If you measure them by the ideological standards that prevail in their party these days, Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower, the only two-term Republican presidents in the second half of the 20th century, were both squishy moderates if not actually liberals.
Let’s examine their records in chronological order:
Eisenhower, who was president through most of the 1950s, was a champion of what he called “Modern Republicanism.” He resisted calls from right-wingers for repeal of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and government regulations. He advocated government efforts to assist workers who had lost their jobs. He favored a helping hand from government for senior citizens. He said he wanted to lead America “down the middle of the road between the unfettered power of concentrated wealth . . . and the unbridled power of statism or partisan interests.”
Eisenhower endorsed an expansion of Social Security and an increase in the minimum wage. He signed legislation creating the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and supported government construction of low-income housing. He also oversaw creation of the gigantic public-works project that bears his name: the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.
In short, most of what Ike stood for would be anathema to the extremists who now control his party.
And then, of course, there’s Ronald Reagan, the beloved Gipper, the patron saint of modern Republican conservatism. The reverence with which today’s right-wingers claim to regard this man is astonishingly at odds with his actual record as president during the 1980s.
The situation is perhaps best summed up by this bit of SNIDE MOCKERY from Slade Sohmer, who says Reagan’s tenure in the White House ”would have to be considered by current conservative standards ‘the worst presidency in American history’:
This president is a president every conservative Republican and Tea Party member should loathe.
This president nearly tripled the national debt. This president signed an immigration reform bill that granted blanket amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. This president talked with our enemies. This president raised taxes 11 times. This president, in fact, raised payroll taxes in order to pay for government-run health care. This president presided over double-digit unemployment. This president expanded the size of government and created new federal departments. This president cut and ran, withdrawing troops from hostile regions. This president put two justices on the Supreme Court that voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. This president closed tax loopholes to ensure “every corporation pay their fair share.” This president even advocated gun control on the op-ed pages of the, gasp, New York Times.
[C]ompared to the Palins, Limbaughs, Bachmanns, Tea Party leaders and Fox News commentators that make up the current ideological head of the conservative mega-beast, Reagan is at best a centrist. At worst — strictly looking at governance, not ideology — he governed far more liberally than the job-killing, tax-raising, enemy-appeasing, immigrant-loving Barack Obama.
Can you imagine the vitriol from Fox News if President Obama granted amnesty to illegal immigrants? Can you imagine the venom on Tea Party signs if President Obama raised taxes 11 times, called out corporations for tax loopholes and nearly tripled the national debt? Can you imagine the uproar from talk radio if President Obama actually wrote an op-ed advocating any restrictions on the sale of handguns? The right-wing echo chamber might implode upon itself in a fit of blind rage.
UPDATE: Whenever I write a post comparing Ronald Reagan’s record (or, in this case, Dwight Eisenhower’s record, too) with the extremism of today’s Republican Party, none of our resident Applesauce conservatives have anything to say.
Apparently, they just can’t dispute the historical record, and perhaps they also recognize they’re at least partly responsible for what their party has become.
Oh, the shame of it all! Ike and Ronnie would be labeled RINOs in today’s GOP!