In the recent election, one phrase kept cropping up in Republican and conservative circles: “Is _____ the next Reagan?” Many names were offered, from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin to Bobby Jindal, among others. The Reagan-ness of various individuals was hotly debated, with various people touting their favorite candidate’s wit, political savvy, and conservative principles. It seems that no one ever thought to ask whether we actually needed a new Reagan. Michael Reagan referred to Palin as “my dad reborn,” and even Gay Patriot’s thoughtful piece on the differences between Palin and Obama used Reagan as the gold standard, without questioning this comparison.
Large portions of the Republican and conservative voting bases have fond memories of the 40th President. He inspired many people to become involved in politics for the first time, and was generally perceived to be winsome and witty. There’s no denying his impact, but a time comes when even the best image must be put aside, lest it become an idol. Some have allowed their memories of President Reagan to become a Bed of Procrustes on which to sacrifice any up-and-coming conservative politician: the politician must fit the bed, or it is off to the “RINOs” with him!
Many reliable conservative sites, such as Townhall.com and National Review did not fall into this mentality (at least, not often) but even these powerhouses of conservative thought frequently trumpet Reagan’s remembrance over all others. One often wonders if these pundits would resurrect Reagan and re-elect him if they could.
Reagan is not coming back. Even if he were the perfect President-a highly debatable notion, to say the least!–he will not return, so to spend so much time fervently hoping for such a resurrection smacks of political idolatry. Conservatives, and Americans in general, have historically despised the notion of a political savior, someone who will come and make all our decisions for us. Reagan himself never espoused such a hope. It has always been up to Americans to vote, become active in their communities, and do what can be done.
Many conservatives argue that it’s not so much the man himself that they revere, but the principles he governed by. Fair enough. But one of the foundational principles of conservatism is that freedom comes from personal responsibility, not a political savior or a right-wing state. Our trust is in God and in ourselves, not the State, and certainly not the President.
Enough, then, with the retroactive king-making. Let upcoming politicians develop their own identity, and show the world what they have to offer. Let the next generation of voters, many of whom have no memory of Reagan, choose their own heroes. Remember the man, and honor his service to his country, but do not make him the measure of every election.