Republicans have a near god-like reverence for Ronald Reagan, yet they have no clue about his approach to politics.
Ronald Reagan is considered by the ultra-conservative right as their champion. But as history shows, he never would never have made it in today’s GOP.
It’s about time they quit rewriting history in an effort to cling to that false premise – and move into the light of reality.
We have broken down Reagan’s historic record into five areas that are in direct conflict with current right-wing doctrine, providing 5 ways to annoy Republicans.
1. Gun Control
“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”
~Ronald Reagan, at his birthday celebration in 1989.
As governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited the carrying of firearms on your person, in your vehicle, and in any public place or on the street, and he also signed off on a 15-day waiting period for firearm purchases. “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” Reagan said at the time, according to Salon.com.
In 1986 as president, he signed into law the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which “banned ownership of any fully automatic rifles that were not already registered on the day the law was signed.”
After leaving the presidency, he supported the passage of the Brady bill that established by federal law a nationwide, uniform standard of a 7-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns to enable background checks on prospective buyers.
In 1991 Reagan wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times stating his support for the Brady Bill and noted that if the Brady Bill had been in effect earlier, he never would have been shot. He also urged then President H.W. Bush to drop his opposition to the bill and lobbied other members of Congress to support the bill.
In 1994 Reagan wrote to Congress urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons.
Reagan passed massive tax cuts his first year in office, but then reversed many of them when he signed into law the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA). Former Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett wrote in 2003 that “according to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history.” 
And we cannot forget that when he was governor of California, Reagan signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up until that point in an effort to balance the budget. Once president, Reagan raised taxes seven out of eight of his years in office — including four times in just two years — for a total of 12 times as president. And one cannot forget that all but two of the budgets he submitted to Congress proposed more spending than Congress sent back to him to sign. Moreover, Reagan also backed a $3.3 billion gasoline tax, and he bailed out the Social Security program to the tune of $165 billion.
Additionally, Reagan and Barack Obama agree, nearly word-for-word, on taxing the rich and closing tax loopholes.
President Reagan made the remarks below in a June 6, 1985 speech at Atlanta’s Northside High School, while campaigning for a broad tax-reform proposal that ended up passing in 1986.
“We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. […] Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver, or less?”
A few weeks later, in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Reagan expounded on his belief that tax reform was needed because it was wrong to let millionaires and corporations pay taxes at lower rates than working people. He also tells a story about a letter from a business executive that may sound familiar:
“The result is that workers sometimes find themselves paying higher taxes than the giant corporations they work for, and hardworking families have to struggle under a growing tax burden while the special interests get a free ride. Now, we’re not against big corporations—they provide many of the jobs, goods, and services that keep America strong. It’s the system that’s unfair, and that’s what we’re going to change.
3. Deficit Spending / Debt Ceiling
What about the debt ceiling? Reagan’s viewpoints there were crystal clear. In a November 1983 letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), Reagan warned that without a higher debt ceiling, the country could be forced to default for the first time in its history. Reagan wrote:
“This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.”
Reagan discussed the severe necessity of the United States meeting its obligations in regards to dealing with the national debt ceiling in a radio address on September 26, 1987, noting in part:
“Unfortunately, Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility — two things that set us apart from much of the world.”
Reagan biographer Lou Cannon was asked by Politifact about Reagan’s comments on raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default. He responded that presidents have traditionally supported raising the debt ceiling, regardless of party affiliation. He also noted that Reagan had a strong sense that the nation’s creditworthiness was important stating:
“On matters like extending the full faith and credit of the government, on paying its bills, Reagan was a real conservative, in the old sense. Most of the true conservatives in those days wouldn’t have considered defaulting on their debts.”
Reagan ended up raising the debt ceiling 18 times during his presidency.
Reagan appeased terrorists during his administration, ignoring their atrocities and spending taxpayer dollars to train, arm, equip, fund, and overall coddle Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan for his proxy war with the Soviets. He is also in large part directly responsible for making a terrorist kingpin out of Osama Bin Laden.
There is also the sticky case of Iran-Contra Affair. The Majority Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, released on November 18, 1987, like the Tower Commission, criticized Reagan for his blunders and his lack of oversight:
“The President himself told the public that the U.S. Government had no connection to the Hasenfus airplane. He told the public that early reports of arms sales for hostages had ‘no foundation.’ He told the public that the United States had not traded arms for hostages. He told the public that the United States had not condoned the arms sales by Israel to Iran, when in fact he had approved them and signed a Finding, later destroyed by Poindexter, recording his approval. All of these statements by the President were wrong.
5. Immigration / Amnesty
“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
Who can forget that Reagan granted amnesty to aliens as president, giving citizenship to over three million illegals living in the USA with the stroke of a pen — a position antithetical to current GOP ideology.
As NPR reported, back in 1986,
“Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. It was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers. But the bill also made any immigrant who’d entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty — a word not usually associated with the father of modern conservatism.
The law granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants, yet was largely considered unsuccessful because the strict sanctions on employers were stripped out of the bill for passage.”
In his farewell address as president, Reagan envisioned America as a city on a hill: “And if there had to be city walls,” he said. “The walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Strong words from the idol of those who now want to build even taller, electrified walls.
- As the hero of a party that has worked tirelessly to destroy the civil rights of homosexuals, Reagan was a maverick in his strident opposition to the Briggs Initiative in California, which would’ve banned gays and lesbians from teaching in the public schools, and his opposition helped defeat the measure.
- Reagan did little to tighten restrictions against abortion as president and actually passed the most liberal pro-choice legislation up until that time as governor of California, the Therapeutic Abortion Act, signed by Reagan on June 14, 1967.
- He grew the size of the federal government tremendously, adding 60,000 new government jobs (versus, for instance, Bill Clinton, who shrank government payrolls by 373,000).
- As governor of California, Reagan supported and ultimately expanded Medi-Cal, which is the nation’s largest Medicaid program.
- Both as governor and president, he was one of the most proactive presidents in restricting smog emissions and protecting wilderness.
“If you look at my father and you just knew him as governor — raised taxes, signed an abortion bill, no-fault divorce, and a few other things — today, the argument against him would come from the right, not from the left.”
Nobody knows what Reagan, who died in 2004, would make of the current fight over the debt limit. But 100 years after Reagan’s birth, it’s clear that the Tea Party Republicans have little regard for the policies of the president they claim to venerate.
Tea Party Republicans call a vote to raise the debt ceiling a threat to their very existence; Reagan presided over 18 increases in the debt ceiling during his presidency.
Tea Party Republicans say they would sooner default on the national debt than raise taxes; Reagan agreed to raise taxes 11 times.
[W]ould have made Reagan’s entire agenda impossible, including the military buildup that conservatives credit with winning the Cold War.
I continue to find this fascinating because of the striking disconnect between Republicans’ principles and their understanding of history. On the one hand, Republicans have a religious-like reverence for “Ronaldus Magnus”; on the other, they have no use for his approach to governance.
It’s comparable to evangelical Christians holding out Jesus as their model for salvation and perfection, only to ignore Jesus’ commitment to protecting the poor and less fortunate.
Benen goes on to note that “it’s time the mainstream starts to realize that this is no longer the party of Reagan.”
The evidence has become overwhelming. Two weeks ago, a House Republican went so far as to dismiss Reagan as a “moderate, former liberal” who “would never be elected today.” Mike Huckabee said two months ago, “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take last year, arguing Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”
I agree, but shouldn’t that tell the political world something about the radicalism of today’s GOP? What should Republicans take away from the fact that, by 2011 standards, their party would dismiss their demigod as a tax-raising, amnesty-loving, pro-bailout, cut-and-run, big-government Democrat?
1. Bruce Bartlett (2003-10-29). “A Taxing Experience”. National Review.
SEE ALSO: Politifact