It is not original to state that Ronald Reagan would not be electable today. Many people have stated that since 2010. When I said it during my own campaign for Congress back then it sounded pretty strange. “What do you mean? How dare you say anything against the Gipper?!?” Yeah. How dare me.
Many have stated some variation of the idea since then. Ronald Reagan was not a champion for the pro-Life cause. For heaven’s sake, he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court. He was more concerned with appointing someone from a California Law School to the Court. He was more concerned with appointing a woman to the Court. He said nice things about the pro-Life cause. Words.
Today that would be called pandering. Everyone panders, right?
Reagan’s record was spotty on fiscal issues. Sure, he reduced tax rates, arguably leading to the phenomenal 1990’s economy. Dollars saved in those reductions were re-invested, leading to the advancements that we all became familiar with under a Democratic President. But Reagan was also responsible for significantly increasing the budget deficit. A practice that today would categorize him as a “big government Republican.” Or “statist.”
Outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry is the consummate politician, capable of speaking out of both sides of his mouth, placating all factions of the Republican Party. Reagan was a master at this, earning the title, “The Great Communicator.” Perry is known as a panderer.
Former Massachusetts Governor and GOP nominee Mitt Romney has famously taken differing positions on several issues, earning the title, “flip-flop.” Reagan was celebrated for having switched from the Democratic Party as a young man. And he was willing to compromise on, for example, social topics in order to achieve his goals on issues like taxation and foreign defense.
The difference, I believe, is that Reagan’s time in national politics was long gone before the rise of talk radio, the 24-hour news cycle and, more recently, social media.
Can you imagine Reagan having to explain the Iran-Contra Affair on Facebook?
Or perhaps defend making comments friendly to the pro-Life movement in his writings and speeches but appointing O’Connor to the cacophony of conservative talk radio hosts?
Or defending budget deficits on Fox News?
Ronald Reagan served a purpose in a specific era. But we would do well, moving forward, to learn the lessons of his place in history and to recognize both his strengths and weaknesses. He, like all our Presidents, was not an elected official without shortcomings. Because, like all our Presidents, he was not a man without faults.
Reagan had other skills that we have seldom seen since. His humor was born of a great intelligence. His delivery from his profession in acting. We have not seen these in one man since, either named Schwarzenegger, Perry, Romney or even Scott Walker. We have seen great policy smarts (Romney) in a candidate who was a terrible politician. We have seen great political genius (Perry) from a fellow with not a lick of policy skill. And we have seen a pretty good dose of these from a fellow (Walker) who is rumored to be somewhat dull in his delivery.
But Reagan does not have to answer to the 24-hour-a-day microscope these men must survive. And he doesn’t have to answer to the moderate Republicans in Chicago and New York for comments he made yesterday on the campaign trail in Houston and Orlando. Or vice-versa.
Republicans, Ronald Reagan is passed, God rest his soul. And we must not look for another Reagan. We must look for a leader for today’s America. And tomorrow’s. Most of the President’s of our past would be incapable of being elected today. Look for today’s leaders and servants among today’s Americans. I still believe that we have great citizens capable of championing the same prosperity that Reagan and others once did. But they will look different. They will sound different. And they will campaign, fundraise and govern different.
Live not in the past, for the past is finished. Live for the future, for it is where Reagan’s gaze was affixed. And where ours should be, too.