Reagan Made Me a Democrat

In 1980, when I was in college, I had no enthusiasm for Jimmy Carter. I didn’t have a political party preference, but I held some conservative views and was interested to see who the Republican nominee for president would be. The contest was between George Bush, the moderate with the foreign policy and national security credentials, and Ronald Reagan, conservative critic of big government.

To me, the salient dispute between the two was in fiscal policy. Reagan touted a theory of Arthur Laffer that tax rates were too high, and that lowering them would actually increase revenue. George Bush called that “voodoo economics”. I thought Bush had that right.

The Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan. I didn’t vote for him or for Carter. I voted for John Anderson, largely because I believed him to be a credible fiscal conservative. Reagan won, and he brought the voodoo, all right. After Reagan’s ridiculous huge tax cuts, the deficit grew, despite some remedial tax hikes later on in Reagan’s tenure. By 1982 I believed that the party label meant more than a candidate’s individual character or political pitch, and I was pretty much in the Democratic camp. In 1984 Mondale was my man and so would any other Democrat have been. I have been Democratic all the way since then.

I still have my conservative leanings that comfortably coexist with my liberal ones. Sometimes I’m dismayed with the Democratic Party, but I despise Republicans, on the national level at least.

Republicans in Washington have refused to support any tax increase in the face of huge deficits, while promoting more military spending than ever, against small enemies we keep creating for ourselves, and making no meaningful reduction in federal spending despite many years in control of both the White House and the Capitol. There’s nothing for me to like there.

When Republicans impeached a president for the alleged high crime of lying to a special prosecutor about his sexual relations with a White House staffer, I vowed never to vote for a Republican for Congress until every last impeachment supporter in the Republican caucus was gone from Congress. They weren’t upholding principles of morality or personal integrity, they were cynically magnifying the scandal in an enormous abuse of their own constitutional power.

I have to sigh and consider the millions of my fellow Americans who still have an affinity for this Republican Party. I suppose, if you want a government in Washington that safeguards individual wealth and gives free rein to diverse powers in business, media, and religion, especially catering to the viewpoint of white English-speaking socially conservative Christians, then the Republican Party seems to be tailor-made for you. They can start wars with disastrous results, but they make it feel righteous. They can preside over economic slumps, but they always have arguments, suitable for endless repetition, about how the liberals are to blame.

But where’s the balance? My fellow white cultural champions (yes, I am one), don’t you even want to be able to look at Americans who have darker skin or strange accents or religions, or who don’t conform to your idea of normal sexual boundaries, and say, “I want this country to work for you, too”? Do you not believe there exist any facts that do not support the view of the world that you are comfortable with? Do you seriously believe that your interests aren’t protected and advanced by our present governmental and financial system, the one you seem eager to see blasted to pieces, or drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub?

How much not-Republican am I? They’ve left Reagan’s style of leadership far behind, and are pursuing a purified and radical realization of his rhetoric. And I am not some old broad-minded Reaganite who thinks we just need to add some wisdom back to the Reagan philosophy. Reaganism is at the root of the problem, and I knew it when I first saw it.

In 1980, Reagan was unrealistic and too far off to the right for me, although he could voice a conservative ideology that had some appeal. Now the Republicans—well, they are so far right they’ve left America, you might say.

Update, 24 July: Fixed my spelling of “rein”.


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