Rand Paul Risks Wrath of Conservatives by Exposing the Truth About Their God, Ronald Reagan
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Photo Credit: PH1 H. J. GERWIEN (R, Ronald Reagan) / Wikimedia Commons; djgabrielpresents (L, Rand Paul); Screenshot / YouTube.com; Composite Screenshot
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The path to the Republican Party presidential nomination travels through Ronald Reagan’s ghost. From Iowa to South Carolina, GOP primaries are often reduced to a competition for the number of times a candidate can invoke his name. If Jesus hadn’t died at such a youthful age, Reagan’s image would have been what right-wing Americans imagined when they thought of an elderly Messiah. For a conservative to offer anything less than pious servitude to his memory is to violate the fourth of the Ten Commandments: thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain, which is exactly the sin committed by one of the 2016 GOP packleaders, Sen. Rand Paul.
The magazine Mother Jones compiled an array of video clips showing the Kentucky senator casting the spiritual leader of today’s conservative movement as anything but the fiscal disciplinarian right-wing revisionists like to remember him for. In a variety of speeches given between 2008 and 2010, Paul repeatedly stated that Democratic President Jimmy Carter had a better record on fiscal discipline than Reagan. Heresy!
In a speech given to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University, Paul said you can trace the Republican Party’s hypocrisy on spending and deficits back to Reagan:
Some say, well that's fine, but there were good old days. We did at one time ... When we had Reagan, we were fiscal conservatives. Well, unfortunately, even that wasn't true. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the first bill they passed was called the Gramm-Latta bill of 1981, and Republicans pegged it as this great step forward. Well, Jimmy Carter's last budget was about $34 or $36 billion in debt. Well, it turns out, Reagan's first budget turned out to be $110 billion dollars in debt. And each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagan's two terms.
In another speech, Paul observes that “the deficit exploded because domestic spending rose faster under Reagan, so did military, but domestic spending rose faster under Reagan than under Jimmy Carter." He goes on to warn Republicans that “we have to admit our failings because we're not going to get new people unless we become believable as a party again.”
This, among other remarks, is a breathtaking pronouncement from the presumed leader of today’s conservative movement. It’s hard to overstate how severe this self-inflicting blow is to both his political ambitions and the legitimacy of movement conservative’s ideology. It’s a blow because Paul’s recollection of the Reagan presidency is consistent with reality.
Republicans are fond of labeling Carter the worst president of the 20th century, but that does not square with facts. Reagan’s approval rate was only 43 percent six months after leaving office. Carter’s approval was above 60 percent. Polls don’t mean everything but they do take a snapshot of a moment in time, and history has a way of remembering presidents fondly long after they’ve left office. In other words, we forget how bad the bad presidents truly were. Reagan, alongside Bush the younger, was arguably the most destructive of all U.S. presidents for he bankrupted America both financially and morally.
Republicans revere the memory of Reagan. For the Right, he is their Kennedy. In any poll taken of Republican voters, he’s popularly regarded as the greatest U.S. president alongside Lincoln. But the effectiveness of his presidency is a right-wing media-generated myth that remembers his poetry rather than his prose. We remember, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” “The shining city on the hill,” and “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.” We forget the economic destruction his policies inflicted on the middle class and the nation’s poor.