Jonah Goldberg

Reagan accomplished just about all conservatives could reasonably hope for given the constraints of his time. Sure, one can kibitz over this or that apparent shortcoming, but we forget why he sometimes had to settle for half a loaf. It’s a mere fact of logic that he could only accomplish what was possible to accomplish. His challenges were not our challenges today.

America was ready for Reagan in 1980. It wasn’t in 1968 or in 1976, when he also tried for the White House. And, if we could clone him today, it might not be ready for him now. Toothpaste won’t go back in the tube, eggs don’t unscramble, Larry Craig can’t take back the toe-tapping. Life goes forward.

In the 1980s, Christian conservatives were part of the leave-me-alone coalition, arguing that the federal government should stop imposing liberal secular values on their children and institutions. Now, some Christian conservatives want the government to intrude, but this time in ways that promote traditional values. Reagan signed an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Today, John McCain’s similar but tougher stance on immigration has all but disqualified him among people looking for another Reagan. Why? Because the party has learned from Reagan’s mistake in a way McCain has not. Right or wrong, good or bad, one thing is certain: Today’s climate is different than it was a quarter-century ago.

Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and the rest of the pack all want to claim the Gipper-slipper fits them best. But the trick to being the Reagan of today is to be the Reagan of today. Reagan was the needed solution to the problems of a generation ago. The Reagan of today will do the same for today. He will likely agree with the Gipper on a lot of issues, but that agreement shouldn’t stem from play-acting.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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