The Commonwealth Blog

Ronald Reagan vs. the Loss of Pragmatism in Washington

May 12, 2011 @ 3:05 PM

By James Dohnert

Americans of the Right and the Left both freely acknowledge today how Ronald Reagan left his mark on American politics. He reinvented the ways conservative politicians run for office and, even, changed the way they think. Reagan was one of the first modern Republicans to seek out the evangelical Christian voter, and he worked under a new economic platform that reduced taxes on the wealthy in hopes of reinvigorating the economy with investments. Today, many (maybe even most) conservatives use the former president as the ideal by which to lead. Not all conservatives agree, though, that GOP leaders today should ape the former president.

“I think it is wrong for us to look for Ronald Reagan; we were lucky to have him during our lifetimes," Ronald Reagan’s eldest son, Michael Reagan, told conservative media outlet NewsMax. "But if there is a role, look at who he truly was. Remember him for who he was. Don't try to redefine him in your image and likeness; define him in what and who he was.” 

As many Republicans continue to use the name Reagan as a rallying cry to hold steadfast in the face of a tax hike, others have argued that they are missing the bigger picture of the former president's legacy. As governor of California, Reagan raised taxes. And in the White House, though he did cut taxes in 1981, he also raised them in ’82, ’83, and ’86. So while Reagan was also obviously a fiscal conservative, he was also a lot more pragmatic then some give him credit for. Well-liked by his peers in politics, the former actor was also very adept at opening up dialogues with adversaries.

“He was a man who changed the world and he changed it by building coalitions,” Michael Reagan went on to say. As president, he worked across the aisle and with other nations to get things done. “Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tip O'Neill. To do these things he had to find areas of agreement and move forward,” continued the younger Reagan.

So as the legislative and partisan battles on Capitol Hill continue to get heated and bipartisanship becomes just a word, some observers are wondering if conservative leaders could still crib something from Ronald Reagan's gameplan: Compromise.

What do you think? Can bipartisanship still exist in the 21st century? Is Ronald Reagan’s legacy fully deserved? Does pragmatism still hold a place in American politics? Add your comments below or on our Facebook page.

You might be interested in listening to Tyrus Cobb's recent speech at The Commonwealth Club: "Ronald Reagan at 100: A Personal, Behind-the-Scenes Look"

And be sure to check out upcoming Commonwealth Club events on the topic for more insight into the future of the country.

May 26 2011 - 6:00 p.m.
Willie Brown Jr.: 2011 Annual Lecture on Political Trends
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown gives us the inside scoop on what’s ahead for California and beyond.

Jun 3 2011 - 12:00 noon
Why Are Democrats Embattled, and How Can They Win Again?
University of California Professor of Law Joan Williams makes the case that Democrats can bridge the “class culture gap” and attain a new Democratic majority.

Jul 26 2011 - 6:00 p.m.
Margaret Hoover
Come join Fox News contributor Margaret Hoover for an impassioned conversation on the future of the GOP and the country.