Would Reagan Recognize Today’s Republican Party?
It's been three decades since Ronald Reagan was elected and both America and the Republican Party have changed.
Former Texas congressman and minor Reagan administration official Mickey Edwards claims his old boss wouldn’t recognize the modern GOP were he alive today. He believes modern Republicans are simply reflexively anti-government with no agenda otherwise.
What would Reagan think of this? Wasn’t it he who warned that government is the problem?
Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:
“In the present crisis,” referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” He then went on to say: “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” Government, he said, “must provide opportunity.” He was not rejecting government, he was calling — as Barack Obama did Tuesday — for better management of government, for wiser decisions.
But which Republicans are trying to do away with government? Certainly, we didn’t see any attempt to dismantle any cabinet departments under the eight years of the Bush administration. And the federal budget skyrocketed. And we got the first installment of the almost-certainly-wasteful bailout boondoggle under Bush’s signature.
The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.
Hmmm. But I thought all Republicans cared about was making government smaller? How do you do that while simultaneously undertaking a “blind and narrow pursuit of power”?!
And, um, Bush was twice elected president of the United States. Promptly at the stroke of noon on January 20th, he turned over the keys to a successor from the opposition party who had pledged to undo many of Bush’s signature policies. If that’s a “blind and narrow pursuit of power,” Republicans really suck at it.
Stacy McCain notes, too, that the faces of the party Edwards names are a disparate lot, indeed.
So, on the one hand you have two politicians and a political strategist — people directly involved in the politics and policy of the Republican Party — and on the other hand you have a radio star and an author. Between these two groups, a vast chasm exists. Much that President Bush did, with the advice of Rove, was adamantly opposed by Limbaugh and Coulter, and sometimes opposed by Gingrich as well.
Trying to lump these five very different characters into a single category is not an answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the GOP?” Rather, it is a response to the question, “Can you name five famous people hated by liberals?”
Quite. Edwards continues:
One who listened to Barry Goldwater’s speeches in the mid-’60s, or to Reagan’s in the ’80s, might have been struck by their philosophical tone, their proposed (even if hotly contested) reformulation of the proper relationship between state and citizen. Last year’s presidential campaign, on the other hand, saw the emergence of a Republican Party that was anti-intellectual, nativist, populist (in populism’s worst sense) and prepared to send Joe the Plumber to Washington to manage the nation’s public affairs.
Umm, no, Joe the Plumber was a desperate symbol grasped by a desperate, floundering campaign to demonstrate elitist Democrats who didn’t understand how their policies would impact the little man; he was never going to be put in charge of anything and turned out to be a rather ridiculous symbol to boot.
As for Goldwater and Reagan, they were outsiders railing against the system. And Goldwater’s philosophy was soundly defeated at the polls by a lifelong machine politico. Because Republicans had been in the ascendancy since Reagan, they’ve been running on his fumes ever since. (Yes, Bill Clinton won two elections but he did it as a “New Democrat” who promised that “the era of Big Government is over” and to “end welfare as we know it.” Further, Newt Gingrich — another one of those conservative intellectuals with Big Ideas — led a resurgence in the party’s fortunes in Congress two years after Clinton’s election.) It’s a good bet that the next Republican president will be a leader with a convincing message that speaks to the future.