I don’t agree with what Peggy Noonan says about Obama in this article. But there’s an important point she makes in re: Sarah Palin and some of the crazier (and thankfully, defeated) Tea Part candidates:
Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”
Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.
The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.
Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can’t just bully them, you can’t just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.
Rush Limbaugh was off on this vein too, today, saying that Ronald Reagan “never compromised”, which is ridiculous. Reagan compromised on taxes, the deficit, abortion, government spending and regulation. The difference was that Reagan actually believed in conservatism and so he compromised from that position, getting some conservative goals accomplished. The failed Republicans of the last decade where only interested in self-aggrandizement and the accumulation of power. They liked big government — hence things like the K-street project. The evil “compromisers” — like John McCain — actually got some things accomplished. They got judges approved, spending cut and Medicare D limited, just to name three examples.
The problem of the GOP was not a true blue conservative leadership that tragically compromised with liberal Democrats. The problem was a leadership that had no principles whatsoever, that saw every issue in terms of electoral politics. They ran on gay marriage because they thought they could win on it. They spent like crazy because they thought it could buy votes.
We don’t need people in Washington who believe in “no compromise”. Everything in politics is a compromise. We need people who can fight the right compromise.