Ronald Reagan: RINO
The "Ronald Reagan" that many of today's conservatives wish today's Republicans were more like didn't actually exist.
As I’ve noted in this space many times, Ronald Reagan was my first political hero. I came of political age during the Iran Hostage Crisis, which kicked off a couple weeks before my 14th birthday, and the 1980 campaign between Reagan and incumbent President Jimmy Carter was the first one to which I paid rapt attention. Reagan’s re-election rout over Walter Mondale four years later was the first one in which I participated.
I’m constantly reminding people that the “Ronald Reagan” that many of today’s conservatives wish today’s Republicans were more like didn’t actually exist. He constantly compromised with Democrats; how else to get things done when they controlled the House? He signed into law a huge amnesty provision for illegal aliens. He negotiated a massive cut in nuclear armaments with the Evil Empire. And, as Andrew Sullivan reminds us, as governor he took an approach to prison overcrowding that would likely get him primaried today: Reducing the population by a third through early releases and declining to send people back to prison for minor parole violations.
Reagan actually bragged about releasing people from prison and shrinking the prison budget, which is hard to imagine nowadays. And this was just a different time politically. There wasn’t a lot of attention on crime policy. You didn’t have state ballot initiatives devoted to prison and crime issues. You didn’t have a public that thought it was equipped and capable of making criminal justice policy. You didn’t have a strong prison guards’ union that lobbied the Legislature and the governor. And at the time, the governor just had more control over the prison system overall.
He even increased conjugal visits! He was primarily motivated by controlling costs, not do-gooderism. But Arnold Schwarzenegger would be run out of Sacramento on a rail if he tried this.
So, was Ronald Reagan a Republican In Name Only? Or have we moved the bar so far to the right that Reagan doesn’t qualify as a conservative anymore?