the point, Reagan was a man of his times. He was old enough to remember the world before the Soviet Union was a superpower, and had the vision to see a world without the threat of a nuclear apocalypse -- by defeating them without an open war. He also saw what was throttling the American economy and spirit, and took that on.

However, these aren't those times. The world is vastly different today than it was in 1980. The biggest threat -- militant Islam -- is one that Reagan only saw as a diversion from the real threat of his day, and one that sometimes could be useful or harmful. It was useful in Afghanistan, where the Soviets had invaded, and was bleeding itself white in what has often been described as their Viet Nam. But it was dangerous in Iran and Lebanon, where it directly threatened American interests and lives. And "terrorists" were mainly known as hijackers and occasional bombers, who mainly limited themselves to military targets. Reagan didn't trouble himself too much with them -- he had far, far greater threats to deal with, and he did.

Today, we are seeing people fighting over Reagan's "legacy." I just heard a guy on NPR talking about how Reagan wasn't really that good a conservative, that he was far more moderate and reasonable and realistic than we've led ourselves to think. Hell, under Reagan, taxes actually went up and government expanded -- he was practically a liberal! We all should love him! And Time Magazine put together a picture of Reagan seeming to endorse Obama.

Meanwhile, Republicans with presidential ambitions are either directly citing their admiration for and embracing of Reagan's "legacy," either directly or through proxies.

Personally, I only see one potential candidate that really reminds me of Reagan in any significant way. That's the candidate who's talked about as seriously below average in intellect, who utterly polarizes most people into passionate support or hatred, who speaks in a relaxed, folksy, easy-to-understand language, who has a religious faith that their detractors love to mock and challenge, and even served as governor of a very large state. But that's hardly enough to crown Sarah Palin as The Next Reagan.

What Reagan was -- and what we need -- is another American original. Reagan used quotes and historical examples, but he also used many of his own words and ideas and anecdotes. He didn't draw too deeply from any single source, but spread his roots wide -- and synthesized them into his own unique identity.

And "the next Reagan" will need to do the same. Yes, they should draw from Reagan, but not him exclusively. Hell, not even him primarily. And "the next Reagan" should -- politely, but firmly -- reject that title. Presidents who try to tie themselves to a predecessor's legacy -- George H. W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson come to mind -- tend to fail rather spectacularly. Those who resist that temptation and carve out their own identity and put their own stamp on history -- Kennedy and Truman come to mind -- tend to end up listed among the greats.

Will we have "the next Reagan" running next year? I dunno. I see several jockeying for that role, but it's pretty much a given that those who seek it out are doomed to fail at it.


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Comments (20)

A couple of 'candidates' ap... (Below threshold)

A couple of 'candidates' appear more concerned about how their hair looks in the mirror, rather than pointing to a particular path and saying 'follow me'.

A lot of people on BOTH sid... (Below threshold)

A lot of people on BOTH sides of the spectrum are cozying up to the 'Reagan Image' that THEY want to project. All the while ignoring the principles and ideals Reagan stood for.

As a blogger I read said about something similar, "It's like watching a roomfull of midgets trying to prove which one was tallest."

Fail until they understand, and right now only one does, the rest are a bunch of midgets.

Just a couple of minor quib... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Just a couple of minor quibbles with your piece if you don't mind.

One, the USSR wasn't at the "height of their power" in 1981. More like 1960, as was the US. And two, I don't think of the first Bush as having "failed rather spectacularly." True, he wasn't reelected, and I didn't vote for him, didn't think much of him at the time. But in retrospect, no one else, including Reagan, could have managed the disintegration of the Soviet empire so adroitly.

As to your question of whether or not the "next Reagan" is among the current Republican field:


So far, Sara is the only on... (Below threshold)
recovered liberal democrat:

So far, Sara is the only one I see calling obamalala and the liberals out without worrying about offending anyone.

"..no one else, including R... (Below threshold)

"..no one else, including Reagan, could have managed the disintegration of the Soviet empire so adroitly."

I am trying to think on what you base this opinion.

"And Time Magazine put toge... (Below threshold)
Walter Cronanty:

"And Time Magazine put together a picture of Reagan seeming to endorse Obama."

Imagine, 30 years from now, conservatives embrace Obama as their own, and Time magazine has a picture of the R President with his arm around Obama. Yech, I just threw up little bit in my mouth.

Poor Bruce. Look at the fie... (Below threshold)

Poor Bruce. Look at the field he gets to pick from.

What was it that you conser... (Below threshold)

What was it that you conservatives loved best about Saint Ronnie?

Was it the granting of amnesty - AMNESTY!! - to three million undocumented immigrants?

Was it the appointment of Anthony Kennedy to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kennedy being the fifth & deciding vote later on upholding Roe v. Wade?

Was it Reagan as California governor signing into law a woman's "right to choose" an abortion?

Was it the TRIPLING of the federal deficit under Reagan's presidency?

Was it the tremendous growth in the size of the federal government under Saint Ronnie?

Was it the funneling of weapons to Iran?

Was it the support of Osama bin Laden?

Was it Reagan doing the old "cut-and-run" from Lebanon?

Or was it the IRAN/CONTRA SCANDAL, which should have taken Reagan down, only no one could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn't sleeping while it was going on? You Republicans absolutely LOVE a good Republican scandal, don't you now?

I agree with much of what y... (Below threshold)

I agree with much of what you write, other than the snarky references to G. H.W. Bush. He let himself get snookered by the Dems on spending cuts and taxes, but that is a gross, if popular, oversimplification of his legacy. The truth is that G.H.W. was simply too much the gentleman to run effectively against the "Slickster". If he had gotten down and dirty with Clinton, and won re-election, his legacy would likely have been much different.

There is a Reagan cult that is detrimental to the GOP, and probably to the country. I consider Peggy Noonan to be the spiritual leader of this crowd; but she is not alone by any means. Everyone in the Republican party who is on the national scene, or who dares to intrude, must be measured against Reagan by this cult; and all are out of hand found lacking. Unfortunately, this cult has a public megaphone.

It is time to get past that. No question that Reagan was good for the country. He was very much the man for the times, following as he did the pitiful Jimmy Carter. He was also fortunate to come to office as the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc were near collapse. He was prescient enough to see that, and nudge them over the brink by standing tall, and by spending them into oblivion Many of his mistakes, and there were some serious ones, have been buried by convenient memories; but his legacy is positive.

Now, it is time to measure candidates against these times and against this opposition. It has become fashionable to belittle every one of them--in comparison. But, there are accomplished and dynamic men and women to compete for leadership. I will just name a few of those that we can choose among: Romney, Pawlenty, Christie, Barbour, Palin, Ryan, Perry, Huckabee. All have proven themselves in the governmental and political arena.

Oldflyer,Fo... (Below threshold)


Following the pitiful Barry Neuman Obama all of the above mentioned look like a step out of the dumb ages into sunlight and prosperity.

Lets just pray more then half the electorate that have been trashed economically ( aside from Bruce ) by this administration agree.

2012 cannot come soon enough politically/financially speaking.

"The biggest threat -- mili... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"The biggest threat -- militant Islam --.."

Part of the problem we face today is that much of the Dems/Left don't think it's the biggest threat. They think it's 'AGW' or 'capitalism' or 'free markets' or 'modernity' that are the problem.
I don't think we've been in such extreme disagreement since the Civil War.

I agree. I'd underline it f... (Below threshold)
Rich Fader:

I agree. I'd underline it further. The Gipper is ultimately irreplaceable. And after seeing what damage the search for the next JFK has done both to the Democrats and to the Kennedys, I think it's a bad idea even to try. I prefer to think of Governor Palin as an honorable, credible successor to Reagan (and Truman) than as "The Next" of either.

A related article:... (Below threshold)

A related article:



Filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, director of several films on Ronald Reagan, was present throughout the Governor’s trip. “Throughout the day,” Steve told me, “whether it was Ranch hands, students, staff, or donors, it was obvious to me that Governor Palin was there not for herself but to give of herself. She epitomized the values she mentioned in her speech—those of duty and service she equated to our grandparents’ generation.”

I admired the man tremen... (Below threshold)

I admired the man tremendously, voted for him twice, and do not regret it in the least; but he spent money like it was sea water.

I do not behoove spending m... (Below threshold)

I do not behoove spending money if the People agree that its needed and have a say in when and how it is justified.

Where were having problems are politicians taking lobby money and enriching themselves at our expense with us having no say.

The current 'leadership' is a prime example. Saddling future generations with unconstitutional mandates without a say in the details or personal choice whatsoever.

They need to go period.

Bruce Henry is either ignor... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Bruce Henry is either ignorant or dishonest, although I cannot discount the possibility he is both. The USSR reached the height of its power and influence in 1979-80. In 1979, the independent British military magazine Jane's Review rated Soviet overall military strength as #1 in the world. They walked all over Jimmy Carter. Afghanistan was a self-inflicted wound.

I had a little trouble foll... (Below threshold)

I had a little trouble following Jim Addison's comments. But, I disagree with the thrust. I retired from active duty in 1980. We knew by that time that the Soviet military was a hollow force. Even more so than our own, which was bad enough.

I don't get the reference to Afghanistan. Are you referring to it being a self-inflicted wound on the Soviets? It almost sounds like you are referring to Iran vs Carter. Whatever. Iran was a self-inflicted wound on the U.S. by Carter; and the Soviets got their heads handed to them in Afghanistan.

You know of course that Jane's is not a definitive source of military strength. Jane's has no spies inside a closed society like the USSR was. They do a good job with open sources; but they are limited.

Reagan spent the Soviets into oblivion. Every reputable analyst and historian acknowledges the fact. I sincerely doubt that Reagan would dispute that was his strategy. He bet the U.S. economy could face out strip them in a showdown; and he was correct.

Thank you, Oldflyer, for st... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Thank you, Oldflyer, for straightening out Mr Gravitas Emeritus Addison, who likes to insult those with whom he disagrees gratuitously. I doubt he'll insult you in the same way.

I differ with most of the commenters here who seem to think that there was something Carter could have done to "save" the Shah and prevent the Islamic Revolution. That revolution resembles this one (in Egypt and Tunisia) only insofar as the US had little influence over events. The Iranian revolution was always about Islam - the Shah was attempting to promote secular and ancient Persian values as superior to Shiite ones, and the deeply religious Iranian masses were having none of it. The remnants of the secular liberal and leftist opposition (those whom the Shah had failed to murder or suppress, with US help) were the ones attempting to hijack the revolution once the shit had already hit the fan. If Carter had "stood by" the Shah longer, the outcome would have only been postponed, not changed.

The Shah saw himself as a modern-day Iranian Ataturk. The fact is that he was seen as an American puppet by his own people, because that is what he was. If Mubarak is seen as being propped up by American puppetmasters, the risk INCREASES that we'll end up with Islamists in charge, not the other way around.

Oldflyer, I have seen the i... (Below threshold)

Oldflyer, I have seen the idea that "Reagan spent the Soviets into oblivion" for decades but I think it's a tad bit too simplistic.

The Soviet Union was being sucked dry in four areas: 1- active proxy wars, 2- aid for fledgling Communist states that could not (and never did) produce enough wealth to sustain themselves, 3- the continuing Space Race (which the Soviets turned into a race to build space stations and keep cosmonauts in space for longer and longer periods of time), and finally, 4- the arms and warfare technology buildup initiated by Reagan and his "Star Wars" idea.

It may be true that the 80's arms buildup was the straw that broke the Soviet camel's back, but the Soviets themselves were responsible for the continued escalation of the other three areas of cash-burning governmental policy. Plus their own ideological blindness prevented them from accepting the fact that their own economy was not producing enough wealth to sustain all of these programs.

Hmmm ... that sounds like today's Democrats. Anyway, the Soviets essentially believed they were "too big to fail" and could not bring themselves to introduce austerity measures in one area of government spending when another area grew out of control. I would guess that such things would be tantamount to admission of the failure of the Soviet economy, and NO ONE dared suggest that the glorious people's revolution had been a failure.

Michael Laprarie, I do not ... (Below threshold)

Michael Laprarie, I do not know that we disagree. If I implied that Reagan's defense spending was the entire story, then I did so inadvertently.

My point is simply that RR recognized the Soviet vulnerability and exploited it.

I appreciate your analysis and certainly would not quarrel with it.






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