In a 2008 speech to a Republican crowd Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels made the blasphemous suggestion that it was time for the Party to move beyond the shadow of Ronald Reagan and start to develop some new approaches to current problems. This was an invitation to mayhem.
Looking back on the incident, I think all Republicans can take some pride in the fact that no one was seriously injured. Anyone who was tempted to go on a frothing rampage in the parking lot, turning over cars and setting tires on fire was calmly talked down.
“This isn’t the time, brother. Save it for the town hall meetings.”
What did ensue was the next best thing, as the right-wing pundicrats lined up to give Daniels a good swift one to the crotch.
Ready to move past Reagan? So, are you tired of that ‘national anthem’ yet? Think we need to get over that freedom and prosperity obsession?
It is tough to follow a tough act to follow. It seems that we as a Party have devoted the past couple of decades to proving just how remarkable Reagan was by failing to live up to his legacy. After a few attempts at topping one of our best Presidents we settled for trying to deliver the worst.
Reagan is becoming our Jesus, solution to every problem, example to be followed in every case, unquestionable emblem of all that is right. When someone is deified, they tend to lose more than a little of their humanity. The more we admire Reagan, quote him, and cite him in argument, the farther we seem to get from the guy who actually existed.
That’s the mixed problem/beauty of a bygone hero, whether Reagan, Jesus, or other. You can claim his legacy all you want and he won’t show up at the convention to set you straight.
The Reagan Era embodies our best accomplishments as a Party since Lincoln. As such, it might be worth reminding ourselves of a few of the realities that have been lost in the myth. You tell me if we are still the Party that could elect this guy:
Ronald Reagan spent much of his life in Hollywood. Divorced, with a difficult relationship with his children, he never clearly denied claims he relied on astrology in his decision-making.
Ronald Reagan did not attend church while in office.
Ronald Reagan, as Governor of California, signed into law the nation’s most liberal abortion rights bill.
Ronald Reagan, while President, signed into the law a sweeping immigration amnesty and reform bill.
Ronald Reagan treated his political enemies with the same remarkable human respect as he did his closest allies. He did not demonize his opponents in Congress and his greatest legislative achievements were earned by cooperation and consensus.
Ronald Reagan possessed an unrivaled talent for expressing America’s core values abroad. Though he never compromised his language, he was keenly conscious of the limits of military power and skillfully avoided (to the point of withdrawing from) entanglements that might have compromised our national security.
Go ahead. Send someone who matches that profile to the next Republican National Convention. Better yet, send him to a state convention in Texas or Georgia. Would they cheer him or would they praise our lord and savior Reagan while shouting that guy out of the building?
Hallelujah and Amen.
Reagan’s status as a legend says as much about us as it does about him. Governor Daniels was right. We do need to move beyond Reagan. Former Governor Jeb Bush has courageously picked up the theme. We can’t govern on nostalgia. We need to do the same kind of soul-searching Barry Goldwater did in the early 60’s, questioning our direction, looking carefully at where we are, and developing an approach to the future that adapts to new problems.
God Bless the Gipper. Let’s move on.
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