In the immediate aftermath of November’s election, conservatives were called upon to change the way they did business. They lost decisively, therefore (so ran the argument) they must have been going about the business of politics the wrong way. One thing you often heard (you still hear it) is that conservatives–or at least Republicans (they are not, alas, the same thing)–should abandon their hero worship of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, we heard, was yesterday’s man. Republicans needed tomorrow’s leader.
Maybe there is something to that. But I confess that the argument often struck me as harboring a plea for conservatives to become more like “liberals,” i.e., more like people who want to curtail freedom in order to “spread the wealth around” and promote socialistic programs like nationalized health care.
That was a mistake that Reagan never made. He was first and last an apostle of individual liberty. He knew that increasing government control of economic life meant increasing government control of all aspects of life. He also had a deep insight into the spiritual legerdemain according to which socialism masqueraded as humanitarianism.
The real problem for conservatives today is not their nostalgic admiration of Reagan, but their distance from Reagan’s moral clarity. A clever blogger at Texas Rainmaker (hat-tip to Instapundit) reminds us of just how great that distance is by juxtaposing some observations by Reagan with some observations by the current President of the United States.
Some snippets from this sobering medley:
Reagan on the campaign trail: “This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves.”
The current President of the United States on the campaign trail: “Generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Reagan: “Back in 1927, an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, said that the American people would never vote for socialism but he said under the name of liberalism the American people they would adopt every fragment of the socialist program ”
The current President of the United States, at the end of October: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
Reagan: “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it.”
The current President of the United States: “As President, I will sign a universal health care plan into law by the end of my first term in office.”
Reagan: “The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.”
The current President of the United States: “John McCain and Sarah Palin call this socialistic. I don’t when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”
Reagan: “Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, inalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment.”
The current President of the United States: “We are going to roll up our sleeves and we are going to remake this country, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, county by county, state by state.”
Reagan: “Senator Fulbright has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the president as our moral teacher and our leader, and he said he is hobbled in his task by the restrictions in power imposed on him by this antiquated document. He must be freed so that he can do for us what he knows is best.”
The current President of the United States: The Warren Court “wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution. . . . [G]enerally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can’t do to you, it says what the federal government can’t do to you but it doesn’t say what the the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.”
Reagan: “James Madison in 1788 speaking to the Virginia convention said, ‘Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’”
Watch the whole thing here: