DO CONSERVATIVES NEED TO GET BEYOND REAGAN?
By Rush Limbaugh
So why are some socalled Conservatives today arguing that we need to “get beyond Reagan,” by which they mean that we need to abandon the ideas that Reagan stood for? To understand the roots of this argument, I think we only need to look back to the years when Reagan first emerged onto the national scene. There was a lot of resentment at that time among many of the elites in the Republican Party because Reagan hadn’t gone to the right schools, he didn’t come from the right part of the country, he had been an actor rather than a lawyer, he was a bumbling dunce, he was an extremist who was too far outside the mainstream to win, and so on. People have been making these kinds of arguments for a long time. They were saying that Conservatives needed to get beyond Reagan even before the Reagan era began. A few of them are the same people. Many of them are new. But what they have in common is that none of them agree with the principles that Reagan stood for. And I would argue that this means that they are not Conservatives. Today the get-beyond-Reagan arguments are often put in socalled pragmatic terms of needing to create blocs of voters who will support the Republican Party. And, in order to accomplish this, all that Conservatives have to do, these self-proclaimed smart people say, is embrace the idea of big government, because that’s what the American people want and because only socalled big-government Conservatives will be able to create blocs of voters by spending money to do them favors. But, in answer to this, one has to ask the question — and I’m being a real pragmatist myself here — what’s left for government to spend these days? It’s already bailing people out right and left with taxpayer money that the government doesn’t have. The spigot has been turned on under President George W. Bush. The Obama administration, we can presume, is going to be even more generous in terms of bailouts. But, honestly, when we look at auto executives being grilled on TV by Liberal members of Congress about their irresponsibility, can we take it seriously? Has anyone ever been as irresponsible with money — and, in their case, other people’s money — than these very same self-righteous members of Congress?
As history has amply demonstrated, down the line, the kind of central planning that Mr. Bush has begun and that Mr. Obama plans to escalate isn’t going to work. Although it may succeed in increasing the control of government over people’s lives — which is how many Liberals these days seem to define prosperity — it will fail miserably in restoring economic health to America. So, in fact, during a time of economic trouble like this, when Liberals are in charge of both elected branches of government, Conservatives have a golden opportunity to reintroduce to the American people the free market ideas and policies that have made our country the greatest and most prosperous country in human history. My first point, then, is that there is no pragmatic reason today for Conservatives to abandon the ideas of Reagan. It is worth remembering, after all, that, despite the warnings of Republican “pragmatists” in the economically bleak 1970s that Reagan was too far outside the mainstream ever to be successful politically, Reagan won the Presidency in two landslides — and, in 1994, his party took over the U.S. House of Representatives, for the first time in 40 years, using Reagan-like arguments.
But there is a second and more important point to be made in response to the argument that Conservatives should get beyond Reagan. The main idea that animated Reagan wasn’t anti-Communism or supply-side economics. Reagan’s main idea was the main idea of the American founding — the idea of individual liberty — and the policies that he supported, both internationally and domestically, grew from that. America was founded on the idea that our individual freedoms derive from God, not from government, and that government should protect those freedoms and never violate them. Reagan argued, and history has shown, that America does best when it is true to its original idea. It does best when its people are left free to work in their individual self-interest — not meant in the sense of being selfish, but in the sense that they are left free to work to improve their own lives and the lives of their families, and for the good of their communities and of the nation at large. The biggest problem with the argument that Conservatives should get beyond Reagan, then, is that the idea of individual liberty will never go out of style as long as America exists. To argue that the Reagan era is over, is to argue that the era of freedom is over. And, to argue that Conservatives should abandon Reagan’s principles is to argue that they should stop being conservatives.
There is no such thing, at least in America, as “big-government Conservatism.” A government that abides by the Constitution and protects our God-given freedoms is, by definition, limited. Rather than carving out blocs of voters by surrendering their principles, Conservatives need to continue to tell the American people as a whole that the ideas of individual liberty and limited government are right and that the policies that come from those ideas work best to produce prosperity. Conservatives don’t need to reinvent themselves. They need the courage to be once again who they were.
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Rush Limbaugh launched his radio broadcast into national syndication on August 1, 1988, with 56 radio stations. Twenty years later, it is heard on nearly 600 stations by approximately 20 million people each week and is the highest rated national radio talk show in America. Mr. Limbaugh also hosts “The Rush Limbaugh Morning Update,” writes “The Limbaugh Letter,” and extends his message to the Internet via RushLimbaugh.com. He received the Marconi Award for Syndicated Radio Personality of the Year, given by the National Association of Broadcasters, in 1992, 1995, 2000, and 2005. In1993, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and in 1998, into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
The foregoing article by Rush Limbaugh was adapted from a speech delivered on December 4, 2008, at the
Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of the Ninth Annual Hillsdale College Churchill Dinner.
The article first appeared in Imprimis, January, 2009 (Volume 38, Number 1).
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