Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What is a "Reagan Conservative?"

Ronald Reagan became President at a time when the US had become accustomed to being a second rate power and had found itself well on its path towards socialism. The media hated the man and dismissed him as an intellectual lightweight, a “Neanderthal” in his foreign policy, and “Draconian” in his policies toward the poor. In spite of this, he was one of the most popular Presidents in US history. He loved freedom and conveyed optimism at a time most Americans were suffering from government created malaise.

The Wall Street Journal and other surveys rank Reagan as high as number 6 on the list of great Presidents; the only people that beat him in the surveys are individuals who died many years before those polled were even born. This would be people like George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt. It is hard to beat “legends.” Even professional historians in academia rank Reagan as high as ten in surveys, according to MSNBC.

Reagan's greatness is measured by the "copy cat factor" seen in politicians today. The old saying that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" could not be truer then what we see in regards to Reagan. Politicians of all stripes -- conservatives, liberals, and many who are in between -- have described their policies as being "Reganesque." I think that Reagan would find many of the comparisons quite shocking, if he were with us today.

So what does it mean to have an approach to governing like Reagan? I actually believe the Reagan model is easy to understand, but quite difficult to practice. Reagan was really simple in his view of the world. There was "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong," he left the grey areas to the pragmatists or those who lacked the backbone or principle to take a definitive stand. His strong positions made him an attractive leader to a people who had been washed "back and forth" by the liberal policies that came before. He is hard to copy because his approach to governing required integrity in word and deed.

A sample of that simplicity and one of the hallmarks of Reagan's policies was his "three legged stool." Reagan's policies were built on three ideas; free enterprise, limited government, and pro-family social policies. He chose these three because they, of course, reflected his own values, but he also realized that each of these ideas have enormous appeal on their own. I was attracted to the conservative philosophy as a young Christian and noticed that Reagan's philosophy was very strong when it came to traditional family values. Over the last few decades, economics have become my passion and expertise, but it started with a concern in culture (and this remains important to me).

The approach is simple, yet profound. Reagan believed that there are huge sectors of the population that would be attracted to a strong message of free market economics, regardless of where one stood on other issues. The other issues (defense or culture) were not nearly as important to this block, but these voters would not be deterred by the other areas as long as a candidate was very strong on economic policies. Reagan rightly believed that this would be the case when it comes to other legs of the stool, as long as he was very strong and clear on his positions. While "big tent" Republicans argued that Reagan should have "lightened up" when it came to the strong positions he took, voters came to him in larger numbers as he took stronger stands on the issues of the day.

"Reagan conservatives" are the complete package. They recognize that consistency and strength are hallmarks in leadership. They understand that a stool stands on three legs and falls with fewer than that. The less shy conservatives are when it comes to policy issues, the more success they will likely enjoy.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is also host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN radio). Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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