We’ve been talking about the death of Reaganism for a few weeks now – but we do not lament. The Reaganism of the 1980s was a principled, political response to the issues of the day by one of the foremost statesman of the 20th Century. Viewing Reaganism as just a series of campaigns in support of a set of policies or as the policies themselves betrays the principles upon which Reagan himself based his statesmanship. Unfortunately, much of the Republican political establishment doesn’t see past the policies.
Reagan biographer Professor Steve Hayward of the University of California, Berkeley and the Powerlineblog joins us today on the show. He rightly advises conservatives – all Americans really – to study Reagan the way we study Lincoln, as a statesman of the first order. Reagan’s politics were guided by a moral and practical sensibility that made him uniquely effective. It was Reagan who, against the accepted wisdom of the foreign policy establishment of the day, believed that the West, led by the United States, could defeat the threat of international communism represented by the Soviet Union. The bipartisan realpolitik crowd counselled a policy of acceptance and coexistence – right up until the time the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Sound familiar? But Reagan believed that the Soviet Union was a moral anomaly – a contradiction that could not stand if challenged. He was right.
Reagan’s moral clarity was supported by an ability to persuade. Professor Hayward reminded us that Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger and his Secretary of State George Schultz had opposed him earlier in his career. But Reagan knew how to win people to his side by the power and clarity of his arguments.
Still, Reagnism was a construct of its time. It’s gone, but Reagan’s legacy of statesmanship isn’t. Instead, conservatives should recognize this as an opportunity to move beyond meaningless nostalgia and reassert the people’s right to rule through constitutional means and to put forward a principled political agenda that speaks to the issues of this age – issues increasingly identified with the rising tide of the administrative state empowered by ruling class disdain for voters viewed as too venal (because they haven’t signed up for the latest Leftist piety) or too stupid (because they didn’t go to the right school) to rule.
Professor Hayward explains how we can learn from Reagan’s statesmanship and practical wisdom rather than just being another Reagan cover band playing the old hits. We love having Steve on the show – it’s always fun and we always learn something new.
Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.