Reagan: The Great Compromiser

Over the years, it has become increasingly popular for politicians and pundits on the right to claim President Reagan as a hero, a role model, an example of the ultimate conservative. But as I noted previously, Ronald Reagan was an environmentalist, but this is rarely a point where he earns praise from either the left or the right, so the interesting aspect of this phenomenon is reviewing President Reagan’s actual record:

But for all the praise by current conservatives for the economic turnaround during his presidency, historians also note that many conservatives of his day weren’t exactly big fans of all of his policies, including his negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev over nuclear arms. At the time, many within his own party felt reaching out to the Soviets was a sign of willingness to negotiate with an evil dictator.

“What made Reagan different from many of his fellow conservatives — and different, too, from liberals who looked upon the Cold War as an eternal condition — was that he really wanted to negotiate and thought he had learned the art of doing so by bargaining with movie producers when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild,” Lou Cannon, author of several books on Reagan, wrote in a commentary for AOL News.

Yikes! If compromising with democrats is enough to eject republicans from the party today, what to do with one who negotiates with communists – real ones?

[Will Bunch] noted that conservatives also fail to mention that Reagan raised taxes throughout his presidency and was willing to work across the aisle with Democrats on major policies such as Social Security.

When he had to govern, he was actually kind of a great compromiser. He was willing to make compromises to get things done. You almost never hear about the fact he reached a deal with Democrats on Social Security,” Bunch said. “He signed off on some sort of tax increase every year of his presidency after 1982, including one that was at the time the largest tax increase in American history to undo the fact that the ’81 tax cut went too far.”

Oh, boy. A Republican who works with democrats to raise taxes… Is there a RINO hunt forming?

Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist and CNN.com contributor, recently wrote that it wasn’t only his ability to compromise to get a deal with Congress, but “but he never gave up on the things he truly believed in,” including his economic philosophies. Rollins, it should be noted, served in Reagan’s administration and managed both of his presidential campaigns.

Ah – so it seems President Reagan realized compromise isn’t the same as a concession. Perhaps he understood the importance of consensus. But it is more than a little ironic for some in the new right-wing purity patrol to praise a politician they would sadly slap on the sacrificial alter were he seeking office today. Of course, I still view Reagan as a hero, a role model and an example of an ultimate conservative (as he should be!), but then my view of him isn’t being distorted by those with an agenda, either left or right, to use the man as something he wasn’t. For those who do want to recapture the glory of the Reagan years, they should start by reminding themselves of just who, exactly, President Reagan was.

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