It is utterly unreasonable to assume that if you are a politician and someone heard your opinion on a complex issue, you are now under the obligation to carry that opinion for the rest of your life, even if you learned new information that invalidates it. Voters are so enamored by the idea of a decisive, confident and conviction-holding leader, that they coined the cute term “flip-flopper” to denounce any politician that might even slightly waver in his/her beliefs over time.
But even the most politically astute and deeply convicted among us are entitled to change their minds – conservative hero Ronald Reagan was once a New Deal-endorsing Democrat.
“It used to be that the worst thing you could say about a politician was that he’d been wrong about something. ‘You voted for x; x didn’t work; you’re gonna lose.’ Today, that’s no longer the case. You can be wrong as hell so long as you’re consistent.” – MovieBob
Consistency can be an admirable trait in a leader, but only when it is executed in a fact-based manner. A person who is consistently right about everything he or she preaches, that person deserves hearty praise for it. However, if the facts assail that person’s case and it turns out that his or her beliefs were mistaken, there is zero reason to maintain them. Furthermore, believing that a candidate who changed his or her mind about one issue is inevitably going to change his mind on another, when there is no other evidence to support such claim, is logically fallacious.
Ronald Reagan – the personification of all that is great about American conservatism and a hero to the Republican Party, was once a very liberal Democrat. He exemplified all the liberal values of Hollywood and the Democratic Party back in the days of FDR, and was a staunch supporter of the New Deal.
Reagan’s shift to conservatism is complicated. During the 1950s, his relationship with his future wife Nancy was exposed him to conservative principles. However, American political discourse had long been shifting further towards the Left since the 1930s.
The Republican Party in the 1940s & 50s was best respected for its successful internationalist moderates – Thomas Dewey, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and later on, Nelson Rockefeller. All the while, the better and more conservative voices like Bob Taft, and later on, Barry Goldwater were fading away.
At the same time, the Democratic Party was moving further to the Left through the empowerment of unions, the youth counterculture, and then Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which was how Reagan ultimately rationalized his switch when he said “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Though there is some historic truth to that statement, he was also becoming more fiscally conservative, many thanks to Nancy as well as his GE TV sponsor – Lemuel Boulware.
We can only speculate, but my contention is that Reagan tacitly maintained his support for at least parts of The New Deal even in his later years, but stopped short when it became evident that the realities of the world could no longer coexist with his vision. Much of the Left’s Keynesian experiment, that Reagan originally endorsed, crashed and burned and we were left with appalling stagflation that required a sharp cut to the money supply to fix, deliberately leading into an economic crash (which Reagan ultimately fixed through the enacting and executing of conservative market principles).
There are circumstances in which shifting political winds and climates as well as general exposure to different points of view can change a person’s mind, and often for the better. The only thing that changing one’s mind indicates, after being exposed to new information and befitting circumstances, is that one actually has a mind. Such was what happened to Reagan. And we as conservatives and disciples of his legacy should laud it with all our energy. If he had remained set in his old ways, Ronald Reagan would probably would never have become one of America’s greatest and most iconic leaders in history.