On February 6th, the conservative wing of the American political spectrum celebrated Ronald Reagan’s 101st birthday. Although almost everyone who calls himself/herself conservative stated the obligatory “Happy 101st birthday, Ronald Reagan!” words and remarked how much they loved the Gipper and what a great President he was, many of them actually opposed him when he was President. And although many people now seem to understand why he was a great President, few people realize what can be learned from him.
So what can we learn from him? A lot, both in terms of how to win the political discourse (and do business) and in terms of how exactly to handle issues (i.e. what policies to pursue).
Let’s start with the first subject. On this one, Tim Dunkin has written an excellent article for the Canada Free Press, whereby he identifies four key lessons he has learned from Ronald Reagan:
1) Communication matters. You need to convince the American people that you are right. Or, as Margaret Thatcher likes to say, first you win the argument, then you win the vote.
Sadly, as Dunkin rightly notes, we conservatives wrongly assume that conservative truths and principles should be self-evident to the American people and often we get angry with them when they don’t understand what they have never been told or explained before – that the facts of life are conservative and that conservative principles and policies are better than liberal ones.
2) Be consistent on your message and your policies.
Unfortunately, these days, most Americans, including many Tea Partiers, demand spending cuts and in the same breath warn politicians not to even think about touching their SS and Medicare benefits. So which is it, folks? Do we want spending to be cut or not? Do we want limited government or not?
3) Don’t try to compromise with the opposition, or at least, don’t make it an explicit goal and don’t automatically assume you’ll have to compromise with it.
4) All three legs of the conservative stool are equally important and none of them should be elevated above the two others, because that would be unfair to them and alienate them.
Ronald Reagan never pursued the policies of one wing of the conservative movement at the exclusion, or at the significant expense, of the two others. He managed to bring all three wings together and treated them as equally important, and managed to keep all three of them happy. These days, defense conservatives are being marginalzed and even excluded from the conservative movement and denounced as “Big Government liberals”, while fiscal and social conservatives pursue their respective agendas to the exclusion of everyone else’s agenda and both demand that their particular wishes come first and everything else be subordinated to them. Thus, the state of relations between those three wings of the conservative movement today is like this:
Defense Conservative: Defense spending shouldn’t be cut any further. It has already been cut too deeply.
Fiscal Conservative: You Big Government Liberal! Defense spending needs to be cut further! When are you defense hawks going to learn that everything has to be on the table?
Defense Conservative: Defense spending has been on the table the whole time, and was targeted by Obama for cuts on Day One.
Fiscal Conservative: I don’t care! Every kind of federal spending needs to be cut deeply!
Social Conservative: Hey, don’t forget about me, guys. We need to remember that strong families are the foundation of our Nation. We need to ban abortion and gay marriage completely. We need to do that first before doing anything else.
Fiscal Conservative: No! Balancing the budget must come first! And BTW, regulating abortion and marriage is a Big Government policy. We shouldn’t do that at all.
Social Conservative: No! I will not tolerate that! I will never support any candidate who does not pledge to ban abortion and gay marriage for any office, not even dog catcher, not even against Barack Hussein Obama!
The lesson is that we need to unify ALL THREE LEGS of the conservative movement. It will be difficult, but not impossible.
And what can we learn from Ronald Reagan policy-wise?
On fiscal and economic issues, we can learn that the key to prosperity is economic freedom: low taxes, minimum regulations, open energy resources, and a strong, stable dollar (“King Dollar” to borrow a term from Larry Kudlow). In other words, supply-side economics.
On social issues, we know that, as Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget that we are a Nation under God, we will be a Nation gone under”. We need to protect unborn children and the institution of marriage. Yet, we must not allow these issues to divide the conservative movement or the Republican Party.
And on defense and foreign policy issues, we should know, and everyone should’ve learned by now, that there is no substitute for a militarily-strong America; that the US needs a strong, generously funded defense at all times; that it needs to honor its commitments to its treaty allies and vice versa; that we need to stand strong, and be tough, with America’s adversaries and with bullies; and that the US should intervene when and where, but only when and where, its national interests are threatened, and only if non-war means of pressure have been exhausted.
Sadly, while most Republicans seem to have learned at least the basic principles of Ronald Reagan, if not specific policies from him, on fiscal and social issues, it is clear that a substantial minority (if not an outright majority of Republicans and conservatives has learned nothing from him. They still don’t understand that defense cuts weaken the military and that this reduces its ability to deter America’s enemies and defeat them if necessary; that this changes the calculus more and more in favor of America’s enemies; and that massive defense cuts always lead to war, not to peace – forcing the US to rebuild its military at a much greater cost later. They still don’t understand that cutting defense is penny-wise and pound-foolish. They still don’t understand that a strong defense safeguards peace and prevents war. They still don’t get it that without a strong defense, there won’t even be a free America to live in or a free economy to work in.
These days, we defense conservatives are being thrown out of the conservative movement and shunned out of the GOP. We are being called Big Government advocates, neocons, liberals, and other insulting terms. Our fiscal and social brethren are denying that we are conservatives at all. We are being denied a seat at the negotiating table and left out of conservative and Republican events. Our concerns, requests, and the issues we care about most deeply – defense and foreign policy affairs – are being ignored completely. Most Republican politicians these days run on platforms that don’t mention defense at all or, in the best case, barely mention it in shallow, trite, generalist statements. Most conservative manifestos, calls for action, platforms, and articles don’t mention defense at all, and don’t mention us as the part of the Republican coalition.
This was visible at CPAC, which was held this week in Washington DC. At that event, Phyllis Schaffly of the Eagle Forum debunked “the phony divide between fiscal and social conservatives”, while no one will be trying to reconcile or bridge fiscal and defense conservatives.
Even worse, CPAC featured four anti-defense events, all of which were sponsored by the paranoid, anti-military, anti-defense “Committee for the Republic”. The first event was an exercise in distorting the real meaning of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, which the Left has been doing for decades. The second was a tirade by retired Colonel Douglas MacGregor calling for further defense cuts on top of those already implemented and scheduled. The third was a condemnation of all wars waged by the US, including the US-Mexican War, whereby Bruce Fein was impersonating John Quincy Adams. The fourth was a “Founding Father Roundtable” whereby Bruce Fein and his fellow C4TR loons, including John Henry and James Henry, were claiming that the US has gone wrong in investing in defense and that a strong, peacetime military is antithetical to the Founders’ beliefs.