Sean Wilentz wrote a good article for The New Republic yesterday tracing the history of Reaganist conservatism in America. As he writes, “The age of Reagan, born out of the center’s collapse in the ’60s and ’70s, has, thanks to George W. Bush, finally lost its relevance, except as a nostalgic touchstone of bygone Republican glory.”
The right’s fascination with Reagan in recent years has perplexed me. His persona has taken on an almost mythical aura, especially since his death. Here was a president that inaugurated what many see as the age of unchallenged American hegemony. His administration’s foreign policy record is nowhere nearly as luminous as it has been made out to be: the Iran-contra affair, questionable support for Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war and for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, a regime-ousting invasion of Grenada, a retaliative strike against Libya, and some needless political moralizing (remember the ‘evil empire’ remark?) That’s not to say his domestic policies were any more successful. Cutting back on government spending and following a dogmatic platform of market liberalization led to large budget deficits by the time he left office.
If Wilentz is right and the Reagan era is at an end, we should see a Democratic win in November. But if by election time McCain and either Obama or Clinton are in a dead heat, I’m sure a lot of the Reaganite right will flock to McCain regardless of what they may be saying about him now.