One of the core arguments of my book "Tear Down This Myth" was that the iconic, bronze-statue figure of Ronald Reagan that Grover Norquist and other extreme-conservative GOP activists to sell their no-tax, militaristic policies was one that the flesh-and-blood Gipper could never have lived up to himself. The real Reagan was a pragmatist who was willing to sign off on tax increases when he needed to and would "cut-and-run" to save American lives, as he did in Lebanon in 1983.
That's why it's fascinating to see the right wing of the Republican National Committee quantify the Reagan myth this week, so you can see how even Reagan doesn't "measure up." Check out this so-called "purity test" that they've worked up:
WASHINGTON — A group of conservative Republican leaders is proposing a solution to the internecine warfare over what the party should stand for: a 10-point checklist gauging proper adherence to core principles like opposing government financing for abortion and, more generally, President Obama’s “socialist agenda.”
In what was being dubbed a purity test when it leaked out to reporters on Monday, the proposal would require the party to withhold campaign money and endorsements from candidates who do not adhere to at least seven principles on the checklist.
The principles in the resolution include fairly basic proclamations, like “We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges,” along with trickier propositions that have bedeviled the party, like one opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants — a form of which President George W. Bush was accused of supporting.
And as Keith Olbermann noted on MSNBC last night, "the plan they've chosen would have kicked out Ronald Reagan." By Olbermann's estimation, Reagan would have only scored six out of 10, since he grew the size of the federal government during his two terms, signed into law an amnesty program for illegal immigrants in 1986, failed to take a hardline approach to Iran by trading arms for hostages there, and opposed an anti-gay rights proposition in California in the late 1970s, along with several other potential "violations." Olbermann jokingly welcome Reagan -- who'd been a strong supporter of FDR and Harry Truman -- back into the Democratic Party.
There's another huge irony in the proposed GOP purity test. The whole concept is actually based loosely on a quote from Reagan: "My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy." Of course, the whole purpose of the quote from Reagan -- who famously asked a very liberal Republican, Sen. Richard Schweiker from here in Pennsylvania, to be his running mate if he'd won the 1976 nomination (as pictured at top) -- is that he was looking for ways to broaden the GOP, accepting allies even if they disagreed on one or two big issues, even something as contentious as abortion. The 2009 GOP has turned the quote on its head, aiming to shrink the already shrinking party that doesn't reach this magical 80 percent mark. Amazing.