Every now and then the activists of compromise say something like this…
“All of these people at the CPAC will claim that they are Reagan Republicans,” McCain said. “Did they forget that Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to three million Americans? Do they forget that he did raise taxes, that he made an agreement with Tip O’Neill on Social Security, that Ronald Reagan said [the] 11th commandment is you don’t speak ill of your fellow Republicans?”
In the theme of invoking these compromises, McCain also said raising taxes should be an on the table as part of entitlement reform.
“Look, you have to put everything on the table,” he said when asked if a package could include taxes. “If you don’t put everything on the table, then the opposite side says, ‘OK, but we’re not going to agree to, say, raising the retirement age.’ “
There are two problems with the “Reagan did X” argument.
1. Reagan wasn’t perfect. Those who identify themselves as Reagan Republicans aren’t saying that they want to imitate every single thing that Reagan did.
It’s a philosophical identification. And philosophical identifications aren’t usually defined by compromises. Compromises are part of politics, but unless the political figure defined his philosophy by compromise, then it’s not all that relevant.
A philosophical identification is made with a politician’s overall governing style, as well as his ideas and speeches, rather than every single one of his decisions.
Democrats who identify with FDR don’t necessarily support racial segregation in the military. Demanding that they endorse segregation in the military or stop identifying FDR will lead to the same response.
2. Reagan, like every politician, made compromises and mistakes, but he is celebrated because of the overall impact that he made.
Politicians like McCain who protest that Reagan did X, Y or Z, are missing the point. They want to get a pass for amnesty, but they’re not doing anything meaningful to balance that out.
Most conservatives will understand that in a bipartisan system some compromises are necessary to get what you want, but they see a Republican congress that compromises without getting anything worth mentioning. McCain wants to trade higher taxes for raising social security benefits age. I doubt anyone besides Paul Ryan is really waiting for that one.
And it’s not a compromise since Democrats covertly support doing the same thing. So it’s another case of giving the Democrats what they want in exchange for giving them more of what they want.
And it’s not as if that tax money will be going to Social Security. Instead it will go to A. Random pork B. Global Warming C. Welfare in all its varieties
Reagan Republican talk is about leadership. McCain wants to imagine that he’s leading, but he doesn’t seem to grasp that no one is particularly interested in following. And that goes back to the second point. Leaders need credibility. They need to be able to point to what they’ve done.
McCain is busy championing things like a Syrian War or illegal alien amnesty that have as much appeal to Republicans outside government as a dead fish in a cosmetics store.
Reagan assured Republicans that he was going to the right place. Where is McCain going? Where does he want to take the country?