Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's daughter, recently speculated on where her father might stand on same-sex marriage. Politico published her thoughts under the headline, "Patti Davis says Reagan wouldn't have opposed gay marriage."
The impact of the article was immediate. A quick Google search yielded multiple follow-up articles and blog posts. Liberals nationwide were off and running with a new same-sex marriage endorsement: this one from Reagan, the conservative's conservative.
This is not the first time liberals have rushed to recast Reagan according to their policy preferences. Immediately after his death in June 2004, he was trotted out as a poster-boy for embryonic stem-cell research.
Please, not so fast.
In Davis' defense, she starts with a crucial point about her father, one liberals had utterly refused while the man was alive: "He was a very tolerant person."
Indeed, Reagan was tolerant -- on religion, on race, on ethnic differences, on differences of opinion on many things, and also toward gays. As Davis notes, "He did not have prejudices against gay people." Davis gives just a few of many examples.
But she then goes where I don't think we should. She states of her father and same-sex marriage: "I don't think he would stand in the way of it, at all. I don't think he would stand in the way of two people wanting to make a commitment to one another."
Davis then uses an argument that is libertarian (which Reagan was not), and which fails to understand the essence of conservatives' objection to same-sex marriage: "I also think because he wanted government out of peoples' lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing."
The problem with that statement, applied to the same-sex marriage debate, is this: Conservatives object to the federal government rendering unto itself the unprecedented ability to redefine marriage. Such is a massive step toward government intervention (one that should worry libertarians), toward powerful government, toward big government -- not restrained and limited government.
It is a step that breaks entirely new ground in not only American history but human history, one with unimaginable and extraordinary effects yet to come on the family, the culture, the economy, government services and (among others) the court system.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."