Last Sunday would have been President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, were he still alive, and the political world has been abuzz with praise and blindered hagiographies of America's 40th chief executive. This year's meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) boasted an elaborate memorial cake, there is a year-long celebration of the "Ronald Reagan Centennial," and proclaiming The Gipper to be one's favorite president has become table stakes for anyone looking to advance within the Republican Party.
In examining the historical record, however, it is abudantly clear that Ronald Reagan's status among the denizens of the policital right has become mythical in not just the figurative sense of the word, but the literal. Today's conservatives justify all manner of policies and positions by invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, but these justifications - whether with regard to taxes, immigration, terrorism, the expansion of government, public spending, free trade, or even abortion rights - are almost completely untenable when compared to Mr. Reagan's actual deeds.
In fact, it is fair to say that the man who brought movement conservatism into the mainstream would be on the outside of the GOP looking in were he active in politics today. Sound absurd? It's not, and John Perr over at Perrspectives has done a very thorough job of desconstructing the Reagan Myth, using extensive citations around ten significant elements of Mr. Reagan's legacy that today, would have him tagged as RINO Reagan ("RINO" is an acronym: Republican In Name Only):
- Reagan tripled the national debt
- Reagan raised taxes 11 times
- Reagan expanded the size of government
- Reagan supported the "socialist" Earned Income Tax Credit
- Reagan negotiated with terrorists in Tehran
- Reagan sought to eliminate nuclear weapons
- Reagan gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants
- Reagan approved protectionist trade barriers
- Reagan signed abortion rights law in California
- Reagan eventually debunked AIDS myths Republicans continued to perpetuate
It is a measure of how skewed to the right American politics has become that Mr. Obama is, in many ways, as - or more - conservative than Ronald Reagan, yet is derided as a "socialist." It is a measure of how ignorant our discourse has become that stating that fact - and it is a fact, as illustrated above - publicy is almost certain to result in ridicule. And it is a measure of how deeply hypocritical the current crop of Republican leaders is that they lionize a man who, were he alive and on the political stage today, they would clearly smear with every ounce of venom they use to denigrate the Democrat who currently occupies the White House.
In a perfect example of what I describe above, liberal blogger Mike Stark recently called in to conservative drug addict and Third World sex tourist Rush Limbaugh's radio show to ask just why Republicans are so enamored of Ronald Reagan, given the man's actual record. As you can hear in the audio clip below, Mr. Limbaugh is caught completely flat-footed, and resorts to professing ignorance about Mr. Reagan's tax policies while declaring that GOP love for The Gipper is just something no one else can understand.