There are two groups of people in America today which have more in common than they are likely to admit. One group consists of those folks who claim to have been at Woodstock. The other group consists of those who claim to have been part of the “Reagan Revolution.” What do they have in common? Convenient memories.
Today’s republicans, whether establishment or TEA party types, all love Ronald Reagan. They all hold his presidency in great reverence. His name is used far more often these days than that of Lincoln, the first Republican President. In many ways, Reagan’s memory has replaced Lincoln’s among modern day Americans.
But Reagan was not the popular presidential candidate about whom people romanticize. He was the outcast, the rebel, the rogue of the day back in 1976 when he ran against Gerald Ford for the nomination. He lost that fight and Ford lost the election. Reagan had been defeated again.
Reagan had come in third behind Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller in the 1968 nomination process. His prominence had grown in the party after he spoke favorably for the Goldwater campaign in 1964 but not enough to beat Nixon.
By 1976 he was, in some ways similar to Ron Paul, calling for a new kind of conservatism in the GOP. His views clashed with the “progressive” republicans whom he said were represented by Ford who had succeeded Nixon. But once again the powers within the party kept him outside the door.
By 1980 however the democrats had faltered under the presidency of Jimmy Carter and a strong national defense sentiment was running through the nation. Reagan’s tough talk about communism and the Iranians who had captured and held our citizens hostage gained him favor and the nomination over George H.W. Bush and a crowded field of others. But the popularity he enjoys today did not follow his nomination.
During his presidency he was lampooned by the press relentlessly. He was never treated as a hero, a patriot or a brilliant president, but rather as an empty suit being controlled by a committee of others, primarily corporatists and the military industry. Long before his Alzheimer’s was ever known Reagan was portrayed as a mindless dolt.
Much of the legislation he supported confused his own party. He presided over a period of prosperity but despite his conservative talking points he was spending a lot of government money. His ideas about creating a “Star Wars” program of missile defense for the United States might have scared the Soviet Union out of existence but it also scared a lot of Americans concerned with the rising debt.
Today, as the democrats gather in Charlotte for their convention, Ron Paul supporters around the nation are writing and broadcasting a large number of complaints about how they were treated in Tampa last week. They claim that their delegate counts were marginalized, their opposition to rules changes which tended to work against them was never properly counted and that the members of their group who were in attendance were treated as outcasts. All of this is probably true.
In fact, one friend wrote to me this morning and asked me why this happened. He phrased his question as “why did the GOP last week act just like Obama?” My answer was simple.
They didn’t act like Obama; they acted like all people who hold power act. They acted to protect their own power. And I also cautioned him to never assume that an outside group which is seeking power will act any differently if they should get it. It’s human nature.
And once one of these outside groups gets power and acts to keep it, everybody will want to stand with them and claim to have been with them all along.
There are a lot of people who today claim that they were part of the Reagan Revolution when it was a clamoring bunch of outsiders challenging those in power and failing time and time again. But I doubt that there are as many today who were in fact part of that movement as claim to have been.
But I’m not surprised. There are a lot of people who remember Country Joe McDonald taking the stage at Woodstock. But I don’t remember seeing them there either.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.