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Sun., Feb. 6, 2011, midnight

Let Reagan be Reagan

You probably knew today was my birthday, but did you know that it’s Ronald Reagan’s, too? Yep, me and The Gipper. Makes perfect sense, right? Reagan would be 100, which calls for some round-number memorializing.

What strikes me is that he is remembered more for what he said than what he did. John F. Kennedy holds a similar spell over the public. It probably helps that both had terrific speechwriters. As I watch politics shift to a more unyielding approach, I wonder whether a modern-day Reagan would’ve done the same, or whether he would become a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

His chief nemesis was House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but the two established a relationship that allowed for some bipartisan movement. Reagan once said of O’Neill, “Our friendship is testimony to the political system that we’re part of and the country we live in, a country which permits two not-so-shy and not-so-retiring Irishmen to have it out on the issues rather than on each other.”

This is not the Reagan that party stalwarts are heralding today. They pluck their favorite lines and shrug off the details. But let’s take a closer look at some of his quotes:

“Abortion is advocated only by persons who have themselves been born.”

Can’t argue with that, but few people advocate abortions for others. It’s the freedom to choose that’s debated. Reagan signed a bill as governor that legalized the procedure in California. Even after he renounced that decision, he appointed the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Sandra Day O’Connor went on to protect the principles of Roe v. Wade.

“Facts are stupid things.”

He meant to quote John Adams’ “facts are stubborn things,” but his version fits the scorn heaped upon the scientific community today when it comes to global warming. Critics continually dismiss peer-reviewed research, calling it junk science, but many of them rallied behind Reagan when he touted a global shield to ward off nuclear missiles. Science? No, science fiction.

“To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.”

That’s true. So health care repeal mavens really ought to produce an alternative.

“History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, aggressively knocked down estimates that an Iraq invasion would require several hundred thousand troops and at least $100 billion. In reality, it has taken that many troops, and the price is approaching $800 billion.

“Latinos are Republican. They just don’t know it yet.”

Reagan signed an immigration reform bill that granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. He favored statehood for Puerto Rico. This matched his belief that the United States was a beacon of hope, a “shining city on the hill.”

Peter Robinson, a former speechwriter for Reagan, wrote the following in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed:

“I believe … Reagan would have inclined toward reforms like those President George W. Bush proposed in 2006. Under these proposals, illegal immigrants who wished to remain in this country permanently would have received a long but explicit path to citizenship. Those who wished instead to return eventually to their countries of origin would have received the right to register as guest workers. Virtually all illegal immigrants would thus have been dealt with generously.”

“The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.”

Reagan cut taxes, but he also raised them multiple times. That alone would make him an outcast in today’s Republican Party, where members sign pledges to never raise taxes, no matter the circumstances. Overall, he did not cut spending. Under President Jimmy Carter, federal spending averaged 20.8 percent of GDP. Under Reagan, it rose to 22.4 percent.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ”

When Social Security was in dire straits 30 years ago, Reagan was there to help. He signed on to a large payroll tax increase that also imposed new taxes on upper-income beneficiaries and forced the self-employed to pay the full rate, not just the employer’s half. This ensured the solvency of Social Security for many decades to come.

Wait! The Gipper preserved FDR’s “socialist” scheme? Facts are stubborn things.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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