In THIS COLUMN of advice to President Obama, Bob Shrum isn’t prescribing precise emulation of Ronald Reagan’s policies but rather of the Gipper’s style of combining pragmatism and principle.
In so doing, Shrum invokes a bit of history that shows how Reagan, despite his enduring reputation as an unswervingly principled conservative, often pursued a pragmatism that annoyed the right-wingers of his time.
Ronald Reagan, arguably the greatest conservative president, in 1982 signed into law what was then the largest tax increase in American history, partially undoing his signature tax cut from the year before. In 1983, he advocated a Social Security tax increase and in 1984 he agreed to another tax rise to reduce the deficit. He was responding to what was real in the economy even when it didn’t accord with his version of the ideal. Then, in his second term, this proud Cold Warrior moved toward a definitive peace with the Soviets. After he negotiated a far-reaching arms reduction with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan’s friend William F. Buckley, Jr. called the treaty “a suicide pact”; another friend, the columnist George Will, wrote that the President was “wildly wrong.” Reagan had chosen to be right rather than far right.
Principled and consequential presidents are inevitably pragmatic presidents.