October 28 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most classic and revered political speeches in American history. Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” roused the American people and was a crucial moment in his ascendance to the conservative leader he became. That’s why it’s crucial that we forget it.
A popular conservative news site writes, “we would do well to also remember the choice he made that became the spark, spirit and driving force of his vision for the country.” Ah don’t the rhetoric and buzzwords fill you with a sense of patriotism? If it doesn’t you probably hate America…or something.
Contrary to the right-wingers ahistorical love affair with the Reagan presidency, he didn’t, “build his politics around a profound respect for the honest, hardworking men and women who made America work”…whatever that means. He was a big government, war-mongering, statist with little concern for anyone not entrenched in his administration.
Reagan raised taxes 11 times. He tripled the federal budget deficit. Overall federal spending ballooned. He bailed out the absurdly regressive social security program. He doubled the size of the department of education, increased farm programs by 140%, and more that doubled foreign aid. Perhaps worst of all, he funded the rise of Osama bin Laden.
What kind of small government hero is this?
Why are so-called “limited government conservatives” praising one of the most statist presidents in recent memory? Perhaps it’s because they are simply ignoring history and buying into the propaganda. On the other hand, it might be that conservatism isn’t actually all that dedicated to freedom and liberty like it says it is. Maybe it’s all just rhetoric. Maybe the conservatives are just as tyrannical and statist as liberals. Just maybe.
Writing in response to Reagan’s fetish for military spending, that has plagued the Republican Party since, Murray Rothbard wrote, “How can we reconcile the plea for individual liberty, the free market, and the minimizing of government with the call for global confrontation and increased power to the FBI and the Pentagon?”
The answer is we can’t. There is no reconciliation. It’s the conservative contradiction.
Of course, we can’t be that surprised modern conservatives ignore this contradiction and buy into the “war on terror” rhetoric and other such statist nonsense. After all, they are caught up in the game of politics. But how on Earth do libertarians get caught up in the Reagan fetishizing?!
In an attempt to find common ground or work with the right, libertarians have often fallen into the trap of Reagan worship; somehow spinning a few select quotes into evidence that Reagan was a libertarian. Does the above track record look remotely libertarian to you? If you have the slightest knowledge of the work of Spooner, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and others you’ll quickly realize the Reagan presidency was the total opposite of libertarianism. It ought to be frowned upon by any principled libertarian.
Fusionism is a strategy doomed to fail. Libertarians aren’t just “republicans who smoke pot.” Libertarianism is a radical, principled, anti-political, anti-conservative ideology. While conservatism glorifies tradition, stagnation, and the past, libertarianism embraces dynamism, tolerance, an open culture, and innovation. Rightly understood, it belongs on the left, like its classically liberal forerunners.
Trying to claim Reagan as one of ours, or trying to moderate our radical-ness to appeal to the right leads to the disintegration of truly libertarian principles. We would not do well to remember Reagan’s speech. It’s imperative that we completely forget it, the entire Reagan presidency, and conservatism as a whole if we want a free future.