Jonah Goldberg

While Obama's invocation of Reagan worked on a lot of liberal pundits, it was a clunker with conservatives. Of course, it's doubtful Obama thought it would actually persuade the GOP. After all, that 1982 deal which raised taxes was one of Reagan's greatest regrets. The Democrats promised to cut $3 in spending for every $1 in tax increases. They lied, a fact Reagan resented until he died.

And that raises an important point for Republicans and Democrats alike. I don't want to say, "Who cares what Reagan would have done?" It's certainly an interesting question. But the answer in most cases is, "We have no idea." Events today are different than they were in the 1980s. The notion that we can know what Reagan's position would be today is to assume that his views wouldn't adapt to new circumstances. The Republican Party is full of veteran Reaganauts from back then. Their thinking has changed. Reagan's probably would have too, and in the same direction.

Indeed, one of the reasons the Tea Parties are so "outrageously" intransigent and uncompromising is that they've seen what compromise has gotten in the past. In other words, they've learned the lessons of history. It's an insult to Reagan's memory to suggest that he wouldn't have as well. My own view is that Reagan would look at the doubling of the size of the federal government in the last 10 years and become awfully "stubborn" about reducing spending.

Regardless, the irony of all this is the fact that the GOP presidential contenders aren't playing the "I'm Reagan" game all that much anymore. The issues are clear enough, the candidates are confident enough, and the primary voters are energized enough that there's not much to be gained with gassy nostalgia.

They still say nice things about Reagan, of course. But they understand -- finally -- that asking "What would Reagan Do?" doesn't get you all that far. Whereas once it was a provocative thing to call yourself a "Reagan Republican," it's not anymore because Reagan's become so popular and the times have changed so much. Rather, everyone cherry-picks what they like about the guy and claims him as an ally. Even Barack Obama.

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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