The 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth offers an opportunity to reflect on the fact that the 40th president still has a big impact on today's political landscape, and that the Reagan legacy includes some aspects that no longer exist.
-- President Obama interpreted his win in 2008 as a sign that he had defeated Reagan's mantra of minimalist government, one Bill Clinton could never overcome. But two years into Obama's term, it's clear he overestimated his mandate. Since Reagan, Democrats have never reestablished stable majority support for activist government.
-- But, for all the veneration Reagan gets from the GOP, his temperament would have made him ripe for a primary challenge today. Given free rein, Reagan's accomplishments would have been in line with today's Republican Party. But he was smart enough to recognize he didn't have free rein; he had Tip O'Neill and more than a handful of Republican moderates in the Senate.
-- The diversity within the party forced Reagan to be operationally flexible in a manner that, say, ex-Sen. Bob Bennett was not allowed. In an era when Sen. Rand Paul goes negative on Great Compromiser Henry Clay, who can imagine an up-in-arms tea party movement stomaching the tax increases, the debt spending or the immigrant amnesty Reagan signed, no matter how practical a compromise?
The construct that made Reagan an effective political president is still the dominant narrative in American politics. What made him an effective conservative, the art of the negotiated compromise, is no longer an acceptable political option.
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