So is President Obama more conservative than the late Ronald Reagan?
MSNBC substitute anchor Cenk Uygur thinks so. Filling in yesterday for
Dylan Ratigan on his 4 p.m. show, Uygur moderated a segment based on the
preposition that President Obama's policies have actually been more
conservative than those of President Reagan.
"That's the silliest thing I've ever heard," former Reagan White House political director Frank Donatelli said of the claims. "It's an incomplete and distorted picture of everything," he added. Uygur is a host of "The Young Turks ," a left-wing internet political podcast.
In fact, both his guests disagreed with him, but the liberal radio show host wouldn't budge.
He provided the following as proof:
- President Reagan pushed for amnesty for illegal aliens, while President Obama wants to toughen-up border security.
- President Reagan negotiated with an enemy country without preconditions (in 1985, with Mikhail Gorbachev).
- President Reagan decided to "cut and run" in the Middle East when troops in Lebanon were under attack. President Obama, on the other hand, called for a 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan.
- President Obama refused to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 per year. President Reagan, however, raised taxes every year of his Presidency after 1981.
- President Reagan hosted an openly gay couple at the White house overnight.
Uygur, taken aback at the challenge to the accuracy of his claims, wouldn't let Donatelli get too many words in during the remainder of the segment.
Uygur then turned to MSNBC political commentator David Weigel, who confessed that his own views on the matter leaned more toward those of Donatelli. "By his own standards, I think Obama wanted to seem more conservative when he ran for President," Weigel stated. "But in office he's acted more liberal than he's wanted to," he added.
"[Obama] is not a conservative, come on," he countered Uygur.The guest host also opposed Weigel on whether the American populace is generally center-right or center-left.Weigel admitted that America is center-right overall, while Uygur argued that polls show America as a center-left country.
"This is a - at least in rhetoric - a pretty conservative country, and people don't like change," Weigel stated.
"This is not a center-right country," Uygur countered. "You look at any poll on the issues, it's a center-left country.
Perhaps Uygur missed this poll .
"I totally disagree with both of you," Uygur wrapped up the segment, thus disagreeing with both of his guests from both sides of the political spectrum.
The transcript of the segment, which aired on July 6 at 4:33 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
THE DYLAN RATIGAN SHOW 7/6/10 4:33 p.m.-4:43 p.m. EDT
RONALD REAGAN: I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.
BARACK OBAMA: And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.
CENK UYGUR, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR: Yes, you heard that right. Conservative hero President Ronald Reagan pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants, while our Democratic President calls for a border crackdown. Welcome back, I'm Cenk Uygur in for Dylan Ratigan. The immigration debate, just one reason Obama-Reagan comparisons are abounding right now. We're breaking it down.
Siena College out with its new ranking of the Presidents. Historians put our current President at 15th, with the Gipper ranked 18th. That is going to drive conservatives crazy, but maybe it shouldn't. So time for a little pop quiz we're calling "Who's more conservative?" I'll give you the policy decision, you decide whether it was President Obama's or President Reagan's. We start with foreign policy. Which president negotiated with an enemy country without preconditions? Was it President Obama, or President Reagan? If you said President Obama, that is incorrect, though he says he's open to it at some point.
(Clip of CNN 2007 Democratic Presidential Debate)
Question: Would you be willing to meet separately without precondition during the first year of your administration in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea?
CNN Debate Moderator: Senator Obama?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I would.
UYGUR: Republican hawk Ronald Reagan actually did it in March, 1985. At the height of the Cold War, Reagan invited newly-appointed Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the "Evil Empire," for a summit in Geneva without preconditions. You will recall President Reagan's administration was also responsible for trading arms for hostages in the Iran-Contra affair. That would be negotiating with terrorists, literally.
Next, which President is famous for his decision to "cut and run" when our troops were attacked in the Middle East? Yep, that would be President Reagan. He withdrew immediately from Lebanon in 1983 after Hezbollah murdered 243 U.S. servicemen in Beirut. Contrast that decision with President Obama's 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan.
Next, the fiscal policy. Which president refused to raise taxes for anyone making less than a quarter of a million dollars. Yeah, that would be President Obama. On the other hand, and counter to Reaganomics, President Reagan, after initially lowering taxes, raised them nearly every year after 1981, with four significant tax increases.
Finally, which President was the first to host an openly-gay couple at the White House for an overnight stay? Well that's got to be Obama, right? Nope, that would be family-values icon Ronald Reagan. So which President is the real conservative here? Joining us now is David Weigel, politcal reporter and MSNBC contributor, and Frank Donatelli, former White House political director for President Ronald Reagan, and most recently, the chairman of GOPAC.
So let me start with you, Frank. Those sound like interesting comparisons. Is there some chance that Obama is actually more conservative than Reagan?
FRANK DONATELLI: Well I'm glad the MSNBC interns had something to do for the last couple of weeks. Those are the - that's the silliest thing that I've ever heard. The fact is, that -
UYGUR: Which part is untrue? If you say it's silly, which part is untrue?
DONATELLI: It's an incomplete and distorted picture of everything.
UYGUR: So all of that is true, let's start with that, all of that is true, right?
DONATELLI: It's not all true -
UYGUR: Really? Which part is not true?
DONATELLI: Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev, but at the same time he built up our armed forces. So to say that he negotiated with Gorbachev without preconditions is silly. It was part of an integrated strategy. It was part -
UYGUR: Not it's not silly, it's absolutely correct. It's absolutely correct. Furthermore, Obama has also increased Pentagon spending, and he did a surge in Afghanistan when Reagan ran from Lebanon. That's got to be true, right?
DONATELLI: Not as a part of GDP. Reagan wanted to cut government, he wanted to make government smaller, he wanted to make the private sector stronger.
UYGUR: He wanted to. Did he?
DONATELLI: Yes. Absolutely.
UYGUR: Really? The deficit went up tremendously under Reagan, from 700 billion to 3 trillion.
DONATELLI: And some of the taxes went down - [the deficit] wasn't a trillion dollars every year like Obama's.
UYGUR: No, that's actually Bush's, but -
DONATELLI: And he won the Cold War, too. Reagan won the Cold War. What did Obama win? Obama hasn't won anything.
UYGUR: (sarcastically) Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War.
DONATELLI: [Obama] hasn't created any jobs. 10 percent unemployment.
UYGUR: (sarcastically) Right. I know Reagan won the Cold War single-handedly, nobody had anything else to do with it.
DONATELLI: With a lot of other people, including Republicans and Democrats.
UYGUR: Let me go to David. David, is it unfair to Obama to say he's more conservative than Reagan is? Have we stated anything wrong on that count?
DAVID WEIGEL: Well I'm going to come closer to Frank than you might expect here. By his own standards, I think Obama wanted to seem more conservative when he ran for President. We remember in the Nevada caucus, in the run-up to that, he gave an interview saying Reagan had been a transformative President, Bill Clinton hadn't. He was going to be a transformative President. He said liberals had never had someone like this, and then he ran for President saying, as you pointed out, he wasn't going to raise taxes on anybody. But in office he's acted more liberal than he's wanted to, whereas Reagan, apart from the couple reversals early on, you know after ____ when he had to raise taxes again, with amnesty, he was always moving the debate further to the right. I think Obama ran more conservative than he really has been, and had been dealt more reversals as a liberal than Regan was dealt as a conservative. Now you brought up the deficit, that's true. Regan had the highest deficits since we had since World War II. Obama's had much higher deficits. And he's much more apologetic about the reasons he did. Conservatives are still able and willing to say that taxes were lower, that government shrank in some ways. If they can't defend it at every level, Democrats can't really defend the way they've governed based on the way they ran on. It's fun to compare a couple of these different, these different issues, and certainly Obama deserves a bit more credit on foreign policy and immigration, if not attacking the very traditions with which the Republican was founded. But he's not a conservative, come on.
UYGUR: No, not come on. You make a good point in that Regan pushed the spectrum further to the right. I hear you on that. But the flip side is the spectrum has already moved, and it's not like Obama is pushing it back to the left. So I mean, since the spectrum has moved so much, let me ask of you a follow-up question. At this point, when Reagan did it, I don't know, was it conservative to do amnesty? Now, you know, they'd go ballistic if Obama did amnesty for illegal immigrants and that's it. Wouldn't they?
WEIGEL: Yeah, I mean, I'd like to see Frank's answer to that. Because this is something that conservatives wrestle with, explaining why in the year 2010, we've actually got better border control than we had two years ago, why this is unthinkable. And I guess there's space to say - it's unfair to say that every single thing Obama does is antithetical to liberty. You know, his healthcare plan was not the healthcare plan liberals wanted. It was a variation of the plan Republicans proposed in 1994 as a compromise. So yeah, he's adapted to a spectrum that's been shifted to the right. But he's trying to govern as liberal as possible, and not doing a great job of it, as far as liberals are concerned.
UYGUR: I gotta be honest with you, I don't agree with either one of you. I don't think he's being as liberal as he can at all. You know, they are already calling him a socialist, why not actually do the public option, let alone single payer health care? But David asked me a good question. Frank, let me ask you. I think the spectrum has moved. Do you agree that Reagan did amnesty - what now conservatives think is unthinkable? And do you agree that he negotiated with terrorists, which now Republicans think is unthinkable? Didn't he do those, what you would characterize as very liberal, policy positions?
DONATELLI: In 1986, the problem of integration - of immigration - was not nearly what it is in 2010.
UYGUR: So it was okay to do amnesty?
DONATELLI: The estimates were we had 3 million illegals living in the United States. We now have between 10 and 20 million. So the idea of amnesty didn't work in 1986, and it's not going to work in 2010. We need border security, and then we can move onto the other issues. Again, I think the seminal point to be made here is that at every opportunity, Ronald Reagan tried to knock down the size of the federal government. He said in his inaugural address in 1981, government is the problem, it is not the solution. Barack Obama, in just 16 months, has governed in the opposite direction. He believes in making government bigger.
UYGUR: I think that, Dave, you say that he tried to make government smaller. He failed utterly then. And David said Obama tried to be liberal. Well, look at the record. It appears he failed. I mean, if Regan had - a final question for you, David. If Reagan had come in and said "I'm going to give the drug companies an absolute monopoly. They get a 12-year patent, nobody gets to import any drugs, and the government can't even negotiate with them - that would have never worked. That would have been far too right-wing, wouldn't it have? And now Obama does it, and nobody blinks.
WEIGEL: Oh, I think a lot of people blinked. I think a lot of protesters on the right and a lot of liberals on the left blinked about it. No, the point is he's had to talk more conservative, because Republicans are right. This is a - at least in rhetoric - a pretty conservative country, and people don't like rapid change. So Obama's been more hamstrung. But the debate you're trying to start, I think, is helpful, because it's not helpful when we pretend that everything Obama does comes not from liberals trying to adapt with a pretty center-right country we've got, and are instead trying to pull us back to the progressive, Saul Alinsky socialist tradition. In reality, Obama I think, is a pretty liberal guy who's operating within these contours, and making a lot of compromises, the way that Ronald Reagan did. But we get completely off track both times, it's good to take it off track into a different direction like this.
UYGUR: Alright, well that was fun, because I totally disagree with both of you. This is not a center-right country, you look at any poll on the issues, it's a center-left country. The problem is, our politicians tell us they're going to vote in that direction, and they don't. And yes, Obama was elected to change the contours. That's exactly the problem, David. He said "I'm going to bring you change," and then what did he bring us? He brought us policies that, on the record, that neither one of you can dispute, that are more conservative than Ronald Reagan's.
But it was a fun conversation, and David and Frank, thank you for both coming on here.