Ronald Reagan unleashed a tide of entrepreneurialism that made this country better off. From the small businessman on Main Street to the Silicon Valley tech industries, moving up and ahead was the order of the day. It still is in rank-and-file conservative circles. But the movement has trended away towards any sense of collective responsibility in the domestic sphere at all. Rank-and-file conservatives tend to be among the more generous people I know, and as individuals are great. Where I disagree with them politically is that “rugged individualism”, to borrow Rush Limbaugh’s term, is not a healthy formula for society.
The former president may have celebrated entrepreneurialism and deplored Nanny State government, but the movement bearing his name has begun to take on an individualistic bent that does not appear in his diaries. In his own writings, Reagan speaks of the obligation for the government to help out those down on their luck—in his autobiography he goes so far as to define it as the assistance the rest of us “owed them.” I don’t know if even I’d go that far. Reagan recalled the frustration he experienced with the California right-wing who wanted to end welfare altogether, rather than just reform it to make work part of the equation. Even his famous phrase “government is not the solution, government is the problem” had an important precursor to it—“In the present context…”, Reagan said at his 1981 Inauguration, before leading into his well-known phrase. For an understanding of that context, read through the post below. Ronald Reagan didn’t hate government. He just knew its limits.
This misreading of who Ronald Reagan really was finds its most extreme form in the Libertarian Party. I’m currently reading the book “The Conscience of A Libertarian”, by its 2012 presidential hopeful Wayne Root. The book, written by a resident of Las Vegas and sports handicapper (as an aside, I cross paths with him in my work, and he is a genuinely good football handicapper) celebrates the individualism of Vegas, with its legalized prostitution and also advocates for legalization of drugs. I do agree with him on the need for legalization of all gambling. The notion of any collective responsibility at all is written off. Most Reaganites don’t go that far—especially on drugs, prostitution and other key human rights questions, such as the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life—but they are on an increasingly libertarian path that I can’t go along with. Big government has screwed up its share of things, but so has big business and so has big labor. Balance is what's important and the libertarian path upsets that delicate balance.