The main reason Ronald Reagan was such an awful president has little to do with his policies. Legislation can usually be fixed or undone by succeeding regimes.
The most pernicious aspect of the Reagan legacy is ideological in nature. Ronald Reagan forever debased the political debate in this country, and we’re still paying the price for it.
Though the Gipper himself would sometimes — to his credit — throw his ideology out the window (he actually raised taxes when he was informed that “supply-side” theory wasn’t working), his Republican progeny feel no such compunction. They’ll say — and do — pretty much anything. Call it conservative devolution. From Reagan to Bush to Palin. And it’s very dangerous.
Republicans have been able to devolve with impunity because Ronald Reagan injected such massive doses of dubious conservative dogma into our political bloodstream that it affects everybody to one degree or another. To this day, people who should know better (the media) won’t acknowledge the intellectual bankruptcy of Reaganism and its subsequent iterations. As a result, people with fewer resources (poorly informed voters) remain easy prey for slick Republican hucksters like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. And spineless Blue Dog Democrats, of course, keep going along for the ride.
As progressives watched President Obama’s first two years unfold, many of us thought it was ridiculous for him to think he could cut deals with the likes of Chuck Grassley, and we said so. But in the grand scheme of things, such “post-partisan” thinking resulted in a lot of tactical mistakes. I can live (albeit unhappily) with most of those. It’s hard to get anything through Congress these days.
What I can’t live with is a president who refuses to fight the permanent ideological war. Whatever else Ronald Reagan might have had on his plate at any given time, he tried to spend a portion of each day — sorry, but there’s no other word for it — brainwashing people into rejecting liberalism and embracing conservatism. This was an integral part of his long-term political strategy. And at this he was wildly successful.
In 2008 Barack Obama took a lot of unwarranted grief from progressives when he said that Reagan was his presidential role model. I applauded him for it.
Obama’s post-partisan dreams are now in tatters. Isn’t it time he started paying tribute to his Republican hero by turning the tables on him and making “conservatism” a dirty word?