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Confessions of a Reagan Republican

December 12th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments


This may come as a surprise to some but I was once a staunch Republican. I became particularly supportive of the Republican Party during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. This was partially because I was in the military when Reagan was elected, and the military tends to be more conservative. Also, I served from the Nixon Administration through the Carter years, when the military got almost no support, and Reagan was pro-military, so we loved him for that.

Ideologically, I supported the Republican Party because I believed in the ideal of advancement by personal achievement, individual self-support, an almost religious devotion to the ideal of liberty and the US role in defending and advancing it, equal opportunity, and equality before the law. One of the forgotten incidents of Reagan’s Presidency was when he learned that a black family had moved into a white neighborhood in Maryland and were being harassed, he landed his helicopter on the family’s front lawn and personally welcomed them to the neighborhood. I also remember how he demonstrated his vision of the nation by recalling an incident in which a Southeast Asian refugee wanted to board an American naval vessel calling out, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.” He was a master at symbolism, and those he used represented the highest ideals of the nation. He was also instrumental in deregulation on the principle that the government shouldn’t interfere with private businesses. I supported the principle, but didn’t know very much about either economics or history, and could not have imagined where his policies would eventually lead us.

Well Reagan was elected 35 years ago and I know I have changed. I got out of the military, earned five degrees (a BS, a BA, an MA, an MDiv, and a PhD) and finally settled into comfortable semi-retirement as a part time history professor and full time beach bum. I am much more concerned today about issues of social justice than I was then. I can see that there are ways in which government can and should stand for inclusion and public support. In the last presidential election, I switched party from Republican to Democrat, even though there are many policy positions of the Democratic Party I disagree with, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t vote for a Democratic President if the candidate had the last name Clinton.

But the Republican Party has changed more than I have. Can you imagine any of today’s candidates doing what Reagan did? Reagan was able to work with a Congress controlled by the opposition, the current Republican Congress has made obstruction and refusing to work with the President a standing policy. Reagan spoke about the United States as the land of freedom and opportunity for everyone. Today’s Republicans are the party of fear and exclusion. Reagan rebuilt the US military to oppose and defeat totalitarianism. Today’s Republicans want to squander the lives of American soldiers as a means of padding their pocketbooks, and ironically applaud the actions of the kind of thugs and gangsters Reagan courageously spoke and acted against. (Did you notice that Putin and El Chapo are now darlings of the right wing?) Reagan used the power of the federal government to denounce racism. Today’s Republicans use racism as a tool for political advancement. And all of this leaves aside the destruction of the middle class that is being abetted by a Republican Party bought and paid for by Wall Street. I think Reagan probably had a hand in that at the beginning with deregulation, but I wonder how he would feel about where it has led us today?

So I will admit that I have moved far to the left. I’m actually proud to say that the man I support for President calls himself a socialist. But I think the Republican Party has moved so far to the right it has fallen off the edge. I wonder if it will find its way back, or if the country will go off the edge with it?

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