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Scenes From The Reagan Cult

In the conservative movement, the word of Ronald Reagan is considered holy writ. A position held by Ronald Reagan is, by definition, the correct one. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Peter Robinson argues that conservatives should favor immigration reform because Reagan did.

In a television advertisement airing in Arizona, John McCain, running for a fifth term in the Senate, strolls through the desert near Nogales with Paul Babeu, sheriff of Pinal County. ...
Messrs. McCain and Babeu chat for a moment about Sen. McCain's "Ten-Point Border Security Plan." Then Sen. McCain, reciting one of the 10 points, delivers the line with which the 30-second spot climaxes: "Complete the danged fence."
John McCain, fencing off America. Would Ronald Reagan have approved?
Anyone who retains a high opinion of Reagan, whom John McCain himself has described as one of his heroes, can hardly help wondering. In 1986, Reagan signed legislation granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Instead of denouncing the undocumented, Reagan invited them to become citizens. If Reagan was right then, isn't Sen. McCain wrong now?

I love that last sentence. If Reagan was right -- and Robinson assumes this point rather than demonstrate it -- and Reagan disagreed with McCain, then by definition McCain is wrong. QED. A surprisingly large number of intra-conservative debates take this form. The only acceptable response is to reply, No, Reagan did not actual agree with you, he agreed with me.

Some conservatives have begun to suggest that the cult of Reagan has gone a bit too far. But they only go so far as to argue that, while Reagan was the perfect answer for the problems of his day, he lacked only the ability to offer solutions for problems that had not yet materialized during his time on Earth. For instance, conservative apostate David Frum has said, ""Ronald Reagan was a great leader and a great president because he addressed the problems of his time. But we have very different problems—and we need very different answers." The idea that maybe one or two of Reagan's positions were actually a bad idea at the time remains too heretical even for conservative heretics.

A decade ago, while writing an article about this phenomenon, I spoke with Grover Norquist, one of the high priests of the Reagan cult. Norquist was certain that liberals had their own political deity, a figure whose works were presumed correct in all ways. He suggested Franklin Roosevelt. I told him no, liberals understood that Roosevelt made a lot of mistakes. I remember Norquist reacting to this with extreme skepticism. The idea that a political movement could exist without a leader whose record amounts to a sacred text was too bizarre for him to imagine.