The Reagan Myth
Ronald Reagan is widely viewed as a conservative champion. But though his rhetoric was focused on liberty, government grew aggressively under his watch and liberty was diminished.
As “the conservative movement” seeks to regain its bearings following Barack Obama’s reelection, its adherents should recognize, first of all, that its name doesn’t do justice to its true character.
That is, the conservative movement is actually a neoconservative movement.
With rare exception, virtually every “star” in the movement is a neoconservative. From the personalities on Fox News to the shining lights of “conservative” talk radio, from “conservative” politicians to the most well known “conservative” writers, there is scarcely an intellect to be found that isn’t indebted to the neoconservative worldview.
Names must be named if constructive change is to occur.
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, no less than Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Bennett; Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, as much as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich; David Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Michele Malkin, like George Will, David Brooks, and David Frum, are all neoconservatives.
Translation: they are alike proponents of Gargantuan Government.
There is a superabundance of evidence, from their policy prescriptions to the politicians for whom they have offered endless cover, to substantiate this. But the most glaring exhibit is their veneration of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
To be more accurate, these are actually two exhibits. The friends of liberty, real conservatives, revere no politician, however virtuous he may be. And they certainly don’t revere politicians at the national level.
The veneration of this politician, though, Reagan, is even more revealing. Reagan was definitely likable—a fact that, being a Republican president in an era prior to the explosion of non-Democratic-friendly media outlets, speaks to his considerable talents—but he was no conservative.
Despite all of his “limited government” rhetoric, Reagan was as much of a champion of Gargantuan Government as anyone else. He is heralded by “conservatives” as a tax cutter. However, his much touted “tax cut” of 1981 was more than offset by two tax increases that year alone, to say nothing of the multiple tax hikes for which Reagan pushed all throughout his eight years in the Oval office.
Federal spending—and, thus, the federal government—expanded exponentially under Reagan. Both the deficit and the debt rose astronomically throughout his two terms.
His promises to the contrary aside, Reagan singularly failed to eliminate a single government program, let alone an agency.
And liberty diminished.
The deregulation for which Reagan typically receives credit consisted of measures that Jimmy Carter implemented but which didn’t take effect until after the Gipper was already in office.
Reagan did nothing—nothing—to advance conservatism on the cultural front either. It was the Reagan administration that launched a so-called “war on drugs.” The idea of a local government rendering it a crime for an adult citizen to ingest a potentially harmful substance is sufficient to make any friend of liberty cock an eyebrow. The idea of an ostensibly federal government doing so should make him recoil in horror.
Yet Reagan waged a “war on drugs,” a war that continues over three decades later and that shows zero signs of terminating at any time in the near—or distant—future.
It is probably the case that, to some extent, Reagan’s tough talk and liberty-centered rhetoric contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union. Yet precisely because it was an implosion that befell the evil empire, Reagan was, at best, a catalyst that merely expedited a process of disintegration that had already been well underway.
If there really was a “Reagan revolution,” can someone please say what it accomplished? It isn’t just that Reagan’s presidency did nothing to arrest, and much to assist, the progressive’s agenda of cultural transformation. Some libertarian-minded thinkers, like Murray Rothbard, for instance, have argued, quite convincingly, that Reagan actually arrested the rising tide of libertarianism that was gaining steam in the mid to late 1970’s by co-opting some of its elements while relegating others to the periphery.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was neither a conservative nor a libertarian. Though our verdict on this score is irrefutable, there isn’t a mainstream “conservative” publication in America that would print my argument. The deification of Reagan has assured this.
But it is just this elevation of Reagan to the stature of a god that discloses for all with eyes to see that “the conservative movement” doomed itself a long time ago.