TLP: Could Ronald Reagan, That Ronald Reagan, Win Tea Party Votes?
Part of the Tea Party's appeal to its followers is the rhetoric that says things are massively fucked up and would be so much better if we could only get rid of that socialist Obama and the Democratic Congress. Misty-eyed recollections of Ronald Reagan are not uncommon amid the borderline nutjobbery.
But misty eyes don't always see clearly. At least, that's the take from CNN contributor John P. Avalon, who uses a Reagan campaign speech for Barry Goldwater to both cite Reagan's influence on the Tea Party and offer a reality check on the idol worship.
The nationally televised address, known as "A Time for Choosing," is a classic — smart, funny and still so resonant that the rhetoric Reagan used more than 50 years ago echoes in Tea Party protests today.Those questions? Avalon asks how the Tea Party can be so nostalgic for a time at which Reagan said, "freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment." Why didn't Reagan address civil rights, a dominant issue at the time (and one that this year burned Tea Party fave Rand Paul)? And where did the Reaganesque civility go?
Reagan tried to raise the stakes of the election with a vision of apocalyptic ideological conflict, pitting heroic defenders of the Founding Fathers' vision against big-state bureaucrats, willfully wasting taxpayer dollars on counterproductive do-gooder programs that are dragging America toward socialism.
Consistent with the Tea Party's self-image, it was primarily an economic speech, advancing a small-government libertarian economic philosophy, making statistics come alive with talk of fallen empires and American history, arguments aided by the added urgency of global conflict with communism. There is the specter of growing government power eclipsing the Constitution, the perverse incentives of the welfare state as an insult to hardworking individuals, all culminating in a citizens' resistance against elite liberals ruling by fiat from Washington.
It is compelling stuff, with the pitch-perfect delivery of a trained actor finally getting to recite his own lines. Speakers echo its themes from stages today almost like a tribute band. But, of course, times have changed a lot since 1964 — and so some questions arise.
Reagan never attacks then-President Lyndon Johnson by name, and he is even careful to use the phrase "our liberal friends" when slapping the domestic left. He does not question their patriotism or call them communists — after all, the Cold War was still on, and that insult seemed more idiotic and offensive than it does now.Goldwater, of course, lost and it was another dozen years before Reagan ran for president, unsuccessfully, before winning the next time around. It's also true that American voters did elect Obama and the Democratic Congress two years ago. But politics is always about what's ahead. Even when you're looking back.
There is a final irony — the Reagan who was elected governor of California in 1966 and ran for president in 1980 would have a hard time getting the GOP nomination today. The self-appointed sentinels of conservatism would have taken issue with the fact that as governor, Reagan raised taxes by a billion dollars to close a budget gap and increased the size of the state workforce by 50,000. He also raised taxes as president.