Happy Gipper Day!

Today would be the 102nd birthday of the greatest president of my lifetime.

People say “there’s no Ronald Reagan in American politics today”.  And they’re right – but as his son Michael told me in an interview a few years ago, it’s not that there couldn’t be.

Because Reagan had three great talents:   he was a great, natural communicator (who, unlike a lot of “natural communicators”, honed his craft with relentless discipline);  he developed a vision and he stuck to it with determination and focus; and most importantly for today’s  conservatives, he knew how to build coalitions, rather than exclude people from them.

We have plenty of people who can communicate well, although the conservative movement has had its share of duds in that department too.  And we have not a few who can visioneer with the best of them  – in fact, with the rise of the Tea Party, our movement’s best years may be to come, provided they keep the faith.

But as to building coalitions?

Today, we’re better at building silos.

Reagan did something that conservatives are terrible at today; he got social conservatives (at the peak of their notoriety and political cachet), blue-collar Democrats who the economy had turned into instant fiscalcons, Jack Kemp-style economic hawks and paleocons together…

…by focusing remorselessly on what they agreed on;  fixing the economy, and ending Communism.

And once in office, that’s what he focused on.  Oh, he paid lip service to issues that were to him tangents – and lip service from the world’s greatest bully pulpit ain’t chicken feed. But he didn’t fritter his political capital away with excessive natterings about issues that were tangential to his vision, and the vision his coalition all agreed on in electing him.  He spoke eloquently on issues – many of them – and that speaking had its effect.

Some call that an abdication; it was in fact a matter of leaving that work to the members of his coalition (example:  he exerted very little executive effort on abortion and gun control – but the efforts to roll both back at the state and local level started to coalesce during his time in office anyway – in part because of his leadership from the bully pulpit.  But for all that, always, the focus was on “dancing with the one what brung him” to DC at the head of an impossibly-diverse coalition; his rock-solid, bone-simple two point agenda, fixing the economy and toppling the Commies.

As I moderated the “Where Do We Go From Here” event last week at the Blue Fox, and listened to some of the friction and cat-calling across the party’s various factions, I thought there was a lot of focus on what divided us.  And so my final question to the panel was “what do we all – all of us, from socialcons like Andy Parrish to libertarians like Marianne Stebbins, actually agree on?”  Because that is the only real way forward for any of the factions – since if any faction takes Parrish’s (tongue in cheek?) advice and forms a separate party, it’s the road to mutual palookaville, with multiple parties that are less than the sum of the parts they once were.

So for my annual Gipper Day celebration, it’ll be the usual; jelly beans at my desk, taking the kids out to dinner to talk about what Reagan’s legacy has meant in their lives (other than the uninformed, out-of-context crap the DFLers in their lives’ll say)…

…and asking my fellow conservatives “what do we agree on?”

8 thoughts on “Happy Gipper Day!

  1. Walker beat back the Demonrats in Wisconsin by tackling the fiscal issue and came back to win bigger on the recall than he did initially.

    The Minnesota GOP lost both chambers fighting about gay marriage.

    There’s a winning strategy there somewhere,but the upper echelons of the GOP can’t seem to find it.

  2. Marvelous post, Mitch. My first vote for President was to re-elect Ronald Reagan in 1984 and he was the only Republican candidate for President I ever voted for because he was who he was — instead of not being someone else.

    Ronald Reagan is the reason why conservatives need not fear forming a third party if the national party continues to sodomize its base.

    Reagan was the last great coalition builder in Republican politics, appealing to conservative Democrats who knew their party had left them behind, and his common-sense appeal to ordinary Americans everywhere made Walter Mondale’s candidacy a national laughing stock.

    A populist conservative is what we need. Most of the Republicans with any sense of what populism is have a good working relationship with the Tea Party. So on Gipper Day, remember what the man stood for but also what he truly accomplished.

  3. 40 states have officially declared today as Ronald Reagan Day.

    Thank *deity of choice* that the People’s Republic of Minnesota did not engage in these time and money wasting (not to mention RAAAAAAAAACIST) antics.

  4. The mess Carter left was a huge reason I have never voted Democrat since I turned 18 in ’79 and became a legal voter.

    One thing I would like conservatives, libertarians and constitutionalist to agree on is the concept of smaller, limited government. Governmental overreach regardless from what “side” it originates can only serve to limit and inhibit individual freedom and liberty.

  5. Well stated and well needed.

    “Today would be the 102nd birthday of the greatest president of my lifetime.”

    So far.

    I have faith in our country and hopes for your continued good health and longevity.

  6. I liked him as a person. He was intellectual and loved ideas. And dessert. He really liked dessert.

    Our images of him are distorted by his age. We don’t recall the rapid-fire speaking, hyper-articulate and aggressive governor. He became more diffident in manner, less direct and challenging as he aged.

    His skill at communication remains underrated. He spoke words – which he often partly wrote or at least edited heavily – that fit his idea of a good script that flowed naturally for his voice and character. He knew his style. He knew a good script. That is partly intellectual and partly years of learning the craft of acting. As a little note, he’d read his speeches to himself and would underline each phrase as it fit his natural breath so the words would come out smoothly and with conviction, part craft and part intelligence. I suppose now that must be done on a teleprompter.

  7. Ronald Reagan keeps improving with age (even his movies seem better). But he had the advantage of governing in an era before the body snatchers in K-12 and academia replaced independent citizens with pod people. Whether conservatives can unify or not, we still have the obligation, as Solzhenitsyn says, of opposing the great Lie that is the Left.

  8. I liked him as a person. He was intellectual and loved ideas. And dessert. He really liked dessert.

    Without Reagan I would never have discovered Jelly Belly jelly beans. While my belt would have been grateful, my tongue would have been much worse off.

    Fiscal conservatism is one thing that has a broad appeal. The GOP could do worse than emulate Reagan’s libertarian streak: cut government, lower taxes, and talk about morals and values without legislating them.

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