Last week, on his Fox News television show, Glenn Beck hailed former Presidents George Washington and Ronald Reagan as the paragons of conservative ideology and limited, constitutional government. But, upon further review, perhaps conservatives should take a closer look at these political giants.
George Washington is a hero in our national history, and rightly so. President Reagan is a GOP icon, and perhaps the most cited Republican politician in modern times. Sometimes, though, it behooves independent thinkers to question the consensus and challenge uncontested dogma.
For example, while President Washington’s brave leadership in the Continental Army, wise supervision over the constitutional convention, and humble service as our nation’s first president are eminently commendable, it may surprise devoted adherents to learn the following. After reading Washington’s section in the book The Politcally Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, I discovered that Washington may not have been as “conservative” as people think. For example, he was a nationalist who emphasized a stronger, central government over that of state sovereignty, though a “federalist” in the early days of America would likely still be considered quite conservative by today’s evolving standards. Washington selected Alexander Hamilton, an avowed big government monarchist, as his Treasury Secretary. He endorsed the first “national bank”, and even personally enforced a punishing whiskey tax on farmers. Finally, he packed the Supreme Court with justices who strongly preferred a powerful national government, and he left the nation in a highly polarized (sound familiar?) state upon his departure. During Washington’s presidency, Thomas Jefferson, known as the champion of strict constitutionalism and states’ rights, opposed Washington in most of his major policies.
Turning to Reagan, many recall his charismatic and highly inspirational speeches about limited government, states’ rights, low taxes, and strong moral values. Reagan captivated a nation, and many believe, on both sides of the aisle, that his leadership was pivotal in hastening the demise of the Soviet Union. However, it may surprise some people to know that during his presidency, the national debt doubled as domestic spending slightly rose and military spending skyrocketed. He even called the explosive rise in the national debt his “greatest disappointment”. Supporters often contest that Democrats controlled the House, but for most of his eight years as President, Republicans controlled the Senate. In addition, the US Dollar lost about 6% of its value, as the US embarked on a borrowing and spending spree, and the federal budget was never balanced. Under Reagan, the federal government grew substantially in both size and cost.
In 1986, Reagan also supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which opened the door to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and while Governor California, he approved tax hikes to balance the state budget.
Instead of Washington and Reagan being upheld as the unassailable champions of “conservative” ideology and limited government, perhaps conservative-leaning political fans and network celebrities should take a closer look at Thomas Jefferson and Dwight D Eisenhower. Jefferson was a staunch defender of states’ rights, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and a more limited central government. Eisenhower, as I layed out previously, actually balanced the budget and paid down debt a few years during his presidency, with Democrats in charge of Congress. And he (a Five Star General) did so by ending US involvement in the Korean War, cutting the military budget, and even expanding domestic spending on certain fronts.
And to be sure, neither one of these individuals was the perfect “conservative” in every respect, but in several key metrics, they could be objectively judged as being stronger proponents of a more limited federal government and fiscally disciplined treasury than Washington and Reagan.
So the next time you hear Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, or Rachel Maddow champion a particular individual or cause, take the time to dig a little deeper and put their claims to the test. Often times, narrow-minded partisanship is leaving out some inconvenient facts.