Reagan’s liberal streak: his letter to Congress in support of banning assault weapons

As conservative groups like the Tea Party and the NRA criticize President Obama’s new gun control efforts and his assault weapons ban in particular, they often point to Ronald Reagan in contrast, whom they characterize as the epitome of moderate and reasonable, constitution abider, good American. Those groups would do well to educate themselves, then, on a letter which Reagan co-authored with fellow former Presidents Gerard Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1993, which they jointly sent to Congress to express their support for a ban on assault weapons. “This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety,” the Reagan-Carter-Ford letter stated. “Although assault weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime.” Due partly to Reagan’s support of it, the assault weapons ban became law in 1994. It was, effectively, the last chapter of Reagan’s political life. And it wasn’t far removed from the types of stances which Reagan had taken as President. That begs the question, then, of why today’s extremist conservatives are so certain that Obama is socialist who’s violating the constitution when he pushes for legislation which is identical to legislation supported by their hero Reagan. An image posted on Facebook today by the official Tea Party account might help explain the cognitive dissonance…

The image depicts President Obama stomping on the Constitution, while the nation’s former Presidents stand behind him. Lincoln, Washington, Reagan, and others point angrily to a dejected man on a bench, as if to say “What do you think you’re doing to this guy?” Meanwhile Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt applaud Obama for his constitution-drubbing. Those who know their history might be tempted to respond to the image with, “huh?” It depicts Reagan, who supported an assault weapons ban, as being angry at Obama for supporting an assault weapons ban. It depicts the same of Lincoln, a progressive liberal whose only criticism of Obama might have been that Obama’s not liberal enough, presumably because today’s conservatives are fully unaware that Lincoln helped develop the republican party as a liberal alternative to the racist conservatism of his era. It also depicts Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow progressive from the early liberal days of the republican party, as cheering for Obama. That last part is the only historically truthful aspect of the depiction, and yet the conservative who drew it can’t seem to decide which fictional version of history he wants to follow: the one in which early liberal republican Presidents are conservative heroes, or the one in which early liberal republican Presidents are commie traitors. But the Tea Party’s near total lack of familiarity with American History 101 is merely an accepted fact at this point. The real clue as to the group’s blindness toward Obama’s overwhelmingly moderate policies may lie in the guy sitting on the bench…

The Tea Party could have chosen any icon to represent America, from the bald eagle to lady liberty. So what did they choose? Some random white guy wearing blue jeans sitting on a bench. And therein lies the real trouble which extremist conservatives appear to have when it comes to their inability to see Obama’s actions for what they are and their insistence on railing against an entirely fictional version of him. In their minds, “America” is represented not by any particular values or goals or ideals, but simply by a white guy. There’s a point at which racism is so deeply ingrained in a person or group that they’re not even aware of their own racism. “I have no problem with Obama being black,” extremist conservatives routinely claim, “I just hate his policies.” They then go on to state a fictional version of his policies which suggests that in order to deny their own racism, they’ve merely created an imaginary version of Obama they can hate for imaginary reasons. Tea Partiers could care less what you and I think, but they can’t admit their inherent racism to themselves. It’s why they see no irony in the fact that they hate Obama and label him a constitution hater for supporting legislation which is literally identical to the legislation supported by their hero Reagan. If we are to bring conservatives into reality so they can form politician opinions based on facts instead of their fantasies, urging them to read Reagan’s letter might be a good place to start.

Will Stabley
Will Stabley is the Founder and Senior Editor of Stabley Times.
Will Stabley