11.30.2009 0

Clarity Over Compromise

  • On: 12/09/2009 10:13:13
  • In: Conservative Movement
  • by David Bozeman

    Whenever liberals start declaring that ideological sides don’t matter, that the best leaders govern from the center, it probably means their side is losing. The president’s approval numbers continue to plummet, support for health-care reform is tepid at best, the opposition is energized, and the 2009 elections don’t bode well for 2010.

    In an effort to buy time and regroup (and marginalize such conservatives as Sarah Palin), talking heads have decided that the GOP’s attempts at ideological purity are poisonous to the political process and that one of our most successful presidents was really a centrist.

    In Newsweek’s Palin-bashing extravaganza, Evan Thomas writes (and editor Jon Meacham concurs) that Ronald Reagan, like Eisenhower, governed by “deftly uniting center and right.” He continues that Reagan “piously gave lip service to the right-wing social agenda while doing nothing to further it.” Meacham writes that Reagan picked centrist George H.W. Bush for vice-president in 1980 because he realized the conservative movement needed moderates to win and ultimately govern — a move unlikely today because there are “so few moderates left in the GOP.”

    Even conceding that all great leaders must occasionally reach across the aisle, Ronald Reagan did not yield to the center, the center bowed to him. Through congeniality and appeals to common sense and goodwill, he forged a coalition, known as Reagan Democrats, that kept the presidency in Republican hands for twelve years.

    In 1981, sixty-three Democrats defied pressure from House Speaker Tip O’Neill and passed Reagan’s budget. Despite all the caterwauling in the 80s about rampant homelessness, and a shaky economy early in his term, Reagan stood his ground. Geniality with toughness ruled foreign policy, as well, though Thomas writes that while Reagan “talked tough about the Russians, he did more than any president to foster detente.”

    Back on Planet Earth, it was because Reagan talked not about peaceful co-existence but about actually defeating the Soviet Union that nuclear annihilation was liberals’ other cause celebre of the 80s. By the time he made minor concessions to Gorbachev late in his presidency, he had already walked away from the table at Reykjavik (in lieu of abandoning the Strategic Defense Initiative) and the Communist Empire was crumbling. Much to the dismay of liberals who were seeking a negotiated peace, Reagan’s was one of the few voices making the moral case for freedom over containment.

    Ultimately, his moral certainty that freedom is a God-given right that can and must prevail proved more powerful that any weapons system on either side of the Iron Curtain. Reagan’s spectacular success was due not to doling out pork or straddling the center but by instilling hope. Any interim compromises he made were to forward his two over-riding goals: reviving America’s broken economy and defeating the Soviet Union.

    Though unable to tackle Washington’s entrenched bureaucracy or all the issues dear to the religious right, any conservative will attest to his towering presence over the movement even today. Conservatism to Reagan was less a matter of ideology than common sense and fair play. He writes in his autobiography that he selected George H.W. Bush for VP out of admiration, respect for his experience and because his second place finish made him the logical choice.

    Besides, at the time, most potential running mates were, in fact, centrists, hence Reagan’s immense popularity then and now. Painting him a mere pragmatist renders conservatism alien and abstract. It is neither — its compatibility with human nature’s highest aspirations enabled him to render the opposition party impotent for the better part of a decade. That took clarity, not compromise, and the American left is terrified of seeing his like again.

    David Bozeman is a Liberty Features Syndicate writer.

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