Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Long Shadow of Reagan

 
Seen the other night at a clothing store aimed at younger buyers

President Ronald Reagan represents the high-water mark of Republican presidencies within living memory. Eisenhower’s quiet leadership and managerial style are, much like Calvin Coolidge’s, largely forgotten. Nixon’s presidency was marked by an expansion of federal power, followed by a scandal and implosion. Ford is hardly worth mentioning. Bush 41 tried to tack away from Reagan on domestic matters and lasted only a single term. Bush 43 will be long associated with scandals and a collapsed economy, in spite of whatever good he did (and he did do a lot more than we normally acknowledge, but so much was temporary, and the rest is tainted).

Above all of the rest, Reagan stands as a colossus, casting a shadow on every candidacy and campaign. He is invoked as a totem, and, in a way, even prayed to as a saint. I spotted this sweater the other night at a clothing store aimed at ironic younger shoppers. All too often today, in conservative discussions on policy, tactics, or personality, you will eventually hear the phrase “What would Reagan do?”

Invocations of “Reagan” or “The Party of Reagan” or “Saint Ronaldus, Pray for Us” make as little sense to the party today as the Democrats’ constant invocation of JFK in the 1990s. We are now as far from Reagan’s presidency as JFK was from Herbert Hoover’s, or as Reagan himself was from the end of the Truman years. We are well past the time to recognize that even if we were to somehow revive the “Reagan Coalition” many, many of those voters are now beyond our reach (save in Chicago).

I was four when Reagan was elected and cherish those happy years coming to political awareness under his leadership. But people born after about 1984 would have little memory of his presidency, and those people are now 33/34 at the oldest. My youngest sister was born in 1990, so the earliest president she remembers is Bill Clinton. My eldest daughter will be able to vote in her first presidential election in 2020. The first president she remembers dimly is GWB, and the only one she remembers well is Obama.

All she has known is Obama’s relentless trolling, abuse of power, and personal attacks on conservatives. How would invoking Reagan’s appeal in any way to her? It would be like my parents trying to persuade me how to vote in the 1996 primary (my first) by invoking the Eisenhower years as a benchmark. Moreover, what my daughter implicitly understands of presidential power and its potential for misuse stems entirely from how much damage Obama did. For her, Obama and Trump are the new benchmarks for what a president could do, both for good or ill.

Time marches onward with a relentless pace and, as EJ Hill details, the benchmarks and touchstones of prior generations are ever and always sloughing off their mortal coils to be replaced by younger people. Our frame of reference, our collective living memory, always moves.

By 2020, the youngest people with any living memory of Reagan’s presidency will be 36, and most will be older. In 2020, the youngest voters will be 18, having been born in 2002, with their formative memories being the financial collapse of 2007-2009, and the eight years of Obama openly denigrating and mocking half the American populace on a regular basis.

The concerns of what drove people to vote for a Reagan type, the boom years of the ’80s and ’90s and 9/11, all happened before they were born. The War on Terror will have been continuous for their entire lives, assuming Trump doesn’t declare victory and pull back. We will have been in Afghanistan and Iraq for their entire collective memories. The Cold War will have been compressed to a paragraph or two at the back ends of their history textbooks, just one more footnote in what one professor of mine called “The motorcycle ride through the museum of history,” assuming that their teachers even get to that point in their classes by the end of the term.

Let us stop invoking the totem of Reagan as we address the strengths and weaknesses of the party over these next three years. We cannot summon him back to lead the party and even if we could (and if we could I think there is a painter in New Jersey we could tap to illustrate the possibilities), he would find this world a different place, and we and he would be estranged. Instead, let us take the world as we find it now. Let us continue to take Trump as we find him now. Let the past be the past, ironic Christmas sweaters aside.


This post is an expansion of a comment I made on @garyrobbins recent post.

There are 90 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    Cal Coolidge in ’20!

    • #1
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:04 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  2. Danny Alexander Member

    Agree with the “wishing doesn’t make it so” aspect of your argument:

    We must indeed face squarely the challenges that we have; make our peace (in only the most pragmatic sense) with the circumstances in which we are placed; and strive in good faith to gain the help of worthy and willing allies; all while simultaneously putting a stake in the ground as to what our principles are, enforcing rigorously adherence thereto internally and obtaining just as rigorously respect for same from external allies.

    But that in no way means that it is in the least bit sensible to rip Reagan out of the compass we use, or should be using — that’s just Ezra Klein-grade ahistorical crazy talk, very large shades of which I find detectable in this OP.

    • #2
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:11 AM PST
    • Like
  3. livingtheLoneStarlife Inactive

    This reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld’s well known quote: “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

    It could easily be paraphrased to be: “As you know, you go into elections with the candidates you have, not the candidate might want or wish to have at a later time.”

    I’m a huge admirer of Reagan. He was elected when I was in the 4th grade (he won the election in our elementary school!) so he had a big impact during my years of learning about the global issues. I have a book of his speeches that I ocassionally read just to be reminded of his gift for communication. But he wasn’t popular with the “elites” (I still hate this word). He was a dumb actor, a Hollywood guy. When everyone insisted on continuing realpolitik he decided the Cold War needed to be won. So win it he did. He bucked Washington in many ways.

    Almost like the current occupant. And I say that as someone who didn’t vote for Trump.

    • #3
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:11 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  4. Bishop Wash Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Cal Coolidge in ’20!

    Give the roaring ’20s another try.

    • #4
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Percival Thatcher

    Who would you rather invoke, Skip? The Bushes? We haven’t had a conservative president since and we really don’t have one now, though he’s not the disaster that some would paint him as.

    • #5
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:12 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    Who would you rather invoke, Skip? The Bushes? We haven’t had a conservative president since and we really don’t have one now, though he’s not the disaster that some would paint him as.

    Talk policies, not people.

    • #6
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:18 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  7. Doug Watt Member

    Some of the fruitless search was seen during the primaries. There were more Republicans on that stage then there were registered Republicans in Oregon.

    • #7
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:22 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  8. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Percival (View Comment):
    Who would you rather invoke, Skip? The Bushes?

    Invoking anyone at all is useless for those who have no connection to, or knowledge of whomever you are invoking. When I was 18, I had little knowledge of President Ike save that he won WWII. Ike was as far from me as Reagan will be from my daughter in 2020.

    If you want to reach people, then you either have to invoke people they know, or appeal on your own merits.

    • #8
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:25 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  9. The Reticulator Member

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Cal Coolidge in ’20!

    Give the roaring ’20s another try.

    Not according to Murray Rothbard’s book on the history of banking, we shouldn’t.

    • #9
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:25 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    But that in no way means that it is in the least bit sensible to rip Reagan out of the compass we use, or should be using — that’s just Ezra Klein-grade ahistorical crazy talk, very large shades of which I find detectable in this OP.

    I’m not saying that we rip Reagan out of our compasses, but rather that he’s not even in the compasses of the younger voters in the first place.

    • #10
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:26 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  11. Bishop Wash Member

    It’s interesting that the party that gave us the cult of personality that is Obama doesn’t seem to hold its former greats in the same regard Republicans hold Reagan. Maybe it’s because I don’t travel in their circles but one doesn’t hear candidates claiming to be the next FDR, JFK, LBJ, etc. Heck, a lot of Obama’s presidency was tearing down Bill’s legacy; DOMA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, welfare reform, etc. Hillary ran on tearing down the rest of it, except when she said she’d place him in charge of the economy (Was she going to bring Newt and his Congress back too?).

    Even now the Left is finally acknowledging Bill Clinton’s failings, now that he is out of power and the Clintons have no more use. @eustacecscrubb‘s article yesterday, The Only Bad Democrat is a Dead Democrat, makes the case once a Democrat is gone and no longer useful his problems can be pointed out.

    Maybe one day Democrats will invoke the Lightbringer’s name and that they are his second coming. Hopefully, history will bear out that he was an affirmative action hire and not one to be emulated.

    • #11
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:37 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    It’s interesting that the party that gave us the cult of personality that is Obama doesn’t seem to hold its former greats in the same regard Republicans hold Reagan. Maybe it’s because I don’t travel in their circles but one doesn’t hear candidates claiming to be the next FDR, JFK, LBJ, etc. Heck, a lot of Obama’s presidency was tearing down Bill’s legacy; DOMA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, welfare reform, etc. Hillary ran on tearing down the rest of it, except when she said she’d place him in charge of the economy (Was she going to bring Newt and his Congress back too?).

    Even now the Left is finally acknowledging Bill Clinton’s failings, now that he is out of power and the Clintons have no more use. @eustacecscrubb‘s article yesterday, The Only Bad Democrat is a Dead Democrat, makes the case once a Democrat is gone and no longer useful his problems can be pointed out.

    Maybe one day Democrats will invoke the Lightbringer’s name and that they are his second coming. Hopefully, history will bear out that he was an affirmative action hire and not one to be emulated.

    In the 90s, though, the Dems were enthusiastically and frequently displaying the sainted corpse of JFK as a way to bolster Bill while masking his failures.

    • #12
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:42 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. MarciN Member

    I think throwing out Reagan would be as big a mistake as throwing out Lincoln.

    Some things get better with age. Especially in politics.

    And as more and more of the consequences of liberalism appear, which were just predictions when Reagan spoke, people will look back to his full speeches to help them understand just how we got here. They will be encouraged by those speeches to keep resisting.

    • #13
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:46 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. Chris O. Member

    One cannot utilize context effectively or persuasively when its use is lost on the audience. Speaking of losing the audience, I was thinking along similar lines to the OP when I read a recent movie review that described The Last Jedi as a movie for a more jaded audience than the original 1977 film. I was very young, but remember the tenor of the times well. Making that statement requires the ignorance of one who was not there.

    So, let us not invoke the past for other reasons: misrepresentation and misuse. It also reminds me of the frequent use of the 1950’s to invoke a more “innocent” time. Just don’t tell that to the Koreans, Czechs, Hungarians, Cubans, Vietnamese, et. al. 

    • #14
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:50 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Bishop Wash Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    It’s interesting that the party that gave us the cult of personality that is Obama doesn’t seem to hold its former greats in the same regard Republicans hold Reagan. Maybe it’s because I don’t travel in their circles but one doesn’t hear candidates claiming to be the next FDR, JFK, LBJ, etc. Heck, a lot of Obama’s presidency was tearing down Bill’s legacy; DOMA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, welfare reform, etc. Hillary ran on tearing down the rest of it, except when she said she’d place him in charge of the economy (Was she going to bring Newt and his Congress back too?).

    Even now the Left is finally acknowledging Bill Clinton’s failings, now that he is out of power and the Clintons have no more use. @eustacecscrubb‘s article yesterday, The Only Bad Democrat is a Dead Democrat, makes the case once a Democrat is gone and no longer useful his problems can be pointed out.

    Maybe one day Democrats will invoke the Lightbringer’s name and that they are his second coming. Hopefully, history will bear out that he was an affirmative action hire and not one to be emulated.

    In the 90s, though, the Dems were enthusiastically and frequently displaying the sainted corpse of JFK as a way to bolster Bill while masking his failures.

    You’re right. That Boys State photo got plenty of airtime. I remember when Rush discovered the JFK tax rate cutting tapes. Hey Bill, you want to emulate JFK? Then emulate this aspect of him.

    • #15
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. The Reticulator Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    But that in no way means that it is in the least bit sensible to rip Reagan out of the compass we use, or should be using — that’s just Ezra Klein-grade ahistorical crazy talk, very large shades of which I find detectable in this OP.

    I’m not saying that we rip Reagan out of our compasses, but rather that he’s not even in the compasses of the younger voters in the first place.

    FDR has always been in my compass, and I wasn’t born until a few years after he died.

    Herbert Hoover (aka FDR, Jr.) was not much of a reference point for me until recently, unfortunately.

    • #16
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:53 AM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Chris O. Member

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think throwing out Reagan would be as big a mistake as throwing out Lincoln.

    Some things get better with age. Especially in politics.

    And as more and more of the consequences of liberalism appear, which were just predictions when Reagan spoke, people will look back to his full speeches to help them understand just how we got here. They will be encouraged by those speeches to keep resisting.

    Agreed, and maybe I read too fast, but I thought what was meant is using President Reagan as an ideal when the times in which we find ourselves are not the same. For certain, there are speeches he made that express ideas relevant to now, particularly the first inaugural (but a bit less so, thankfully, after this past year). He set a wonderful standard, but like with every one of you, there will never be another. So let’s get on with it.

    • #17
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:58 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think throwing out Reagan would be as big a mistake as throwing out Lincoln.

    Some things get better with age. Especially in politics.

    And as more and more of the consequences of liberalism appear, which were just predictions when Reagan spoke, people will look back to his full speeches to help them understand just how we got here. They will be encouraged by those speeches to keep resisting.

    I’m not suggesting throwing him out. I’m saying that for many he is just one more part of their history books, and that this will increasingly be the case in the coming years. For those of us who remember him well, he is and always will be a hero, but pointing to him as your benchmark is of diminishing relevancy, as is Lincoln.

    And no matter how often we claim the legacy of Lincoln, as the savior of the Union and the emancipator of the slaves, it does not buy us anything. By the time that the last of the former slaves, and their children and grandchildren died out, blacks were voting Democrat and have been ever since. Lincoln isn’t even a distant memory at this point.

    In our age of rapid media, our memories now are even shorter.

    • #18
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:01 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Arahant Member

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think throwing out Reagan would be as big a mistake as throwing out Lincoln.

    Skip is not speaking of throwing anyone out. The man studied history in college. What he’s saying is that these people are not effective communication shorthand for everything good about the GOP for people whose parents might not have been old enough to vote for Reagan. And we do try to use them as communication shorthand, but we, or at least some of us, lived through those years and were voting. For Skip’s daughter, Reagan might as well be Amenhotep IV.

    • #19
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:03 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  20. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    But that in no way means that it is in the least bit sensible to rip Reagan out of the compass we use, or should be using — that’s just Ezra Klein-grade ahistorical crazy talk, very large shades of which I find detectable in this OP.

    I’m not saying that we rip Reagan out of our compasses, but rather that he’s not even in the compasses of the younger voters in the first place.

    FDR has always been in my compass, and I wasn’t born until a few years after he died.

    Herbert Hoover (aka FDR, Jr.) was not much of a reference point for me until recently, unfortunately.

    FDR cast a very long shadow indeed – longer, in many respects, than Reagan’s. We still are stuck under the worst aspects of it.

    • #20
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:03 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  21. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Skip is not speaking of throwing anyone out. The man studied history in college. What he’s saying is that these people are not effective communication shorthand for everything good about the GOP for people whose parents might not have been old enough to vote for Reagan. And we do try to use them as communication shorthand, but we, or at least some of us, lived through those years and were voting. For Skip’s daughter, Reagan might as well be Amenhotep IV.

    If memory serves, Amenhotep IV was long gone by the time Reagan came along.

    • #21
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:09 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. The Reticulator Member

    And to the younger generation, people like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are recent and relevant enough to require Action Now!

    • #22
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:12 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  23. Trink Coolidge

    SkipSul: Let us continue to take Trump as we find him now. Let the past be the past . .

    Your nuanced post elicits so many mixed feelings. The greatest is my deep regret that we didn’t vote for Reagan. Raised as a cradle Democrats – we just couldn’t see the light. It took Bill Clinton to open that window on reality. In that sense – I am glad to “let the past be past” :)

    • #23
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:12 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  24. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Skip is not speaking of throwing anyone out. The man studied history in college. What he’s saying is that these people are not effective communication shorthand for everything good about the GOP for people whose parents might not have been old enough to vote for Reagan. And we do try to use them as communication shorthand, but we, or at least some of us, lived through those years and were voting. For Skip’s daughter, Reagan might as well be Amenhotep IV.

    If memory serves, Amenhotep IV was long gone by the time Reagan came along.

    • #24
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  25. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If memory serves, Amenhotep IV was long gone by the time Reagan came along.

    Facepaw - WikiFur, the furry encyclopedia

    • #25
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:13 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  26. dnewlander Member

    Instead let’s invoke Lenin. Stalin. Mao. Minh. Chavez.

    You know, the guys who actually had all the power our kids’ teachers want government to have, and who “gave” “their people” everything the kids are clamoring for: “free” healthcare, “free” education, a guaranteed wage, and “equality”.

    With bonus toilet paper and food shortages, secret police, fear of your neighbors, and mass murder.

    • #26
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:14 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  27. Arahant Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    That was Ramses II.

    • #27
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:15 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):
    That was Ramses II.

    Was he before or after Monroe? My memory is hazy here.

    • #28
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:16 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  29. Nick H Coolidge

    SkipSul: even if we were to somehow revive the “Reagan Coalition”, many many of those voters are now beyond our reach (save in Chicago).

    This got a good laugh.

    You make a good point. What we need to remember is not the specific policies that Reagan espoused, but the spirit and ideals behind them. Those aren’t unique to Reagan (although he did a wonderful job of expressing them and making them understandable for people).

    • #29
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:17 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  30. Trink Coolidge

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):
    That was Ramses II.

    Was he before or after Monroe? My memory is hazy here.

    I love you guys. Merry Christmas :P

    • #30
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:18 AM PST
    • 3 likes