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Reagan and Social Issues


Andrew Sullivan writes that Ronald Reagan was “was definitely more easy-going about modernity than the current Republican leadership.” He rarely mentioned abortion; had an openly gay couple sleep over at the White House; “appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, and in Anthony Kennedy, gave birth to the judicial father of the gay rights revolution”; opposed an initiative to keep gays out of public schools; and was able “to reach voters in socially liberal milieus.”

I am not sure that I agree with Sullivan about what “modernity” means, and I am pretty sure that I do not agree with him about Reagan’s stance on social issues. He did not mention abortion less than current Republican politicians, and it is hard to imagine any present-day Republican politician, including Bush, making the straightforward anti-abortion argument that Reagan made in Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. (I also don’t accept the distinction between presidential speech and action that Sullivan makes in his post; in a democracy, controversial speech is an important action.) If Sullivan wants to argue that current Republican politicians have an objection to female Supreme Court justices as such, or that Reagan would have approved of the jurisprudence of his third-choice pick for the Powell vacancy on the Court, or that the shift in the political salience of social issues is entirely or even mostly the result of changes in the composition of the Republican party, let him make it. But so far, it sounds as though he would rather remake Reagan in his own image.


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