I recall sitting in one of my economics classes in college, listening to one of my professors tell us that he was going to teach us what it truly means to be a conservative. As a conservative, my ears perked up and I was ready to hear what he had to say on the matter. He asked us “Is George W. Bush a conservative?” My immediate mental knee-jerk reaction was “Of course he is! Bush is pro-life. He’s a tax-cutter. He’s a Republican, for crying out loud.” But I said nothing and listened to my professor point out that while Bush had given America some great tax cuts, he had done nothing to rein in spending. In fact, throughout his administration, Bush never really seemed to see any spending that he didn’t like. I was forced to admit: while Bush had done many things that I agreed with, his failure to address spending made him an economic moderate at best.
Studying into the matter further, I found out that Reagan wasn’t incredibly different in his economic approach. Reagan cut taxes and even managed to increase federal revenue. But in exchange for tax cuts, he failed to lower spending significantly enough to avoid increasing the national deficit. To his credit, this certainly wasn’t something that he was pleased with.
But in today’s current political climate, in which the anti-establishment wing of the GOP and many in the TEA party are decrying the massive deficits (which are far worse than the ones achieved by Bush or Reagan) racked up by President Obama, I begin to wonder: if a candidate with Reagan’s record were running for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, would he be successful or would he be excoriated by those who claim to be “Reagan conservatives?”
In 1967, as governor of California, Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which resulted in approximately two million abortions. Reagan later regretted this decision and became staunchly pro-life in his political career. However, he did appoint Rudy Giuliani, who is pro-choice, as U.S. Attorney. Therefore, an individual like Reagan could not have signed the recent Susan B. Anthony List pledge without violating it. In today’s climate, Reagan would most likely be labelled a flip-flopper by some conservatives for his record on abortion.
Throughout his administration, Reagan achieved mostly great economic success. In fact, he actually managed to decrease the growth rate of federal spending from 4 percent to 2.5 percent. And overall, the unemployment rate went down from 7.1 percent to 5.5 percent. But unfortunately, the national debt nearly tripled under his administration, which Reagan later referred to as the “greatest disappointment” of his presidency. This begs the question: would someone with Reagan’s record today be criticized for the massive deficits incurred under his administration, in spite of his other important economic achievements?
Mandate for Healthcare?
In the United States, as mandated by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act with some exceptions, hospitals are legally required to render care to an individual regardless of their legal status, citizenship or ability to pay. This legislation was signed into law by Reagan in 1986. In spite of its fortunate provision for those requiring care, it does create a certain complication for a free market system. From a strictly economic point of view, this law legally requires a business to render a service regardless of the consumer’s ability to afford said service. The question is: would the noble intentions of a federal mandate be eclipsed by its effect on the free market system in the eyes of the anti-establishment crowd?
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
In 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law. Among other things, this legislation granted amnesty to three million illegal immigrants. This bill set a precedent that paved the way for bills like the McCain-Kennedy bill, which also would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Would a candidate like Reagan in 2011 be criticized by conservatives for his record on illegal immigration?
RINO or Bridge-builder?
This article isn’t meant to denigrate Reagan or belittle his legacy; far from it! As he is for many conservatives, Ronald Reagan is my favorite president. But one of the great things about Ronald Reagan is that he brought America together. He worked with a Democrat-controlled legislature to lower taxes and usher in a period of profound economic growth and stability.
From the depths of malaise in the Carter administration, Reagan managed to restore optimism and pride in America. He appealed to Republicans and Democrats alike, a characteristic which the Republican 2012 contenders should all note. The targets should be failed policies and troubling agendas, not friends and allies who agree with us on most of the issues. After all, Reagan himself once said that “the person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.” He also believed in the eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Someone with Reagan’s record today might be easily stuck with the moniker of “RINO,” meaning “Republican In Name Only.” But if I’m forced to choose between a RINO like Reagan and an Obama like Carter, I think I’ll take my chances with the RINO.Powered by Sidelines