The conservative pundits seeking to accumulate intellectual bona fides by aping the intelligentsia’s call to “forget Ronald Reagan” only succeed in proving themselves to be as vacuous as the allegedly educated elite.
For example, one cultured pearl of current wisdom is that conservatives have to move beyond “variations of no.” Well, for openers, you have to move towards it before moving beyond it.
A federal budget that rose by about $1 trillion when Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress does not indicate that the GOP took many opportunities to go negative. “Balancing the budget is a little bit like protecting your virtue: You just have to learn to say no,” President Reagan told conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. in a 1980 broadcast.
As president, Reagan used the veto more than any commander-in-chief since Eisenhower. “As governor of California for eight years, having that, I used the line-item veto 943 times,” President Reagan told Buckley in a 1990 interview. The former president was a guest in both instances on Buckley’s long-running Public Broadcasting System series Firing Line.
“I was never overruled once, even though the legislature that had sent me the things that I line-item vetoed—It took a two-thirds majority to send it to me,” President Reagan remembered in that latter taping. “It only took two-thirds to override my veto, but they never could get the two-thirds when they had to vote on an item standing out there all by itself where the people could see it.”
“When they could bury it in a package, well then they would try.” Reagan’s one-time supporter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, may have done well to ape his predecessor’s approach as governator.
“This state, if it was a private business, would have a padlock on the door and be in the hands of receivers,” Reagan, as governor-elect, wrote to his old friend Buckley in 1966. “It is fantastic from my present vantage point to discover what really faces one when the chance comes to put order into the chaos our little liberal playmates have created.”
“Meanwhile, the old Guv [Pat Brown] is busily appointing judges, some 50 of them in these closing hours, including some whose records occupy many many pages of House Un-American Activities Committee reports.” Buckley featured highlights of his correspondence with the Gipper in, what, so far, we know to be his last book, The Reagan I Knew.
The gifted, prolific author died last year. Watching both of these two titans at work gives their followers the chance to study, and learn from, successes two-decades-old rather than the failures of the past 20 years.
It also goes a long way towards showing that the mainstream media and its academic spawning ground had Reagan dead wrong, and continue to. For one thing, as the above quotes indicate, he was far from disengaged.
Indeed, he was more engaged than the moderates in the Reagan White House who rushed into off-the-record interviews to claim credit for his successes and to denigrate him when the success of his policies was questioned.
“Reagan’s motto is, ‘There’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit for it,’” author and columnist M. Stanton Evans noted at the time.
“Their motto is, ‘There’s no limit to the amount of credit you can claim if you don’t care what is accomplished,’” Evans said of the centrists.
A bonus in the Buckley book is the vignettes on world leaders such as Richard Nixon that the founder of National Review offers us. “A terribly gifted political tactician,” Buckley observes, “and when he isn’t president, he’s awfully good on most issues.”
When Buckley met Nixon in Paris in 1982, he reminded him of a ballet they had attended when the latter made his historic trip to communist China. “I don’t remember the plot, but I think the girl married the tractor, and they lived ‘happily ever after,’” Buckley told Nixon.
“Yeah, I remember,” Nixon replied. “She looked like a tractor herself.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.