After the Marine barracks’ bombing in Beirut in 1983, President Reagan decided the smart course of action was running away. It’s not exactly in line with contemporary GOP standards, but the party has changed quite a bit over the last couple of decades.

With this in mind, it was pretty amusing to see Jeffrey Goldberg chat with Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty this week, shortly before the former governor spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations about his vision on the Middle East.

I asked Pawlenty if he thought Reagan’s decision to withdraw from Lebanon was wrong. He went silent.

“Am I putting you in the uniquely uncomfortable position of criticizing Ronald Reagan?” I asked.

“I guess I would go back and say that my view, without referencing a particular president, is that once the United States commits to a mission, it’s really important that we prevail. Because when you don’t, it diminishes the respect and credibility and awe that other people view the United States with. And our goal here is to avoid as many future conflicts as possible by having our relative position be so strong and so unquestioned and so certain that nobody dare challenge us.”

Pawlenty just can’t bring himself to disagree with Reagan in public, even when he thinks Reagan is wrong. It’s the line Republicans simply can’t cross, reason be damned.

I realize GOP adulation for the 40th president has reached religious levels of reverence — when the RNC called him Ronaldus Magnus, the party wasn’t going for ironic humor — but it’s hard not to notice that there is no Democratic equivalence.

There are all kinds of Democratic presidents party officials and activists hold in the highest regard, but even in a Democratic presidential primary, the notion that a candidate would bite his or her tongue rather than express mild disagreement with FDR or JFK is silly.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.