In sports there are a number of “perfect” performances; the illustrious “no hitter” in Baseball; the perfect undefeated season in Football; Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in Basketball; a perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics. In politics, there is no such thing as perfection.

Ronald Reagan the myth

In conservative politics, the vision of perfection for the last quarter-century has been Ronald Wilson Reagan, but the truth is Reagan would’ve been the first to explain he was far from perfect.

Ronald Reagan

Reagan kept his social conservatism very much to himself. While Reagan was undoubtedly socially conservative, he did not wear his beliefs on his sleeve; if asked Reagan would quote his views very much in concert with the Republican Party platform, yet he rarely volunteered these views. Reagan’s most vocal demonstrations of his conservative views involved foreign affairs and domestic fiscal policy. Where Reagan fell far short of perfection was in fiscal policy; if asked to assess his performance on fiscal matters he would surely lament the deficit spending, taxation and debt accumulation.

When Reagan took office the annual deficit was 27.9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Carter’s propensity for deficit spending was a major campaign issue; but when Reagan left office the deficit represented 28.7 percent of GDP.

The budget for the Department of Education, which as a candidate Reagan promised to abolish, along with the Department of Energy, had more than doubled to $22.7 billion. Social Security spending rose from $179 billion in 1981 to $269 billion by 1986. Farm subsidies grew from $21.4 billion in 1981 to $51.4 billion by 1987. Medicare spending in 1981 was $43.5 billion but ballooned during the Reagan presidency to more than $80 billion. Federal entitlement expenditures swelled from $197.1 billion in 1981 to an astounding $477 billion in 1987.

While Reagan started off by enacting the largest tax reduction in American history, the years that followed reversed many of his earlier tax cuts. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) became the largest tax increase in American history, aimed to produce more than $214.1 billion over five years, effectively reversing many of the business tax savings enacted just a year before. In 1982 Reagan supported a five-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase and more taxes on the trucking industry. In 1983, on the recommendation of the Social Security Commission, chaired by Alan Greenspan, Reagan enacted Social Security tax increases of $165 billion over seven years. In the final year of Reagan’s first term he signed into law the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 which raised $50 billion in new revenue to the federal government.

The Reagan fiscal legacy demonstrates that Reagan was far from Conservative perfection, but you cannot fail to see his accomplishments. Economic production during the Reagan years far outstripped prior administrations. Reagan completely reframed American stature around the globe and rebuilt a failing military. Reagan’s policies led to the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, dealing an eventual death-blow to Communism. A quote Reagan used, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor,” best exemplifies how Reagan was able to achieve so much; but perfection it was not.

The Reagan Revolution allowed Conservatives scarred by the Watergate Scandal and an ineffective Ford Administration to experience a resurgence and adoption of much of their agenda. Perfection: no; greatness: yes.

Today we find the Republican Party in search of Conservative perfection: the next Ronald Reagan. Despite Reagan’s failings, he stands head-and-shoulders above the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls; but then again most would have had similar views of candidate Reagan.

Carrying the Reagan Revolution forward

Reagan above all was a pragmatist not an absolutist; his skill giving away a little to gain a lot was his most notable quality yet none of the GOP hopefuls have even begun to express an understanding of how Reagan was able to get a House of Representatives dominated by Democrats to grant him the majority of his agenda.

Newt Gingrich experienced the Reagan Revolution first hand, but he has yet to explain what he learned from Reagan, primarily espousing his accomplishments during the Clinton Administration. Romney seems to only understand what he learned during his time at Bain Capital, the Salt Lake Olympics or as Massachusetts Governor and Santorum only appears capable of offering up Conservative talking-points.

The country, more importantly Conservatives, are calling not for perfection, but rather someone who can take the Reagan legacy to the next logical step, and in order to make the sale they must first show they’ve studied and understand Reagan Revolution.