Bloggers: In the GOP’s ‘Cult of Reagan,’ They Believe He Was a ‘Law-Giver Like Moses’ Or a ‘Prophet Like Zechariah’

In 1946, George Orwell wrote that “the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” Two lefty bloggers suggested on Tuesday that for today’s Republicans, Reaganism has no meaning beyond “something desirable,” and that the term is used in ways that aren’t consistent with President Reagan’s beliefs or his administration’s policies.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait claimed that in the modern GOP, “everything Reagan thought or did was presumptively correct, even the things that contradict the other things he did.” Specifically, “the Reagan cult is largely (though not entirely) a propaganda vehicle for the anti-tax movement,” even though “in reality, Reagan veered wildly out of step with anti-tax orthodoxy.” Nonetheless, “anti-tax activists have defined Reaganism as an absolutist fixation with lower tax rates…Reagan iconography does not depend upon literal truth.”

From Chait’s post (bolding added):

Within the Party, Reaganism is truth, and truth is Reaganism. Republicans may debate the meaning of Reaganism, presenting dueling interpretations to associate their own ideas with his, but challenging the actual wisdom of a thing Reagan did is unthinkable. Everything Reagan thought or did was presumptively correct, even the things that contradict the other things he did.

In practical terms, the Reagan cult is largely (though not entirely) a propaganda vehicle for the anti-tax movement, which has — more forcefully than any other constituency within the Party — defined its ideas as synonymous with Reagan’s. In reality, Reagan veered wildly out of step with anti-tax orthodoxy…

But anti-tax activists have defined Reaganism as an absolutist fixation with lower tax rates. The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, a frantic effort to name as many things as possible after the 40th president, is actually housed within Americans for Tax Reform, the Washington lobby that pressures Republicans to sign a pledge to disavow any revenue increase, however tiny, under any circumstances…Reagan iconography does not depend upon literal truth.

Predictably, the efforts by “reform conservatives” to alter their party’s domestic strategy quickly devolved into a liturgical contest of Reaganite purity. (Or, as I like to call such arguments, a Reagan-Off.) The reformists believe that the Party’s obsession with cutting taxes for the rich has grown into an unaffordable electoral liability…

The supply-siders have cast the reformists as heretics…

Of course, the reform conservatives have hardly ceded the word of Reagan to their foes. Instead they have insisted that they represent his authentic word…

You can understand why the reform conservatives presented their case this way — winning a Reagan-Off is the only way to win an argument within the Party. Yet the form of the debate helps explain why the reformists were so badly crushed. The history used by the supply-siders may be inaccurate, but the fanaticism with which they purvey it is real. And in a contest of theological devotion, feigned fanaticism will usually lose out to the genuine kind.

Piggybacking on Chait’s post, the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore noted that the so-called Cult of Reagan has been strengthened by its de facto alliance with a newer movement, the Tea Party:

Constitutional Conservatism [is] the ideological residue of the Tea Party…focused as it is on an eternally perfect Founders scheme of absolute property rights, absolute zygote rights, quasi-absolute states’ rights, a firmly established yet nondenominational conservative Christian Church, all frozen in amber by Divine Inspiration and protected from “reform” by the doctrine of American Exceptionalism.

So for every conservative who thinks of Reagan as a law-giver like Moses, there is another who thinks of him as a Prophet like Zechariah who calls God’s people back to their home and heritage.

Economy Taxes Conservatives & Republicans Religion New York Magazine Washington Monthly Ed Kilgore Jonathan Chait Ronald Reagan


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