Ronald Reagan, the humble servant-leader, would have appealed to all conservatives, indeed all Americans, who believe in the right and ability to self-govern.
It is the political establishment that would have much to fear from Reagan—not grassroots activists, as Jeb Bush implies in his comments yesterday. Bush is accurate only in that the stranglehold the political establishment of both parties wields over Americans is greater today than ever. It is Republican Party officials, not the Tea Partiers, who would need to be nudged to embrace Reagan’s candidacy.
Jeb Bush’s definition of Reagan’s brand as one of “finding accommodation” and “common ground” is akin to summing up the Founding Fathers as rabble-rousers who really disliked taxes. He missed the essence of what Reagan provided for Americans
Reagan was more than a charismatic tax-cutter; he was an insurrectionist within the Republican Party, just as the Tea Party movement is in today’s establishment. In 1976, Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination, and in 1980 he defeated the establishment candidate, George H. W. Bush, who later joined him on the ticket. His 1980 platform called for a return of the citizen activist; in doing so Reagan challenged the political establishment mentality, primarily by returning to this model of the servant-leader.
And all of this talk wasn’t just posturing. Reagan made tough decisions regarding the Soviet Union, tax code, energy regulation, and how to deal with the AirTraffic Controllers strikes.
Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship is what has provided unchecked power to the political establishment. And bipartisanship over principle is what has led us to runaway deficits and a fiscal mess that will take generations to fix. To suggest that Reagan would somehow embrace this insulated tyranny of the political class over grassroots activism is utterly false.
Conservatives today would have clamored for a Ronald Reagan nominee; no one more so than the Tea Partiers with their emphasis on fiscal restraint and, more importantly, desire for a leader who believes that the people can govern themselves.
Reagan might have been barred from receiving the 2012 GOP nomination because of ruling elites in the political parties, but not because of a lack of popular support. Jeb Bush’s cheap shot against those who are invigorating the party from its center—yes, small government and fiscal conservatism is at the old GOP’s center, not its periphery—reveals just how much he has bought into the political establishment mentality.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has recently exhibited Reagan-like qualities. Walker believes that government is here to serve the people and is leading the charge for today’s Republicans to take it back.
As Reagan said in his inaugural address of 1981, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
*First published in today’s New York Times