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The Republican Virginity Pledge

November 24, 2009

With their virginity pledges and father-daughter purity balls, American conservatives have taken to public proclamations of their chastity and propriety. Now with its proposed "Ronald Reagan Unity Principle," the Republican National Committee is considering its own purity test for GOP candidates. But just like the right-wing teens that invariably violate their oaths of premarital abstinence, even the holiest of Republicans would fail the GOP's new Ten Commandments. Just like Ronald Reagan.
Writing at the Red State blog, Erick Erickson opposes the RNC pledge not because it is too difficult to adhere to, but too easy. Worrying that it might "give a lot of candidates cover to pretend to be conservative," Erickson concludes:

"Conservatives in the RNC, however well meaning they may be, risk giving liberal candidates easy opportunities to get conservative endorsements simply by checking the box without ever meaning it."

But a quick look at the history suggests that Erick Erickson shouldn't be fretting that the next Dede Scozzafava will pass his party's new test of faith, but that its icon Ronald Reagan so utterly failed it.
The Gipper himself did not come close to crossing the RNC's 8 of 10 threshold, starting with the resolution's first pillar which demands support for:

Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill.

Sadly for the mythmakers of the right, the numbers tell the story of the Republican fiscal rot which commenced during the reign of St. Ronnie. As predicted, Reagan's massive $749 billion supply-side tax cuts in 1981 quickly produced even more massive annual budget deficits. Combined with his rapid increase in defense spending, Reagan delivered not the balanced budgets he promised, but record-settings deficits. Even his OMB alchemist David Stockman could not obscure the disaster with his famous "rosy scenarios."
Forced to raise taxes twice to avert financial catastrophe (a fact conveniently forgotten in the conservative hagiography of Reagan), the Gipper nonetheless presided over a tripling of the American national debt. The $998 billion debt he inherited in 1981 exploded to $2.9 trillion by the end of his second term. By the time he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history.
On foreign policy, too, Ronald Reagan failed RNC committeeman Jim Bopp's Seventh Commandment:

Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.

While the RNC might wish to forget, most Americans will remember that Reagan's Iran policy consisted of giving the mullahs in Iran a cake, a Bible - and U.S. arms.
The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein (who, of course, was backed by the United States). In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:

A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.

The rest, as they say, is history. After the revelations regarding his trip to Tehran and the Iran-Contra scheme, a disgraced McFarlane attempted suicide. After his initial denials, President Reagan was forced to address the nation on March 4, 1987 and acknowledge he indeed swapped arms for hostages (video here):

"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."

(For more background, read the Reagan diaries, starting with the part in which he admits in 1986, "I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran.")
Reagan's failing grades don't there. His 1987 amnesty for illegal immigrants obviously contradicted the RNC's Fifth Commandment that true Republicans support "legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants." And with his strong backing of the Brady Bill, Ronald Reagan thumbed his nose at the GOP's Tenth Commandment to steadfastly support "the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership."
Nevertheless, Republicans seem determined to debate requiring the equivalent of a new virginity pledge for the conservative faithful. But like those earnest teenage girls who ultimately "unwrapped the gift," Republican Congressional candidates will fail to live up to their promise. But unlike their daughters who compromised only themselves, Republicans like Ronald Reagan screwed the whole country.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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