I hope the present primary race does not keep descending into monotonous boasts of who is the more Reaganesque of the candidates, in which we do the gutsy and often very human Reagan a real disservice by forgetting the things that he sometimes thought he had to do to survive or to govern — or the things he was sometimes just plain naive or wrong about. George Bush’s Alito and Roberts appointments were far more conservative than either Reagan’s O’Connor or Kennedy. In a matter of a few years, Reagan’s disastrous 1986 blanket amnesty for illegal aliens changed the very fabric of the American southwest and was the source of much of the present financial and legal mess. Well apart from Iran-Contra, he was lax in going after the bombers of the Marine barracks in Lebanon and had utopian spasms about nuclear disarmament. As far as taxes and big government, he signed payroll and gas tax increases, and added a secretary of veterans’ affairs. He was not a budget balancer in the Ike mode. His earlier record as California governor — especially on abortion and taxes — was often flip-floppy. Haig, Regan, Deaver, MacFarlane, Poindexter, and others were not always models of White House unity or even, in some cases, probity. So we have reached the surreal when a present flip-flop is derided as something Ronald Reagan would never do.
In an age of liberal unanimity and left-wing media monopoly, Reagan was a courageous maverick and a landmark conservative who redirected the course of the United States when it had lost its way. But preserving Reagan in amber as a totem by which to judge the conservative fides and consistency of the present field is as ahistorical as it is becoming annoying.