Today marks what would have been Ronald Reagan's 101st birthday. A consistent member of the top five favorite former presidents, his spirit is still very much with us today - with both Republicans and Democrats. Too bad that our current political atmosphere would not be favorable to a Reagan presidential run.
Though it is a common tactic for potential GOP candidates to wrap themselves in the legacy of Ronald Reagan, few truly either understand it or act as though sincerity plays into this claim. For instance, Reagan is known as a man capable to make his political arguments without destroying the political environment. Politics is the art of persuasion and Ronald Reagan was a master at it.
Where are the happy warriors now? Ronald Reagan was a happy warrior. Today's politicians vying for the highest office in the land are vengeful and angry. Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich and even Rick Santorum all fall prey to the dark side of political discourse. Mitt Romney delegates much of his negativity to his team, who then use their healthy campaign coffers for a barrage of negative ads against his opponents.
Here is a good example of the contrast between Reagan's way and the current president:
That video was produced by Americans for Prosperity.
A successful leader inspires his or her audience. A successful leader calls on our best angels, not play to our weaknesses. And, a successful leader does not bully. Or name call, either.
Reagan was not a perfect man. He was, in fact, a very human and humble man with a gift. His gift was the ability to communicate a message of real hope and change, not the current idiotic campaign slogan. He didn't insult the intelligence of voters.
In today's bitter and purist-led presidential primary battles, I don't think Ronald Reagan would even be allowed to win. He was a former Democrat, union president, divorced, and actor, which means his personal baggage would probably disqualify him in today's conservative world. Today's primary voters are reaping the benefits of such purity tests and seeing that really good leaders are sitting on the sidelines rather than enter the national stage. Think Gov Mitch Daniels, for example. He had a blip in his personal life that some were quite judgemental about - his wife left him for another man and then when that relationship ended, Daniels and she re-united. The Daniels daughters remained with the Governor and he rose to the challenge. This is an example of an admirable character but to purists - holier than thou hypocrites who have all but destroyed a large part of my party - instead of praising his character, they were jumping ugly on his wife. He chose to not put his family through all that. We sure could use Daniels in the GOP primary, now couldn't we? He just implemented the Right to Work legislation in Indiana, making it the 27th Right to Work state.
Reagan understood working with the other party. He had to because the Congress was Democratically controlled, yet he was able to move his political agenda forward. Imagine that. Today's purists would think this was political heresy, that he was weak and gave in to the other side.
Instead of celebrating a Republican candidate who may have formerly supported less than conservative ideas but now has re-thought the philosophy and came back to a more conservative philosophy, that candidate is mocked and criticized for the past. Politics is the art of pursuasion. That candidate coming back to a more conservative position should be encouraged and supported. It should be recognized as a success. That would be the Reagan way.
Reagan understood that criticizing fellow Republicans in campaign battles only harms the entire party in the end. Today's nasty GOP presidential primary is writing the opposition's ads - Team Obama is relishing it. We have to take into consideration the candidates down ballot - those who are counting on voters to come out and support the party and their races. Yes, support the party. What a concept.
And for all those sanctimonious ones who are only too proud to claim themselves as conservatives but not Republicans? That is not the Reagan way, either. Build the party from within. Don't like the party's direction or the leadership? Work to change it. Recruit stronger candidates and support them. Start at the local level and build a strong bench for future elections.
That's the Reagan way. Happy 101st Birthday, Ronald Reagan.