Ronald Reagan Was a RINO?

by Frank Hill,

Ronald Reagan actually was a RINO, according to the current definition by some people, that is.

We find it amusing when we read that some wag has tagged a politician with a short-hand slap such as 'RINO' (Republican-in-Name-Only) and then slaps himself on the back for being 'so clever and funny'.

Many times, the facts just don't support the insinuations.

'RINOs' are Republicans who apparently stray from the doctrine in place at the time, whatever it may be. The most egregious of all heresies a RINO of 2010 can commit is to vote for any tax increase, or in the case of the current debate over the extension of the Bush 43 tax cuts, allow them to expire under current law as of December 31.

President Ronald Reagan signed laws that raised taxes 11 times: 1982 was the largest hike in history at that time.

The 1983 Social Security payroll tax hikes are still with us in the form of the infamous 'SS surplus' which is ephemeral and only took in far higher payroll taxes than were necessary to pay current SS benefits for the past 26 years.

So was one of the most revered iconic figures of the American Conservative movement, President Ronald Wilson Reagan, an idiot; a communist or worse, a 'Progressive'?

Reagan signed these bills as part of his strategy to shrink government size and influence in our lives. Did he succeed or not? That remains for history to decide but he definitely had the overall goal of less government in mind in virtually all that he did while President from 1981-1989.

And now that President Obama has 'given in' and agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, he is being savaged by the Left and being called, guess what? A 'DINO'--'Democrat in Name Only'.

What is going on here?

There is a difference between 'campaigning' and 'governing' in a pluralistic democratic republic such as ours, the 'worst' form of government ever devised, or so says a luminary such as Winston Churchill.*

We think the problem we have today is the way politicos identify and describe our current political differences. It used to be, going back to the Founders' times, that political parties centered around the basic fundamental differences between those who wanted more centralized power in Washington and those who didn't, namely those who wanted states to reign supreme.

'Big Government Versus Small Government'. That was the marquee billing for most of our nation's history in our political debates and disputes.

But long about 1988 or so, presidential politics started turning more towards issues of 'character' when doubts about Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, were raised concerning his support of a weekend furlough program for a convicted prisoner guilty of murder named Willie Horton who then raped a woman and assaulted her fiance while on furlough.

And since then, we have not really had a rip-roaring debate about any of the major issues facing us such as the budget deficits or reforming Social Security or Medicare, all critical issues that can make-or-break our economic future.

The bottom-line in these arguments would be thusly stated: If Democrats pass legislation that leads to 'bigger government', as in Obamacare, they 'win'. If Republicans would pass comprehensive legislation that leads to smaller government, they 'win'. It would be pretty clear delineation of political philosophies put that way and debated out in the open public.

Instead of defining a person as a 'small government' Republican first and foremost nowadays, here is the litmus test you have to pass in order to be considered true to the cause today in 2010:

1) Pro-Life
2) Anti-Gay Rights
3) Anti-Illegal Immigrants
4) Pro-Gun 2nd Amendment Freedoms
5) Pro-Tax Cuts, any time; anywhere; anyway....
25) Small(er) Government (or at least smaller than the Democrats want)
Priority #10,000,000,000) Balanced Budgets
Priority #10,000,000,001) Elimination of National Debt

And if you don't want to be a 'DINO', you have to adhere to the following set of core values as a Democrat or else you are banished into exile:

1) Pro-Choice
2) Pro-Gay Rights
3) Pro-Illegal Immigrant Amnesty
4) Anti-Gun Second Amendment Freedoms
5) Pro-Tax Hikes any time; anywhere; anyway...
25) More Big Government Programs to Fix Whatever Ails This Nation
Priority #10,000,000,000) Balanced Budgets
Priority #10,000,000,001) Elimination of National Debt

We think the reason why we now have such vacuous national and local campaigns is precisely due to the fact that these big issues are so complicated and painful to talk about. Each of the big issues are so fraught with risks of 'offending the senior citizens', all of whom vote in each election, for example, that politicians just default to the more simple issues and use them as proxies to convey to the voters who they are and what their core values are.

And here we are $14 trillion in debt later, soon-to-become $16 trillion when these tax cuts and unemployment benefits extensions pass Congress.

Something has got to change. Let it start to change with the way you define your own political beliefs and how you talk to your friends and political adversaries.

* 'No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.'

--Winston Churchill in a speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947

Cross posted at

(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).


  1. Brave LCR.

    Reagan snuffed mfr of civilian automatic weapons. Not something the modern patron saint of conservatism should do... D's and R's - not that much difference.

  2. I would humbly submit that the key difference between the actions of a principled politician and the ruthless pragmatism of those who happily make deals at the statist center is that centrists are looking for the shortest path to perpetual power. A principled politician is willing to work a little harder and wait a little longer in order to achieve objectives that are a little more sublime.

    Ronald Reagan's legacy is generally untarnished by his compromises because his quest was not a pursuit of power or personal aggrandizement. Reagan was genuinely interested in empowering the individual. Compromises were a means to that end.

    Today's RINOs show little interest in transferring power from the federal government to rank and file citizens, and they show very little evidence for an appreciation for natural law or free markets or the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

    I would hasten to add that Obama's base is rightfully upset at Obama for his apathetic indifference to their most cherished values.

  3. Oh, will there ever be an end to these interesting times?

  4. Excellent post. Few people could pass the purity tests of Tea Party banners, and those who could don't often possess the ability to govern or the political savviness to attain the position.

    Compromise is not a dirty word, particularly when government is split or when the electorate is generally hostile to your better intentions. A conservative governor of California or Massachusetts, if one were lucky to be elected, wouldn't accomplish much taking a hard line. And a politician who doesn't accomplish anything usually doesn't keep his job very long. In those positions, your greatest success is damage control and a slow, laborious process of winding back the liberal establishment.

    The political stakes have never been higher. We are in a worldwide war, the economy is in tatters, the debt and deficit are staggering, our entitlement programs both unsustainable and politically untouchable, and too many important Supreme Court decisions are 5-4.

    Job #1 for Republicans is to get the Bush tax cuts extended for everyone, at least temporarily. Then they need to find ways to cut spending and erode harmful laws passed under the Demon Rats. They should not attempt to be too ambitious - they won't have a supermajority to override a veto

    In 2012, the Republicans will almost certainly retake the Senate. God willing, they will find a candidate who is worth his salt to defeat Obama and secure the next two or three Supreme Court nominees. Reapportionment and redistricting should help immensely to win the presidency, unless we nominate another Dole, McCain, or other washed up paleo-conservative.

    Once Congress, the White House, and the SCOTUS are firmly in our grasp, it will be time to tackle the bigger issues we face. It may involve some tax increases or draconian cuts to eliminate our national debt.

    Above all they must resist the urge to begin spending on their own pet projects. We need to keep them honest next time. I can't believe how many opportunities we missed when we had all three branches of government!

    You can lead by general principles, but political strategy, pragmatism, and compromise can't ever be ruled out. The Demon Rats learned their lesson the hard way when they steered too far from the political center, their compass stuck on far left.

  5. Thanks for all these comments. I had a feeling Left Coast Rebels would be thoughtful and reasoned thinkers.

    Here's the heck of it, and you can confirm it by looking at various CBO documents: the amount of revenues paid by individuals and corporations to the federal government has hovered around 18% of GDP despite various tax hikes and tax cuts programs. The question has very little to do with tax has almost EVERYTHING to do with controlling spending policy.

    But to do that, you have to compromise and get the best deal you can...and then come back the next time around and try to get more.

    We do not live in a totalitarian dictatorship, thank God.

    I asked one guy if we would take a $4 trillion spending cut package IF there was also a $1 tax hike on every taxpaying household, including everyone now not currently paying income taxes at all. That would be a $4 trillion spending cut/$140 million tax hike ratio.

    He said: 'NO!~ NEVER! That would violate my tax pledge!'

    There is a gas leak in his house and office I am sure....I just hope it doesn't kill him but it surely has altered his reasoning capacities as a higher order life form supposedly smarter than the apes.

    Hard to tell though based on this conversation...

  6. I do have to take issue with your #2 on the list. I don't know any Republicans that are "Anti-Gay Rights" -- they are, rather, "Anti-special-protected-class/minority-status for Gays."

    I find there's a world of difference between the 2. Yes, there are certainly anti-gay bigots out there, but in my experience you'll find just as many on the D side of the aisle.

    Frankly, I'd not put it as #2 on your list either. More like #10,000,000,002. That could just be me projecting my personal thought on it though. I don't find it very important. I do wish that your #'s 10 billion and 10 billion-and-1 were up in the #1 and #2 slots though :-(

  7. maybe it is a southern thang then....

    this list is verbatim regarding almost any GOP candidate I have heard talk about over the past 20 years. First comment out of their mouths? 'He/she is pro-life. I like that.'

    #2 'He/she is for traditional marriage between a man and woman'

    and on down the line.

    I frankly think the whole priority structure has to be turned on its head and make balanced budgets/smaller government the #1-2 blended goal for any conservative/independent/libertarian type for the 21st century.

    abortion/gay rights/illegals...they are all 'important' issues, don't get me wrong.

    But can a republic survive as we debate how to deal with those issues? Yes, of course they can because we have and will continue to do so.

    But what about if this debt service spirals out of control and we have a major debasement of our currency; hyperinflation; sky-high interest rates (we had 21% in 1980...saw them with own two blue eyes) or maybe just a run-of-the-mill 'boycotting' of the purchase of our debt by the Chinese and other foreign sovereigns?

    History is littered with major powers that are now no longer because they said 'It will never happen to us!'(Roman Empire/Greek Democracy/Qin Dynasty/even the good old USSR)...and by overspending their resources and borrowing too much, it did.

    QED. End of story


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