Cato’s Gene Healy has an interesting take on the Gipper’s legacy, in light of what would have been his 100th birthday. Healy says that neocons mistakenly cast themselves in Reagan’s shadow, despite the fact that Reagan was far from a neocon himself.
Healy inveighs against the Weekly Standard, which has also published its own tribute to Reagan’s legacy in commemoration of his would-be century mark. However, I find Healy’s criticism to be somewhat unfair.
Certainly, Weekly Standard writers are, in a general sense, viewed as the poster children of neocon ideology and would love to cloak themselves in the Gipper’s aura. However, Jeffrey Bell’s recent column on Reagan’s legacy is both thoughtful and accurate – regardless of one’s take on what he views as the importance of social conservatism.
Bell documents Reagan’s clear departure from the “realist” foreign policies that had animated Republican leaders since the Nixon-Kissinger era. Healy points out that “Reagan viewed the U.S. as a city on a hill, a ‘model to other countries,’ not a crusader state with ‘an obligation to forcibly promote democracy overseas.'” Bell’s column actually reinforces the same viewpoint.
The political Right in America has always been characterized by a somewhat uneasy coalition of libertarians and conservatives since the days when the two ideologies were united in opposition to FDR’s socialist-authoritarian intrusion into American society. However, in this case, I think the disagreement is imagined.
My personal take on Reagan’s legacy has always stemmed from what he told Reason magazine in 1975:
If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals-if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.