Yes, Virginia, Ronald Reagan Was Once A Liberal Democrat

** FILE ** In this May 19, 2006 file photo, Ted Nugent performs during the opening ceremony of the National Rifle Association annual convention in Milwaukee. Recent events including "Motown Week" and a presidential rejection of General Motor's and Chrysler's turnaround plans have trained an oversized spotlight on the Michigan metropolis and have people across America talking about the state of the Motor City. Three of those who weighed in this week are Moore, Nugent and Mary Wilson, all famed Michigan-bred entertainers who were asked to address autos and all things Detroit. And the consensus is this: The city has seen better days. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Reagan and Donald Trump image from Salon. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

If you aren’t liberal when young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative when middle aged, you have no brain. And if you aren’t a socialist by the time you reach old age, you have no soul.

This quote has a storied history rooted in post-Revolutionary France, and a version of it is attributed to Winston Churchill. Yet more versions have come from Kings of Sweden, among other places.  The American sentiment is that we get more conservative as we get older.  All of it is basic truth of growing up and getting older…although socialism doesn’t work unless it is voluntary.

With all of the vitriol surrounding Donald Trump, and the inevitable nastiness concerning his defection from being a liberal Democrat to being a “conservative” Republican (his ideas are more progressive than many would like on things like taxes), it’s worth reminding the far-right, hard core conservative hoards that the most recognizable person in all of modern American conservatism – Ronald Reagan – was actually once on the other side of the aisle.  Reagan started his political life as a Democrat, and a liberal, not quite hard core pro-life one to boot.

Reagan began his political life in California in 1948.  He was a product of old Hollywood, a place just as decadent and seedy behind all the glitz and glamour as life is there now albeit without the covers provided by the studios in the old days.  In 2014, MSNBC drug out Reagan’s 1948 radio address in support of Harry Truman to demonstrate that Reagan was not always as we remember him…and to tromp on the idea that the Democratic Party left Reagan.

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There’s no denying it, folks, Reagan started in politics on the other side.  Everything about that radio address screams “socialism” NOT conservatism.  He campaigned for his liberal, Democratic political colleagues both in Congress and other state offices through the 1950s, all the while developing his own political philosophy based on what he learned while a spokesman for General Electric and the realities of living during the Cold War.  As the years went on, Reagan began to realize that he was aligned with the wrong political party.

And no, the Democratic Party did not leave Reagan despite his protestations. He came to understand that the Democrats were selling a pipe dream.  His journey was described in Edward Yager’s 2006 book, Ronald Reagan’s Journey, Democrat to Republican.  In 1962, Ronald Reagan officially switched parties after ten years of endorsing Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon for president.  He was 51.  This flip-flop has been named one of Time’s Top Ten political defections of all time.

I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born. ~Ronald Reagan, quoted in New York Times, 1980 September 22nd

One of the modern litmus tests for gaining the label “conservative” is bona fides on the topic of abortion.  Ignoring the reality that some of the greatest champions of the unborn in the last 43 years were NARAL founders and former board members, Reagan spoke the pro-life line, but was not always a tireless messenger for the cause.  While governor, he did sign the 1967 law in California allowing therapeutic abortion that was widely abused by physicians in that state.  He also did not go out of his way to work with Congress on that particular issue despite a number of quotes that indicate he believed in the sanctity of life in the womb.  He also never appeared with leaders of the pro-life movement during the January 22 marches. There are accusations that Reagan’s political stance on abortion was calculated to draw in certain segments of the voting public.  Whatever the case may be, when it comes down to it, Reagan was not a purist on life issues.

At this point in the 2016 election cycle, it is important to remember that the patron saint, however sacreligeous that concept is for those of us who believe in the canonized, of American conservatism was not always a conservative.  It is not beyond comprehension or possibility that the current front runner for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, had a change of heart on the issues.  It would be nice, and most comforting to those who think amassing a $10 billion empire could qualify one for being president, to know why.  Reagan confessed what led to his defection.  It’s now time for The Donald to do the same.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.