An election footnote. Ron and Nancy Reagan must have thought long and hard before campaigning against Oliver North. After all, the 11th commandment, “never criticize a fellow Republican,” may be the only one this show-biz duo hasn’t broken. But campaign they did, Ron by calling North a liar in the primary and Nancy by repeating the charge in the last weeks of the race. What followed in each instance—derisive laughter from North’s supporters—confirmed what many had already suspected: Ron and Nancy are irrelevant. Nancy, after all, was last heard of running the White House via a San Francisco astrologer and having intimate lunches with Frank Sinatra when Ron was out of town. As for Ron, this is the man who captivated conservatives for two decades before his presidency. He was the living embodiment of everything they hoped to achieve. Now he’s a vague memory from a bygone era.
Every so often, some conservative magazine or newspaper tries to revive the zombie of Reaganism. The Wall Street Journal, for example, republished the text of Ron’s speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964. “This is the issue of our time,” he said, “whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite” should run our lives. Ron was right, but the effect of publishing this speech was to underscore the fantastic waste of time and energy of the Reagan years: two consecutive terms, and not a single promise kept. Instead we got a tripled deficit, a doubled budget, six tax increases, expanded federal police power, two new government agencies, and American troops running all over the world. Nor was this the fault of Ron’s advisors (Reagan was Reagan) or of Democrats in Congress (who consistently cut White House spending requests). As governor of California, he was a big taxer and a big spender too. It was Ron’s leviathan that gave birth to Proposition 13, as Phil Crane pointed out when he opposed Reagan in the 1980 primaries.
The hard right always saw Reagan as a neoconservative, that is, a liberal posing as a conservative. They said he was owned, lock, stock, and barrel by Hollywood leftists; he was the beloved president of a commie union; and his hero was the dictator FDR. Reagan did nothing as President to disprove this analysis.
There’s a larger lesson, however. We have long since passed the time when new D.C.-implemented policies could save us. As Reagan said in 1964, we don’t need a distant elite running our lives. And we don’t need a distant elite running our revolution. Everywhere, the people are rising up, in blissful ignorance of Ron and Nancy, although their release of Reagan’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis just before the election did, as intended, boost their charges against North among mainstream Republicans. But whatever the merits or demerits of Oliver North, the people who backed him have a revolutionary agenda that goes far beyond a senate race. It is that agenda that will determine the future of the right.