Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ronald Reagan, the Libertarian

Craig Shirley Rendezvous with Destiny Ronald ReaganPerhaps the most fascinating and informative program I attended at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an event sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).  ISI Books recently published a new book about the 1980 presidential campaign by Craig Shirley, a longtime associate of the late Ronald Reagan.  Shirley's book is called Rendezvous with Destiny:  Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was the recipient of a Richard M. Weaver Fellowship from the ISI for the 1986-87 academic year.)

The hosts recruited journalist Fred Barnes, who covered Reagan during the 1980 campaign and later in the White House, to lead a discussion with Shirley, who for just over an hour regaled the small (but fortunate) audience with anecdotes and analysis of how Reagan became president after being written off by the punditocracy when he lost the 1976 GOP presidential nomination by fewer than 100 delegate votes.

While I hope to edit and post the full video from the Barnes-Shirley colloquy within the next few days, there was one snippet that stood out and deserves special attention.

Asked by Barnes why he refers in the book to Reagan as the "sometime leader of the conservative movement," Shirley replied that the independent-minded Reagan often broke with the mainstream of the movement on certain issues.

He gave the example of the 1978 initiative in California, Proposition 6 (better known as the "Briggs Amendment," named for its principal sponsor, state Senator John Briggs, which aimed to prohibit gay people from serving as teachers or staff members in government schools.  Reagan opposed the measure, and Briggs gave Reagan full credit or, from Briggs' point of view, blame for the proposition's defeat at the polls.  (Shirley says the defeat was overwhelming, 57 percent to 43 percent.)  Reagan was an ally of iconic gay politician Harvey Milk in opposing the Briggs Amendment.  Reagan's role in defeating the Briggs Amendment is mentioned in the award-winning biopic, Milk.

Shirley also referred in his remarks to the 1975 Reason magazine interview in which Reagan argued that libertarianism is the core of conservatism.  By coincidence, I cited that interview just a few days ago in my post about the Mount Vernon Statement (and how it is inferior to the 50-year-old Sharon Statement).

Here is one minute and thirty seconds of Craig Shirley talking about Ronald Reagan, the libertarian:

For more video from CPAC 2010, visit my previous blog entry.

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