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Sunday, April 01, 2007
A fascinating flashback
Republicans who are down in the dumps about their president, who appears to have drifted as far from what they thought he was (a second Reagan) as he possibly could, should think back to what their kind actually felt about Reagan at about this same point in his presidency. Just stumbled on this fascinating article from TIME Magazine, dateline September 14, 1987 -- just about a year before the 1988 election:

No Right-On for Reagan
Monday, Sep. 14, 1987

If anyone can mollify hard-line conservatives, it should be their idol, Ronald Reagan. That is what Chief of Staff Howard Baker thought when a handful of right-wingers who had been invited to the White House began leveling accusations that the Administration was selling out the contras in Nicaragua. Baker had arranged for the President to drop by and explain in person that his tentative backing for a Central American peace plan implied no lessening of U.S. support for the Nicaraguan rebels. But this time his remarks were greeted only with cold silence; visibly irritated, Reagan shrugged and walked away. Said Burton Pines, vice president of the Heritage Foundation and one of the visitors: "People who have been around the President say that was probably the most chilling reception he had ever had from his supporters."

It was certainly not the first time Reagan had disappointed his bedrock constituency. Throughout his presidency, staunch conservatives have sporadically complained that Reagan in action has never matched the ideological oratory that so thrills them on the stump. But as the silent tableau in the Roosevelt Room indicated, their dissatisfaction is plumbing new depths, which could make trouble not only for Reagan but also for the Republican aspirants to succeed him.

In the past, some of the conservatives' loudest complaints have focused on Reagan's failure to push hard on such social issues as abortion and school prayer. The President's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court has stilled some, but not all, of the gripes about domestic policy; conservatives now grumble that Reagan is abandoning his "economic bill of rights" and promoting a leftish, catastrophic health-insurance scheme. But, says Paul Weyrich, head of the conservative group called the Free Congress Foundation, "the real feelings are on foreign policy issues." [Emphasis added]

To moderates, Reagan's tentative endorsement of the peace plan signed in August by five Central American Presidents may have seemed grudging and tepid. But to the right it sounded like the crack of doom for any effort to save Nicaragua from Communism. Some conservatives are also aghast at what they view as the Administration's headlong rush into a missile treaty with the Soviets, and in particular by its retreat from strict verification demands. Says Patrick Buchanan, once Reagan's communications director: "We are better off with 574 missiles that can land on the Soviet Union than we are with a damn treaty."

The right still cannot bring itself to criticize Reagan directly. Conservatives will not accept the thought that the President, running for his place in the history books, is no longer absolutely wedded to their ideological agenda. Instead, they complain that the Administration more than ever is filled with mushy compromisers who will not let Reagan be Reagan. There is also suspicion about creeping "Nancyism," the First Lady's supposed efforts to have her husband become known as a peacemaker. ...

... The deepest reason for the ultra-conservatives' dismay may be a fear that time is running out. With only 17 months of his term remaining, Reagan in their eyes has yet to effect any permanent change in the nation's direction; Weyrich expresses a worry that "almost everything that President Reagan has accomplished can be swiftly undone by a single session of a heavily Democratic Congress." Even if a Republican successor is elected, the hard right cannot be sure that he will be able, or for that matter want, to carry the so-called Reagan Revolution to fruition. Its hero, Congressman Jack Kemp, ran fourth among Republicans in the latest Yankelovich poll for TIME. The leaders, Vice President George Bush and Senator Robert Dole, have never won the full trust of movement conservatives. ...
Sure explodes the myth of the Reagan of right wing hero worship, including in a much more recent edition of TIME, doesn't it? Reagan actually was a disappointment in many ways to conservatives (he also was a former Democrat... and a Hollywood guy...) so one wonders where all the Reagan nostalgia comes from... So in the recent, "Reagan Wept" edition of TIME, Karen Tumulty writes:

...everything that Reagan said in 1985 about "the other side" could easily apply to the conservatives of 2007. They are handcuffed to a political party that looks unsettlingly like the Democrats did in the 1980s, one that is more a collection of interest groups than ideas, recognizable more by its campaign tactics than its philosophy. The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan's legatees. Government is not only bigger and more expensive than it was when George W. Bush took office, but its reach is also longer, thanks to the broad new powers it has claimed as necessary to protect the homeland. It's true that Reagan didn't live up to everything he promised: he campaigned on smaller government, fiscal discipline and religious values, while his presidency brought us a larger government and a soaring deficit. But Bush's apostasies are more extravagant by just about any measure you pick.

Set adrift as it is, the right understandably feels anxious as it contemplates who will carry Reagan's mantle into November 2008. "We're in the political equivalent of a world without the law of gravity," says Republican strategist Ralph Reed. "Nothing we have known in the past seems relevant." At the top of the Republican field in the latest TIME poll is the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights former mayor of liberal New York City. Giuliani's lead is as much as 19 points over onetime front runner McCain. But neither Republican manages better than a statistical tie in a hypothetical matchup against the two leading Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

And meanwhile, the conservative movement has not only lost its moorings in Washington, it appears to be losing the public, too.

What a difference a generation makes.

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