Today, some in the sanctified precincts of the media pine for the halcyon days when Ronald Reagan defined the GOP. (They leave out that when that great and good man was president, they fought tool and nail to discredit the man and derail his initiatives.)
Now, they’re practically tearing their hair out to show just how extreme are those folks running against the GOP establishment. What these balding pundits longing for the Gipper fail to mention is that the Tea Party folk are mustering some of the same arguments Reagan did when he first embarked upon his political career. Take a listen to the speech he gave on behalf of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and you’ll find it sounds a lot like a Tea Party manifesto.
He too was concerned about the growth of the federal government and its emerging intrusion into every aspect of our lives.
“If you analyze it,” he said in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” He too (even back then) believed government had grown too big for its proverbial britches.
But, there’s something else the Gipper has in common with the Tea Party. He began his own foray into electoral politics by running against the GOP establishment. in the 1966 GOP gubernatorial primary, he faced George Christopher, a former mayor of San Francisco, who leveled some of the same charges against the Gipper as are hurled at Tea Party-backed candidates today. Reagan writes that the last Republican to helm the City by the Bay
. . . tried simultaneously to portray me as a right-wing extremist and attack me because I’d admitted having been in Communist front groups – without mentioning that I’d resigned and declared war on them as soon as I’d realized what they were.
The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.
(The way the criticized the Gipper for being a Communist kind of sounds like some folks today condemning another candidate for her past communion with covens.) During his rise, Ronald Reagan was never the establishment candidate. In the end, he brought the GOP establishment, at least on paper, around to his way of thinking.
Now, as talking heads roar their plaintive roars and gnash their tired teeth about the dire implications of the Tea Party’s growing influence, they should take a deep breath and study a bit of American history. They might see this grassroots movement as having a truly conservative function, returning the Republican Party to the ideals — and attitude — of its greatest leader of the last century: Ronald Wilson Reagan.