Thursday 17 December 2015

Was Ronald Reagan a Conservative?

Ronald Reagan was a movie actor, Governor of California and most famously the 40th President of the United States. His policies helped end the Soviet Union and the Cold War, historically he is a very important man. But my question is, was he a Conservative?

The short answer is no.

But you probably want the long answer.

When Ronald Reagan was an actor he was a Liberal, very Liberal. He supported many of the fashionable Leftist causes of the 1930's. He supported the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, he supported civil rights, he was a stock standard Liberal. Although he was very Patriotic, in 1937 he became a Reserve Army Officer and served during WWII, first in the Cavalry and from May 1942 in the Army Air Force. He never served overseas due to his poor eyesight, instead he made movies, mostly training films for the Armed Forces.  

Between 1941 and 1959 he was the President of the Screen Actors Guild 7 times, the only US President to have be a member of a Union. It was during this time that he started to become more conservative or maybe as many Liberals complained they didn't change but their party did. In fact he often said "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. They left me."Certainly during this time the Democratic Party was changing. But three things drove Ronald Reagan from being a Democrat to becoming a Republican.

The first was a strike in the late 1940's when he saw violence on the picket lines and Communist organisers organising it. He may have been Liberal but he was never a Communist or a fellow traveler.

The second was the huge tax bill's that he paid during the 1950's. The 1950's were a time of large Government expenditure and unlike today were we have large Government expenditure and low tax and high debt, back then it was paid for by tax. As much as 90% income tax, which meant that he sometimes didn't work because he didn't make enough money. It showed him that Socialism didn't work and turned him against high taxes.

The third was his becoming the spokesmen for General Electric, in the 1950's Businessmen were much more Conservative than now. They believed in free enterprise, they were patriotic and they were socially Conservative. As he spent more time with General Electric he came to see that they shared much more in common than he had first thought. It was his involvement with General Electric that lead to his political career.

In 1964 he support Barry Goldwater, another Conservative who was always a Classical Liberal, for the Presidency. His campaigning for Mr. Goldwater saw him recruited to be the Republican candidate for Governor of California. In 1966 he won the election, he supported the death penalty, but only used it once as there were legal problems with the California Supreme Court. He was very anti-Hippy and he was against the welfare state. I should also add that he was very much in favour of the war in Vietnam, unlike most who started by supporting the war and turned against it, he never changed his mind in private or in public.

However he also legalised abortion and no fault divorce. In fact he was the first Governor to do either. He later said that he regretted making abortion legal and that he was inexperienced as a Governor when he signed it into law, if he had been given the law later on in his career he wouldn't have signed it.

He also let his personal feelings get in the way by passing into law No Fault Divorce. He is the only President to have ever been divorced. Before No Fault Divorce you had to prove to a Judge that there was a valid reason for the divorce and he found it humiliating. So he thought it would be better if you did not need to show a reason in court. He also came to regret this decision.

In 1980, on his third attempt he became the Republican nominee for President of the United States and of course he won. He was very good on Foreign policy, mostly. He stood up to the Soviets, he built up America defence, he invaded Grenada and stopped it from becoming a smaller Cuba. He set out to win the Cold War, something every other President had decided was too dangerous, and he did.

On the flip side his policy in Lebanon resulted in the US Marines seeing their worst single day since Iwo Jima in WWII. It was so bad it was really a non-policy. He allowed Pakistan too much room and we are still paying for that today. It wasn't the US who armed the Islamist's in Afghanistan but Pakistan, with Americas money.

On the economic front his policies defeated inflation, the great destroyer of wealth and living standards. In the 1970's it seemed unbeatable, so his achievement was great.

However he also supported Free Trade and trade liberalization, he supported Wall Street over Main Street and he never balanced a budget. He left America with a massive debt.

Now in time of war it is acceptable for a Government to get into debt, even massive debt. The Cold War was a war and President Reagan used debt as a weapon to help defeat Communism. He believed, correctly, that the Soviet Union as a country that had a Socialist economy simply could not find the money to build up it's military, particularly in technology. He outspent the Soviets and bankrupted them. It was a brilliant strategy, to use money to destroy Communism. And if during the past 25 years the US Government had paid off that debt, America would be unbeatable, however it has gone into ever greater amounts of debt.

But his greatest mistake as President was the Immigration Amnesty of 1986, or to give it it's proper name the Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986. The idea was that an amnesty would be signed to make illegal Immigrants legal and in return to make Congress enforce the law more vigorously. The Act did legalise the illegal Immigrants, but it did not lead to more vigorous enforcement of the law. It was a total victory for the left. After he left office President Reagan said it had been a mistake and he regretted it. But how could he not know that rewarding illegal activity is wrong? He not only rewarded it but he praised it to the skies when he signed it into law at Ellis Island.

Now lets get back to whether President Reagan was a Conservative, here are the five criteria for a Conservative:

1. Socially Conservative

2. Fiscally Conservative

3. Economically Conservative

4. Loyal to your own People

5. Loyal to your own Heritage

Now lets look at each.

He legalised Abortion and No Fault Divorce, Socially Conservative, No!

He got America into massive debt and he never balanced a budget, or even tried too, Fiscally Conservative, No!

He saw Wall Street replace Main Street, the financial economy replace the real economy and he approved of it. He supported trade liberalization over American manufacturing, Economically Conservative, No!

He granted Amnesty and rewarded illegal activity and America has paid a massive price for that. He did nothing to stop legal Immigration. Was he loyal to his own People, No!.

Was he loyal to his own Heritage, Yes!

No Conservative could ever support No Fault Divorce or Abortion on demand, there may be arguments for either in limited circumstances but never as a right. These are Liberal ideas and he made them law, Ronald Reagan was a Classical Liberal, not a Conservative, but as the modern meaning of Conservative seems to mean "not a Socialist"", he was called a Conservative and even believed he was one. But he was not and we should not keep calling him one.

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  1. His policies helped end the Soviet Union and the Cold War

    It could be argued, and indeed it has been argued, that the fall of the Soviet Union was almost entirely (if not entirely) Gorbachev's doing. The Soviet Union would have survived had they had a leader with even a modicum of common sense and judgment.

    Of course I'm not arguing that the survival of the Soviet Union would have been a good thing. The point is that Reagan can't even take credit for ending the Soviet Union. And now we have a new Cold War - with the Russians!

    1. Mr. Doom

      How was Mr. Gorbachev going to stop the Soviet Union from going bankrupt?

      The Soviet Union had a limited lifespan, it could never provide the long term wealth creation that a state requires to survive. So it did not survive. President Reagan used that weakness to push the Soviet Union to the edge. How Mr. Gorbachev or any other Soviet leader was going to create enough wealth to stop that from happening I just do not know.

      Mark Moncrieff

    2. The argument comes from English historian Mark Almond's chapter in Virtual History (edited by Niall Ferguson). Almond argues that it was glasnost and perestroika that destroyed the Soviet economy.

    3. The USSR spend the 1980s locked in the "brushfire" wars, for no obvious gain, and it grew increasingly hostile to the rest of the Communist Bloc. A better leader would have sought rapprochement with China, avoided the wars, and spent money on the welfare state instead of the military. Allegedly the USSR spent 25% of GDP on it, and believed SDI was real, even though the KGB said it wasn't.

      The PRC has survived, at the cost of introducing the free markets. Perhaps it was possible to introduce political liberalization but maintain a command economy instead.

  2. I agree with you on Reagan. A disastrous president although he meant well. I am always afraid of people who mean well.

    Reagan is a perfect illustration of the uselessness of terms like conservative - they simply don't have any real meaning any more. I'd be interested to hear your views on Bush the Younger, another president who rallied the Republican faithful by posing as a conservative.

    1. Mr. Doom

      I do not agree that he was disastrous, but he was no Conservative. He did good things but he also did bad things. Rarely did he do Conservative things.

      As for President Bush the younger, I probably won't do a post on him as he is not regarded as a Conservative icon. At best people think of him as Conservative lite.

      Mark Moncrieff

    2. How about Eisenhower? I used to admire Eisenhower until I found out how he destroyed Senator Joe McCarthy. And of course we now know that the only mistake McCarthy made was that he underestimated the extent of communist infiltration of the US government.

  3. Reagan was sympathetic to open borders. This excerpt from his farewell speech is memorable, but it is clearly aligned with a right-liberal "man in the market" view:

    "I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still..."

    1. Reagan was also the first major American politician to call for a merger with Canada and Mexico. His iconic status on the US right leads many to ignore this.

  4. Reagan once said: "Every immigrant makes America more American."