Salon Writer: O’Reilly-Will Clash Could Ruin Not Just Reagan’s Reputation, But Even Conservatism Itself

The war of words between Bill O’Reilly and George Will over the long-term effects on Ronald Reagan of the 1981 assassination attempt amounts to a loose thread that could eventually cause the unraveling of conservatism, argued Sean Illing in a Friday article for Salon.

Illing opined that “conservatism, as a governing philosophy, continues to resonate because of Reagan’s perceived success” -- “perceived” being the operative word, since Illing went on to claim that “Reagan’s policies…made government more bloated, more defense-oriented, more oligarchic, and less democratic. Conservatives never reckon with these facts because the ahistorical canonization of Reagan prevents them from doing so.”

“To the extent that O’Reilly undercuts this image, he helps explode the various myths surrounding Reagan,” contended Illing. “Smashing the myth of Reagan as an engaged leader, one hopes, becomes an invitation to look closer at his record…Were that to happen…Reagan’s reputation would be destroyed and modern conservatism, as an extension of Reagan’s philosophy and a model of prosperity, would be thoroughly discredited.”

From Illing’s piece (bolding added):

[T]here are plenty of reasons to think Reagan was mentally unfit during his presidency. The man said and did curiously stupid things all the time, and apologists continue to dismiss it as part of Reagan’s “everyman” shtick…

…[Will asserts] that O’Reilly is “doing the work of the Left, which knows in order to discredit conservatism, it must destroy Reagan’s reputation as a president”…

…Conservatism, as a governing philosophy, continues to resonate because of Reagan’s perceived success. But the truth is that Reagan was neither conservative (not in the classical sense, at least) nor successful…Reagan left the country significantly worse than he found it, and if [conservatives] want to own Reagan, the man, they have to own his record as well…

…Conservatives claim tax cuts grow the private sector and increase revenue, but Reagan tried this in his first year and the opposite occurred…

Reagan gave amnesty to over 3 million undocumented immigrants, which is anathema to Republican politics today. Reagan funded the Mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan, which later became the Taliban. Reagan vowed to shrink the size of government, but spending skyrocketed during his administrations…

…Reagan’s policies…made government more bloated, more defense-oriented, more oligarchic, and less democratic. Conservatives never reckon with these facts because the ahistorical canonization of Reagan prevents them from doing so. Reagan has become nothing more than a juvenile projection, a malleable myth for a movement in denial…

…Republicans constantly genuflect at the altar of Reagan, holding him up as an example of bold conservative leadership. But this is a fantasy…

To the extent that O’Reilly undercuts this image, he helps explode the various myths surrounding Reagan. Reagan was a figurehead, an actor…It’s precisely because of his vacuousness that people in his administration were able to experiment under his watch. They gave us “trickle-down” economics and massive inequalities and a corporatized government that ceased to work for those who most needed it…

Smashing the myth of Reagan as an engaged leader, one hopes, becomes an invitation to look closer at his record…

Were that to happen, Will is right: Reagan’s reputation would be destroyed and modern conservatism, as an extension of Reagan’s philosophy and a model of prosperity, would be thoroughly discredited.

Conservatives & Republicans Salon Fox News Channel O'Reilly Factor History Bill O'Reilly George Will Ronald Reagan


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