WITH the death on Tuesday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell , the Baptist minister and founder of the Moral Majority, and the announcement on Thursday that Paul D. Wolfowitz would resign from the presidency of the World Bank , two major figures in the modern conservative movement exited the political stage. To many, this is the latest evidence that the conservative movement, which has dominated politics during the last quarter century, is finished.
Behind the Wall of Silence Frank Rich reheats the anti-Religious Right souflée. I guess somebody had to.
And Lou Cannon, Reagan's Boswell (five books? And a sixth on the way? Was Reagan even remotely that interesting?), lands closest to the mark, even as he rises to defend Ol' Dutch from charges that he ever, uh, announced that he owed everything to Falwell and had Jesus on the Hot Line at that very moment. Or something.
Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 after an issues-oriented campaign against an unpopular incumbent. He did not push the social issues emphasized by Mr. Falwell and his Moral Majority but income-tax cuts, military-spending increases and what Mr. Reagan called the “failed leadership” of President Jimmy Carter.
We can, and will, add that by that time Reagan had campaigned for almost a generation on reducing the national debt, and that the "failed leadership" of Jimmy Carter was particularly represented by a hostage crisis in Iraq that Bill Casey had more than a little to do with by the time the campaign rolled around; that those tax-cuts, a standard stump promise which later sought refuge in something called the Laughable Curve would barely survive his first term, and that the military-spending, typically on big ticket high-tech items like Operation Pie in the Sky, added greatly to the quadrupling of that national debt while ensuring that the United States, by 1990, was more ready than ever to refight WWII. We say this not simply because it ought to be appended to every discussion of the Reagan Legacy--his hagiographers have better resources than we, and seem to need less sleep--but to point out the simple fact that Ronald Wilson Reagan was, between age 50 through sometime after the onset of Alzeheimer's, a politician, and a professionally stage-managed politician, at that. It wasn't exactly Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth coming out of the man's mouth throughout the 80s.
President Reagan’s priorities were dealing with the Soviet Union from strength and cutting taxes. He never advocated a faith-based initiative. While he spoke at every one of the annual anti-abortion rallies in Washington, it was always by telephone. This was no accident. Mr. Reagan, a skilled political communicator, knew that a picture, especially a televised picture, makes a much bigger public impression than a phone call.
Ah, the "Reagan is not personally an ideologue" routine. One is left to wonder why, if that was the case, anyone ever had to bother making it. I remember that at the time it was difficult to believe the national discourse had sunk to the point where this sort of thing could be offered as a real distinction, that Reagan could make a move purely for political reasons and have the mere fact that he, or his handlers, had recognized the political component of the move as proof that 1) they were politically savvy; 2) they were masters of the public relations gesture; and 3) that they still hadn't gone all the way. The "But His Maidenhead Is Still Intact" defense. Who is this supposed to convince?
If Reagan and Falwell's balloons floated on somewhat different admixtures--and still do, to varying degrees--and if Falwell's notorious difficulties with Reality included claiming that Dutch owed his prominence to Jerry rather than vice versa, well, it proves only that the little Republican tent was still large enough to support more than one hot air vendor.