Ask a Wingnut, cont’d

ASK A WINGNUT, CONT’D…. Salon‘s “Ask a Wingnut” feature continues to be interesting. The idea is, reasonable people pose a substantive question to a former Bush administration official, and the “wingnut,” using the pseudonym “Glenallen Walken,” offers a sincere conservative answer.

A month ago, “Walken” tackled why Republicans are hostile to science, with an argument that wasn’t exactly persuasive. Today, he/she is asked to explain when the right might “finally … move on” from Reagan worship. The response: “[T]he answer, hopefully, is never.”

…Reagan was, to borrow a phrase from Lady Margaret Thatcher, “a conviction politician.” He operated out of a set of deeply held beliefs that governed his view of the world, of morality and the presidency. Unlike Nixon or Clinton, Reagan’s concerns about public opinion were addressed in the way he dealt with issues and crises, not whether he dealt with them at all.

Ronald Reagan came into office in 1980 promising to do three things: 1) Restore America’s national pride; 2) Revive an economy crippled by stagflation; and 3) Win the Cold War. He did all three even though, thanks to Tip O’Neill and friends, he had one hand held behind his back. At the same time he cruised to re-election in 1984 with the largest Electoral College majority in history, winning 49 states while losing only the District of Columbia and, by 7,000 votes, his Democratic opponent’s home state of Minnesota. That is a feat that may never be matched.

“Walken” briefly alluded to the Iran-Contra scandal, but justified it by arguing that Clinton had “illicit sex” with a White House intern. (Seriously, that’s the argument.)

Now, I’ve been writing a bit about Reagan lately, in large part because Republicans’ hagiographic worship seems to be uncontrollable in the midst of the party’s leadership vacuum. It’s tempting to delve into “Walken’s” argument in great detail, but the truth is, the estimable Will Bunch already wrote a terrific book on this subject recently, and it’s a definitive look at the subject.

That said, let’s quickly highlight the flaws in the argument presented by Salon‘s resident wingnut. Reagan was a “conviction politician”? Perhaps, but like every politician, he also compromised on those convictions when he thought it was wise. (He raised taxes and negotiated with the Evil Empire, for example, despite his convictions.)

Reagan won in a massive landslide in 1984? True, but so did Nixon and LBJ. What difference does that make? The United States has changed considerably over the last quarter-century. The question was when the right might finally move on from Reagan worship. Pointing to the ’84 results isn’t really an answer.

“Walken” did offer three specific points to prove Reagan’s greatness, though it’s awfully convenient that Reagan’s admirers get to choose the former president’s key goals after the fact. Nevertheless, the points themselves come up short. Reagan “restored America’s national pride”? That’s a pretty vague and subjective standard for presidential success. Americans were proud of their country before Reagan, and were still proud after he’d gone. As for whether Reagan won the Cold War, that’s a very debatable point, and you can probably guess where I come down on the issue.

And when it comes to Reagan and the economy, as luck would have it, a certain Nobel laureate had a compelling column on the subject this morning.