Saturday, December 15, 2007

Could Reagan even live up to the Reagan Standard?

Peggy Noonan has a piece up at the Wall Street Journal that is spreading around the conservative blogosphere like wild fire because of this paragraph:

I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I'm just not sure he'd be pure enough to make it in this party. I'm not sure he'd be considered good enough.

Most bloggers are linking to this as a reaction against Huckabee and the 'Evangelicals' in the party. I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that Ronald Reagan is the standard by which all conservatives are judged, however. I don't disagree with Noonan's assesment-Reagan probably would have difficulty in this current environment. However, if Reagan the 1980 candidate couldn't live up to Reagan the 2008 standard, perhaps we on the right have done a disservice to conservatism with our beatification of Reagan. That's not to say Reagan wasn't a great conservative, but he wasn't the perfect conservative that he is often portrayed as today. Hell, in his own day he had to deal with unhappy conservatives. Take this entry from The Reagan Diaries, dated Monday, July 28, 1982:

The "Conservative Digest" came out--an entire issue devoted to cutting me up and down and crosswire. John Lofton and his compatriots seem to be determined to paint me as a turncoat conservative. The tone is one of devoted but now disillusioned followers. H--l, in 1980 they held a secret meeting trying to persuade Al Haig to run against me.

Reagan's pragmatism has been glossed over in many conservative circles, and that is a huge disservice to present day conservative candidates and the conservative movement in general. The fact is even Reagan, the conservative standard, took criticism from his right during his presidency. Too many conservatives today expect candidates today to be the perfect conservative that they perceive Reagan was. The fact is that a perfectly ideological conservative would never get anything done during his or her term because that individual would be unable and unwilling to make the trade offs that get things done in our political system, let alone appeal to enough voters to win an election. The mythical Reagan standard-a standard that Peggy Noonan and others don't even think Reagan himself would meet today-is only going to hold the conservative movement back in an iron clad gridlock. It won't be until conservatives accept the real Reagan standard that this movement will be able to move forward again.

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