A losing argument

I agree with Kevin Drum; there’s little to be gained from liberal/center-left groups like CAP arguing that today’s Republican Party has moved far to Ronald Reagan’s right. Yes, it feeds an argument that the current Republican Party is tiptoeing out on the radical right-wing fringe, but it’s a hollow way to make that point. Here’s Drum:

Still, I think you need to take this with a grain of salt for a couple of reasons. First, Reagan governed in a different era. America was coming off a 15-year period of exceptional liberal progress, so Reagan was dealing with a country that was considerably to the left of today’s. Common sense dictates that if you’re at the top of a mountain, you spend your time figuring out how make it down to a reachable base camp, not trying to get to the bottom all at once. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to get to the bottom eventually.

Second, as president he had to figure out how to get things done, and he had to do it in the face of a still-Democratic House. Simple obstruction just wasn’t an option. Reagan had to negotiate compromises whether he liked it or not.

So look, bad uses of history to make points about the present is kind of a pet peeve, and this is one example of that. As Drum says, it’s entirely possible that if Reagan came back to life today, and not at the Great Conservative Apocalypse as has been foretold in the prophecy, he’d be pleased as punch that today’s Republicans took his movement to its logical, insane conclusion.

But to me, the biggest reason to avoid making this comparison is that it cedes too much ground. Even if it’s not CAP’s intention to argue that Reagan was OK, and I assume it’s not, they’re still arguing that Reagan was relatively OK, and that’s splitting hairs as a political message. We should still be trying to claw back from the mess that Reagan’s two terms foisted upon this country, not conceding that hey, compared to these crazies on the right today, maybe Reagan wasn’t so bad after all.

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