Pandering to Ronald Reagan at the Republican Debate

Whining and ‘œhe said/he said’ accusations dominated the Republican debate Wednesday at the Reagan Library. But there was nothing so embarrassing as the pandering at the end when Anderson Cooper asked, ‘œWould Ronald Reagan support your candidacy and why?’ It looked like a parody of a Miss America world peace question, for God’™s sake!

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The Republicans ought to dig up Ronald Reagan’™s body and put it up in the Reagan Library in side some kind of crystal sarcophagus or something. OK, It was Anderson Cooper who asked the question, but even holding a debate at a place like the Reagan Library seems to prevent real debate. Last night we got a bunch of fireworks at the beginning of the Republican debate. McCain was smug while distorting Romney’™s record, and Romney was whiney and petulent in return. Neither looked Presidential to my view, and Ron Paul looked like Mortimer Snerd (look it up, for those without the cultural history).

The responses to the last question of the debate were telling about these candidates, so I’™m going to go over them carefully. Here’™s the question, from the trascript at CNN:

COOPER: We only have about four minutes left. And this is a time restriction that all the campaigns put on us. We would be happy to have this debate go on all night long, but I know everyone has a lot ahead and a lot on their plates.

So this is a question that will go to each of you. Each of you has about a minute to answer.

We’™ll start with Governor Romney.

Would, and if so, why ‘” why would Ronald Reagan endorse you? Would Ronald Reagan endorse you? And if so, why?

I know how I’™d answer this, I suppose, if I was a fervent admirer of Ronald Reagan, or just pretending to be a fervent admirer of Ronald Reagan. I’™d talk about not one single issue, but about independence and change, how Reagan promoted those things while he served int he White House, and how independence and change will best serve Americans now. I would focus on ideas after a debate that got bogged down in the minutiae of he said/he said between Romney and McCain. As it turns out, nobody took that tack, and Huckabee answered the question even better than I would.

Romney decided to pander, pretending to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan:

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Ronald Reagan would look at the issues that are being debated right here and say, one, we’™re going to win in Iraq, and I’™m not going to walk out of Iraq until we win in Iraq.

Ronald Reagan would say lower taxes. Ronald Reagan would say lower spending.

Ronald Reagan would ‘” is pro-life. He would also say I want to have an amendment to protect marriage.

Ronald Reagan would say, as I do, that Washington is broken. And like Ronald Reagan, I’™d go to Washington as an outsider ‘” not owing favors, not lobbyists on every elbow. I would be able to be the independent outsider that Ronald Reagan was, and he brought change to Washington.

Ronald Reagan would say, yes, let’™s drill in ANWR. Ronald Reagan would say, no way are we going to have amnesty again. Ronald Reagan saw it, it didn’™t work. Let’™s not do it again.

Ronald Reagan would say no to a 50-cent-per-gallon charge on Americans for energy that the rest of the world doesn’™t have to pay.

Ronald Reagan would have said absolutely no way to McCain- Feingold.

I would be with Ronald Reagan. And this party, it has a choice, what the heart and soul of this party is going to be, and it’™s going to have to be in the house that Ronald Reagan built.

Romney hit every hot button for Republicans he could, and then averred that Ronald Reagan would support them. Simply put, Ronald Reagan would not support the extremist position on immigration, not when he proposed and strongly backed the first amnesty. He’™s the one who said to ‘œTear down this wall,’ and it is far fatched that he would support building one of his own. Reagan would also not back an amendment against gay citizens of this country. Though Reagan was not a friend of gay and lesbian causes, he was a friend to many gay citizens. You all can go through the fact-checking even further. Romney’™s strategy was to get out his laundry list of issues he thinks will sway today’™s Republicans and then plug in the Reagan name wherever it suited grammatically. Shameless pandering, and it started an avalanche of shameless pandering.

Here’™s McCain, who continues the pandering only after taking a smug swipe at Romney:

MCCAIN: Ronald Reagan would not approve of someone who changes their positions depending on what the year is.

Ronald Reagan ‘” Ronald Reagan came with an unshakable set of principles, and there were many times, like when he had to deploy the (INAUDIBLE) cruise missile to Europe and there were hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against it, he stood with it. Ronald Reagan had a deal in Reykjavik that everybody wanted him to take, but he stuck with his principles.

I think he knows that I stick with my principles. I put my political career on the line because I knew what would happen if we failed in Iraq.

I hope that the experience I had serving as a foot soldier in his revolution would make him proud for me to continue that legacy of sticking to principle and doing what you believe in, no matter what.

OK, there’™s more ideas in McCain’™s answer, of sticking to principles and doing the supposed right thing regardless of how many mount strong arguments against, but still, this is pandering, with McCain claiming to be a ‘œfoot soldier’ in the Reagan Revolution. Man, he makes the Reagan Revolution seem like the Long March with Mao or something. Again, I was not impressed.

Ron Paul as one might expect, tried to make Reagan out to be in favor of whack job ideas:

PAUL: I supported Ronald Reagan in 1976, and there were only four members of Congress that did. And also in 1980. Ronald Reagan came and campaigned for me in 1978.

I’™m not sure exactly what he would do right now, but I do know that he was very sympathetic to the gold standard, and he told me personally that no great nation that went off the gold standard ever remained great. And he was very, very serious about that.

So he had a sound understanding about monetary policy. And for that reason, I would say look to Ronald Reagan’™s ideas on money because he, too, was concerned about runaway inflation and what it does to a country when you ruin the currency. And that’™s what’™s happening today. The dollar is going down and our country is going to be on the ropes if we don’™t reverse that trend.

The Gold Standard? Give me a freaking break! Sure, Paul was clear to say that he didn’™t presume to know Reagan’™s mind, and given that Reagan is actually dead, few people would know it, and Paul was also clear in noting that he had a close connection with Reagan. But to focus on the Gold Standard? The guy wants us to think he’™s a John Bircher, doesn’™t he?

Huckabee was smart. He saw the mistakes of his rivals and decided to take the humble route. I think that played better than the answers of any of the others.

HUCKABEE: I think it would be incredibly presumptuous and even arrogant for me to try to suggest what Ronald Reagan would do, that he would endorse any of us against the others.

Let me just say this, I’™m not going to pretend he would endorse me. I wish he would. I would love that, but I endorse him, and I’™m going to tell you why.

It wasn’™t just his specific policies, but Ronald Reagan was something more than just a policy wonk. He was a man who loved this country, and he inspired this country to believe in itself again.

What made Ronald Reagan a great president was not just the intricacies of his policies, though they were good policies. It was that he loved America and saw it as a good nation and a great nation because of the greatness of its people.

And if we can recapture that, that’™s when we recapture the Reagan spirit. It’™s that spirit that has a can-do attitude about America’™s futures and that makes us love our country whether we’™re Democrats or Republicans. And that’™s what I believe Ronald Reagan did ‘” he brought this country back together and made us believe in ourselves.

And whether he believes in us, I hope we still believe in those things which made him a great leader and a great American.

(APPLAUSE)

Still, there’™s a bit of hubris going on here, too. Just replace the words ‘œRonald Reagan’ in that first sentence with ‘œGod’ and it the sentence sounds like just the kind of formulation one would make about not claiming the imprimatur of God. Yeah, that would be presumptuous, and it would surely be presumptuous to claim the backing of Reagan, but it’™s not like the two are equal, is it?

All in all I think it was a horrible idea to presnt the debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, as it brought the whining and pandering to a crescendo, but I suppose that’™s all right. It lets us see that all the Republicans are about is pandering, and it lets us see that pandering in all its naked glory. Unfortunately, my suspicion is that Republican voters aren’™t so sophisticated as to recognize that fact.

Thursday, January 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

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