RNC ‘Purity Test’ – Policy Prescription or Internal Republican Propaganda?

MSNBC.com reported Nov.23 that an e-mail proposing a purity test for Republican candidates has been circulating among members of the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Perhaps this should come as no surprise following the informal purity pursuit and subsequent electoral defeat in New York’s 23rd district, Nov 3.

The proposed GOP purity test entitled, “Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates,” was authored by RNC member and National Right to Life attorney, Jim Bopp Jr.  His resolution lists 10 core polices, of which potential GOP candidates must adhere to eight in order to be considered a viable Republican.

That the GOP would desire policy compliance of its candidates, again, is no surprise. However, the rigorous conservatism required to pass this “purity test” prohibit it from being taken seriously as a policy statement.  So stringent are its prescriptions that not one modern American president has been able to live up to it.  The proposal has more to do with base maintenance than it does a candidate’s conservative cred. (view the 10 requirements for RNC purity HERE)

What struck me most about Bopp’s memo was not its requirements, but its invocation of Reagan.  Employing his name becomes more significant when paired with first item on the purity list:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

That they have chosen to emphasize this economic platform along with its patron saint is certainly no coincidence.  Reagan’s conservative economic prescriptions have been touted as the height of Republican fiscal discipline so frequently that they’ve achieved commandment status within the party.  That this commonly held notion is demonstrably false speaks volumes about what this “purity test” represents.

The Myth of Reaganomics

Ordinarily, I would lean on Thom Hartmann in refuting the commonly touted myth of Reagan’s policy prowess.  Hartmann’s Jan. 26, 2009, CommonDreams.org post:  “Two Santa Clauses or How The Republican Party Has Conned America,” succinctly explains the origins and execution of supply-side fiscal dogma pursued by the Reagan administration.

“Two Santa Clause” theory, Hartmann explains, was constructed as a means to consolidate Republican power.  Briefly stated, its adherents reasoned that Republicans could cut taxes, increase spending, and increase government revenue in the process.  If successful, the only way Democrats could counter would be to argue for higher taxes, effectively ‘shooting a Santa Clause.’

By no means is this a holistic assessment of Hartmann’s article, and I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety.

However, after repeatedly arguing this matter to an impasse with conservative friends, I’ve decided to try something different.  As a progressive political pundit, prolific author, and talk radio host, Hartmann can be a bit much for conservatives to swallow.

Don’t get me wrong.  Among progressive commentators, I’ve found Hartmann to have the most formidable academic chops, without exception.  However, his status as a progressive media figure is enough to disqualify him, right or wrong (and usually the latter).

This time, rather than relying upon Hartmann’s assessment, I set about finding a source that would be less susceptible to accusations of progressive or liberal bias.  To that end, I present to you the late libertarian political philosopher, economist, and economic historian, Murray N. Rothbard.

(It is my hope that conservatives who have read to this point will read on, taking solace in the knowledge that Rothbard, had he not passed away in 1995, would find Obama’s economic policy as abhorrent as they do.)

Rothbard offered his damning assessment of Reagan’s economic policies in late 1987 as campaigns to succeed the revered two-term president were already underway.   In his memo to members of the libertarian Mises Institute, Rothbard abruptly stated his intentions, “I come to bury Reaganomics, not to praise it.”

And bury it, he did.  Rothbard’s memo lists the rhetorical arguments made by Reagan leading up to his election, and those of the defenders of Reagonomics as the president’s tenure came to a close.

From Rothbards’s “The Myth’s of Reaganomics:”

Since the tax cut of 1981 that was not really a cut, furthermore, taxes have gone up every single year since, with the approval of the Reagan administration. But to save the president’s rhetorical sensibilities, they weren’t called tax increases. Instead, ingenious labels were attached to them; raising of “fees,” “plugging loopholes” (and surely everyone wants loopholes plugged), “tightening IRS enforcement,” and even revenue enhancements.” I am sure that all good Reaganomists slept soundly at night knowing that even though government revenue was being “enhanced,” the president had held the line against tax increases.

And, just how much were those revenues “enhanced?”

The facts are that federal tax receipts were $517 billion in the last Carter year of 1980. In 1986, revenues totaled $769 billion, an increase of 49%. Whatever that is, that doesn’t look like a tax cut. But how about taxes as a percentage of the national product? There, we can concede that on a percentage criterion, overall taxes fell very slightly, remaining about even with the last year of Carter. Taxes fell from 18.9% of the GNP to 18.3%, or for a better gauge, taxes as percentage of net private product fell from 27.2% to 26.6%. A large absolute increase in taxes, coupled with keeping taxes as a percentage of national product about even, is scarcely cause for tossing one’s hat in the air about a whopping reduction in taxes during the Reagan years.

Even if you consider that “overall taxes fell very slightly” as a win for Reaganomics, it was a costly one.  The resultant tripling of the national debt during Reagan’s tenure makes that victory an empty one, indeed.

And, this is just a taste.  Rothbard examines each element of Reagan fiscal policy — Government Spending, Tax Cuts (excerpted above), Deficits, Deregulation, and Foreign Economic Policy — demonstrating the profound differences between Reagan’s rhetoric and performance.

Who’s the “Purity Test” for, then?

Certainly there are some within the party who strive to emulate Reagan’s policies, fully invested in the legend.  But there can be no doubt that there are others, particularly within the Republican leadership, well aware that the legend is bunk, but recognize its usefulness in provoking a Pavlovian response from their base.  (You’ll find  prominent recent examples of both in an excellent Truthout.org post by Art Levine, Nov. 20)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are many among the conservative base for whom the mere mention of Reagan inspires a nostalgic recollection of an America that never was.  Bopp and the Republican leadership are well aware of this.  They spend half of thier efforts bringing this idealized Reagan America to the surface, and then spend their remainder of their efforts proclaiming it under attack. 

Further, if they can keep fictional Reagan in the spotlight, it will prolong their having to explain the eight dissasterous years with George W. Bush at the helm.  You can expect them to ring the Reagan bell with increasing frequency at least until the 2010 midterm elections, regardless of whether or not Bopp’s “purity test” is ever actually adopted by the RNC.

Image from Flickr user - betancourt, by way of creativecommons.org


Jeanne Devey
Jeanne Devey8 years ago

My kind of "girl", Patricia Herrick!!! Also, last Friday December 11, 2009, on Chris Mathews a heated argument between Ronnie Reagan versus Republican (can't think of his name), but Ronnie Reagan defending his father on issues of past. Check it out on MSNBC.com. I think it was Friday, but could have been Thursday, anyway it was one of those evenings.
This was a thrill for me!! The "right wing nuts" can't get their history straight, and still the Late President Reagan's son defended the issue very well. The "other" party had some vitreal comments that wasn't "quite the truth".

Jeanne Devey

Paul Puckett
Paul Puckett9 years ago

Craig Hemphill, if awards were given for short, direct, non-offensive comments that communicate, I would nominate your previous comment and predict that you would win.

Well said!

Lilith Graves
Lilith Graves9 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Carole D.
Carole Dunn9 years ago

Except for a small handful, the Republicans in government are nothing but morons, misfits and sexual hypocrites who pander to the same. They don't believe in democracy and have been looking to turn this country into a fascist nation for decades. I heard a quote, and I forget who said it, but it goes something like this: "Fascism will come to America draped in the flag, carrying a bible and a gun."

Ronnie Raygun was a bum who did more to hurt the most vulnerable Americans than any other president. In some ways he was even worse than Bush. Near the end of his second term he broke all kinds of laws in the Iran Contra scandal and got away with it.

He took away almost all SS benefits from widows and orphans, something that went unnoticed by most people. Fatherless kids no longer were given their fathers' SS thru college, but stopped at 18. No more grants for college either. Mothers lost their husbands' benefits when the youngest child turned 16. He also said there was no poverty in the US.

The Repubs can take their purity test and shove it up their collective asses. Raygun doesn't even match most of their points anyway.

Obama's policies aren't exactly the answer to a maiden's prayer thus far; in fact I'm very disappointed in him. However McCain and Klondike Barbie would have been worse. We would have been bombing Iran by now. I think the Republican primaries for 2012 will be a laugh riot. What a crew. Let's hope they're "pure".

Craig Hemphill
Craig Hemphill9 years ago

Before and during the Reagan years, we had a small family business that was holding on the all the employees and making personal sacrifices so the business would not close. There were three parts to the business, where 2 parts were losing money and one part making it to keep us alive. Reagan had a great team that brought into being numerous tax advantages that actually encouraged a small business to spend money now. We took the plunge, and things turned out great. Say what you want about Reagan he was a great president, not perfect, he made plenty of mistakes, just like all people do. I am sorry to see where the Republican party is marching to. Many things I feel need to be finished. New approaches to stop terror, the economy, health, etc. We lost our health care at work. Mine went up to $850 per month. Again, business is struggling, but this time the government is not helping the little guy, only the big ones, and they are the ones that helped get us into this mess! Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Always question authority.

Lilith Graves
Lilith Graves9 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Paul Puckett
Paul Puckett9 years ago

I'm not going to explain economics, believe what you will, but I do want to thank Care2 and the author for linking to the 10 item lists. As an independent, I was looking for it anticipating either a new "contract with America" approach or a new method for losing elections. Drop items 8 & 9, remove all references to Obama, remove anything that begins with oppose, and they might get pro-choice, limited government, guys like me to support them.

Knew they would find a way to screw up, consistency is a virtue?

As to the 1980's, as Arthur Laffer said in January about Obama's economic plans, paraphrasing from Bloomberg Radio, "it will be interesting to see the new President execute his plans, I am looking forward to it. It is the exact opposite of what has worked in the past and seeing it attempted in the real world is truely fascinating." He went on to say that, in his opinion, it would be economically disastrous. So let's wait until the end of Obama's second term to determine how he compares with the Great Gipper.

Obama and Reagan do have a lot in common. Excellent speakers and great communicators. A President's success is primarily driven by those they appoint to help them. Reagan had an excellent team. Obama, well, in my opinion not one lives up to any that were under Reagan. Geithner is a disaster and should have been unhired on his first day when he misspoke about China.

Cynical One
Rick Merola9 years ago

Cindy W. says

"Cynical One ... I guess when you have a family member that is sick and someone says I will pray for them you say "Sticking your head into your bible isn't going to solve any problems." "

I trust in science to cure illness, not the bible. Religion wasn't created to cure illness, change government, or anything else like that. Religion was created to manipulate the masses using their fear of the unexplained.

Now if you want to talk about Spirituality, that is a different subject.

"You know our Government actually has funded the study of the power of prayer? "

So? They also want to pump $50 million into abstinence only birth control and everyone knows that doesn't work.

Patricia Herrick
Patricia Herrick9 years ago

Keith Olberman (on MSNBC) did actually point out where Reagan would have FAILED on six of the ten points. I remember Reagan, and it was one of the sorriest administrations ever ~~~~up 'til bush/cheney that is. He was the opposite of what so many of his followers have come to believe. I do mainly watch MSNBC, as it's the best place to get the truth. So what if a repub got cut off in an argument? If you were to watch regularly, you would see Dems or Indys getting cut off, when they keep repeating their point over and over, and making no sense. Pity any poor soul who only gets their news from Fox, that one will be totally misinformed. Brain washing 101!

Jill J.
Jill J9 years ago

I can't help but think that Ron Reagan Jr. has one of the most popular progressive radio shows and Nancy Reagan is a major proponent of Stem Cell Research...The Republicans are so looking for a hero in all the stench that is stinking up their party...They want to believe that Ron Reagan, former B movie actor, was the greatest living President because George W.Bush and Cheney were such mistakes...Don't get me wrong, just because Reagan was an actor could not have contributed to his dynamic Republican conservatism, but I'm sure if they took into account his Hollywood background today, they might think differently...With TMZ and all the media outlets, I'm sure there would have been numerous flaws exposed...More then there have already been by your article on taxation...And thank you for that.