Reagan worship gone awry

REAGAN WORSHIP GONE AWRY…. This month has been more all-Reagan, all-the-time than the norm for Republicans. It started with a debate over whether Reagan should be the template for GOP rebranding. It continued with Michael Steele’s pitch that the GOP must be “forward looking … [and] take a lesson from Ronald Reagan.”

And as the month wraps up, we’re treated to a 4,000-word cover story in the Weekly Standard: “Reagan in Opposition: The lessons of 1977,” by Noemie Emerie.

I suppose Emerie’s point is obvious — in 1977, Republicans were struggling as a small minority party, as is the case in 2009. What should the GOP do to get back on track in the future? Ponder the “lessons” offered by Reagan 32 years ago, of course. Mori Dinauer jokes, “Reading the piece, I think the main lesson is, ‘Reagan was effing awesome.'”

And while that’s no doubt the purpose of the exercise, Emerie’s article doesn’t exactly offer modern Republican leaders a road map. According to the piece, Reagan, for example, spent much of 1977 emphasizing a hawkish approach to the Soviet Union. In 2009, there is no Cold War. In 1977, Reagan also encouraged the party to work in concert with the fledgling religious right movement. However, the religious right is no longer fledgling, it’s already part of the GOP coalition, and isn’t much of a movement anymore.

The piece concludes:

He understood that the Republican party has no obligation to present the conservative movement with a nominee to its liking, but that the conservative movement has the obligation to lay out its case in so convincing a manner that it persuades most Republicans, most independents, and even some Democrats to follow its banner. This is what Reagan did while in opposition. It is what conservatives could start doing right now.

Oh, is that all? If conservatives present an agenda/worldview that resonates with Republicans, independents, and Democrats, they’ll win national elections? You don’t say.

The article never quite gets around to explaining why Reagan’s efforts in 1977 have any relevance at all today, but I suppose it has a certain prima facie quality among the Weekly Standard‘s readers: Reagan did it then, so we should do it now. To reference Reagan is to be self-evidently correct — no explanation necessary.

A few weeks ago, Jon Chait explained that the conservatives’ approach too often consists of “latching onto an old president, glossing over the reality of his record, and trying to recreate all of his actions whether or not they have any bearing upon the circumstances of the present day…. The ‘philosophical content’ of Reagan-worship is a cult-like process for circumscribing original thought.”

And it shows no signs of letting up.