In the fall of 1984, with the re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan in full swing, I began my undergraduate studies in political science (“pre-law or pre-unemployed” as they used to say) at The George Washington University, a mere three blocks from the White House. The first semester of my freshman year also marks the beginning of my transformation into a “Reagan Conservative.”
Growing up in a family who identified with the Democratic Party (my Dad served as a City Councilman and Mayor of Lake Placid, FL while a registered Democrat), I soon realized that my understanding of what it meant to be a Democrat (even in 1984) differed from my Democratic friends and fraternity brothers, most of whom hailed from the Northeast. It did not take too many discussions (some rather heated) to understand that my political/social/cultural leanings were much closer to the Party of Reagan and Bush than to the Party of Mondale and Kennedy. Although I turned 18 a week after the 1984 Presidential Election and never had the opportunity to vote for Ronald Reagan, his Presidency — and, more importantly, his brand of conservatism — has continued to influence and shape how I view politics and how I engage in the political arena.
As a Pastor, I have tried to be non-partisan when it comes to the political side of issues. That does not mean that I avoid taking a stand on the pressing moral and cultural issues of the day (i.e., same-sex marriage and abortion). However, I do not and will not endorse political candidates from the pulpit. I refuse to label everyone who votes for a Democrat as a godless, heathen non-Christian. I will even give credit to President Obama when he makes the right decision.
As a blogger, I have been more forthright in my opinions (which are mine alone). I can write in a way that is more suitable for a blog post, but would be ill-advised for a sermon. Some might think some of my sermons are ill-advised, but that’s a subject to be tackled another day. Over the last year, I have tried to “moderate” my tone in the posts that I write. While still addressing the issues from a decidedly conservative point-of-view, I never want to come across as mean or graceless. After all, the blog is “From Law TO Grace!” I don’t always hit the mark, but when I do mess up — particularly when it comes to posts about politics — my liberal friends are kind enough to remind me of my “sin.”
What a great segue to one of the reasons that I am a “Reagan Conservative.” I actually have liberal friends. Some of them are VERY liberal. We don’t agree on most issues, but we can talk and dialogue (usually through Facebook or on the blog). We challenge each other to hone our arguments and, when we are wrong, we can admit it. Ronald Reagan was a conservative who had friends, political allies, and political opponents — not enemies — that spanned the political spectrum. He could engage in rough-and-tumble policy fights with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill during the day and still be able to sit down and share a drink with the Democratic stalwart the same night.
Ronald Reagan believed in the conservative principles of limited government, a strong defense at home and abroad, and fiscal responsibility. He was a champion for the rights of the unborn. And, he believed that the Constitution was the foundation upon which our Democratic-Republic must stand or fall. But, one thing that Ronald Reagan was not — at least in his governance as President — was a purist who would blow the government up to achieve goals that were unrealistic and unachievable.
I don’t know how many times that I have heard or read some conservatives say that “we need more people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in the government.” With all due respect, I could not disagree more. What we need are more “Reagan Conservatives,” men and women who put people ahead of politics and who would rather spend 21 hours negotiating behind closed doors than spend 21 hours bloviating to a C-Span cameraman in anticipation of a Presidential run in 2016.
While there are aspects of the Tea Party platform that I agree with (limited government and fiscal conservatism to be sure), the scorched-earth tactics that have been and will continue to be used by the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and other members of the Tea Party-wing of the Republican Party will not further the cause of conservatism. Well, they might further the cause of a redefined conservatism, but it will not be a “Reagan Conservatism.” If the Tea Party-wing of the GOP continues to squeak the wheel the most, they will not get the grease, but they will get greased in the 2016 Presidential elections. Last time I checked, it was “Reagan Conservatism” (and, even GW Bush Conservatism) that was able to capture the White House for eight year runs. The reality of politics and governance is that you have to get elected to govern. And, you have to govern to get re-elected. Ronald Reagan was a master at both. And, Ted Cruz is certainly no Ronald Reagan!