Ronald Reagan and the Eleventh Commandment

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The origin of the 11th commandment is most often credited to former Republican President Ronald Reagan. The 11th commandment is a term used in Republican politics to describe an unwritten rule in the party discouraging public attacks on other Republican political candidates.

The 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”

reaganReagan was intent on building a new majority.

He was an expert in “outreach” before the GOP employed the term. Reagan had been riding the rails for 20 years as a “pitchman” for GE.

The media used that pitchman description as a putdown. But Reagan, as he so often did, turned it to his advantage.

When you are selling a product, you need to learn what sells – and what doesn’t. He had perfect pitch.

That’s why Ronald Reagan invented the “Eleventh Commandment.” He spelled it out for reporters. When they came to him with sharp criticisms from other Republicans, Reagan would genially wave them off with this explanatory note: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” That’s what he always said.

No one ever heard of this so-called commandment before Ronald Reagan. And no one, seemingly, has heard of it since. But what he achieved with it is truly amazing.

The informal rule is not, however, meant to discourage healthy debate over policy or political philosophy between Republican candidates for office. It is designed to prevent GOP candidates from launching into personal attacks on each other.

It boils down to I won’t do it if you won’t do it, we won’t use up precious campaign resources on personal attacks, and we’ll focus on other, more important things so we can go about our business without tearing the party apart.

The runoff primary election in Mississippi is a clear-cut violation of the 11th commandment. Quin Hillyer at NRO writes about this in his latest column.

It is one thing to suggest that one candidate’s positions tend to be better for more black voters than another candidate’s. It is perfectly fine to target different voter groups with different messages and (within careful reason) even to mention race when doing so. But the ads and robocalls against McDaniel went much further. They explicitly warned that McDaniel was closely tied to people involved with the Ku Klux Klan. They said McDaniel had a “racist agenda.” They specifically branded the entire tea-party movement as having “racist ideas.” And even the slightly-less-explicit robocalls, which Barbour already admitted helping pay for (although he says he never listened to them in advance), tied tea partiers explicitly to disrespectful treatment of the first African-American president.

This is beyond noxious. If any Democrat or leftist had done this to Republicans, Barbour himself would probably be yelling bloody murder. But when a Republican committeeman contributes to the wholesale branding of major conservative activist groups as racist, he not only engages in the vilest slander, he also takes away conservatives’ ability to complain about similar smears from the Left. These tactics are beneath contempt and incredibly deleterious to the Republican party’s electoral and philosophical endeavors.

Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at CPAC in February of 1977. A lot of his points are just as relevant today as they were 37 years ago. He spoke about his vision of a new Republican party without speaking ill of his fellow Republicans. Note at the time of this speech the Republicans had lost the WH to Jimmy Carter and they only had 38 in the Senate and only 143 in the House. You are encouraged to read the entire speech, and below are some very important excerpts from the speech.

Last October 24th, the Gallup organization released the result of a poll taken right in the midst of the presidential campaign.

Respondents were asked to state where they would place themselves on a scale ranging from “right-of-center” (which was defined as “conservative”) to left-of-center (which was defined as “liberal”).

* Thirty-seven percent viewed themselves as left-of-center or liberal * Twelve percent placed themselves in the middle * Fifty-one percent said they were right-of-center, that is, conservative.

What I find interesting about this particular poll is that it offered those polled a range of choices on a left-right continuum. This seems to me to be a more realistic approach than dividing the world into strict left and rights. Most of us, I guess, like to think of ourselves as avoiding both extremes, and the fact that a majority of Americans chose one or the other position on the right end of the spectrum is really impressive.

Those polls confirm that most Americans are basically conservative in their outlook. But once we have said this, we conservatives have not solved our problems, we have merely stated them clearly. Yes, conservatism can and does mean different things to those who call themselves conservatives.

Reagan11CommdmtWebYou know, as I do, that most commentators make a distinction between [what]they call “social” conservatism and “economic” conservatism. The so-called social issues — law and order, abortion, busing, quota systems — are usually associated with blue-collar, ethnic and religious groups themselves traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. The economic issues — inflation, deficit spending and big government — are usually associated with Republican Party members and independents who concentrate their attention on economic matters.

Now I am willing to accept this view of two major kinds of conservatism — or, better still, two different conservative constituencies. But at the same time let me say that the old lines that once clearly divided these two kinds of conservatism are disappearing.

In fact, the time has come to see if it is possible to present a program of action based on political principle that can attract those interested in the so-called “social” issues and those interested in “economic” issues. In short, isn’t it possible to combine the two major segments of contemporary American conservatism into one politically effective whole?

I believe the answer is: Yes, it is possible to create a political entity that will reflect the views of the great, hitherto [unacknowledged], conservative majority. We went a long way toward doing it in California. We can do it in America. This is not a dream, a wistful hope. It is and has been a reality. I have seen the conservative future and it works.

I have always been puzzled by the inability of some political and media types to understand exactly what is meant by adherence to political principle. All too often in the press and the television evening news it is treated as a call for “ideological purity.” Whatever ideology may mean — and it seems to mean a variety of things, depending upon who is using it — it always conjures up in my mind a picture of a rigid, irrational clinging to abstract theory in the face of reality. We have to recognize that in this country “ideology” is a scare word. And for good reason. Marxist-Leninism is, to give but one example, an ideology. All the facts of the real world have to be fitted to the Procrustean bed of Marx and Lenin. If the facts don’t happen to fit the ideology, the facts are chopped off and discarded.

President-ReaganI consider this to be the complete opposite to principled conservatism.

If there is any political viewpoint in this world which is free from slavish adherence to abstraction, it is American conservatism.

When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.

When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing — he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain.

The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations — found through the often bitter testing of pain, or sacrifice and sorrow.

If we allow ourselves to be portrayed as ideological shock troops without correcting this error we are doing ourselves and our cause a disservice. Wherever and whenever we can, we should gently but firmly correct our political and media friends who have been perpetuating the myth of conservatism as a narrow ideology. Whatever the word may have meant in the past, today conservatism means principles evolving from experience and a belief in change when necessary, but not just for the sake of change.

Once we have established this, the next question is: What will be the political vehicle by which the majority can assert its rights?

I have to say I cannot agree with some of my friends — perhaps including some of you here tonight — who have answered that question by saying this nation needs a new political party.

I respect that view and I know that those who have reached it have done so after long hours of study. But I believe that political success of the principles we believe in can best be achieved in the Republican Party. I believe the Republican Party can hold and should provide the political mechanism through which the goals of the majority of Americans can be achieved. For one thing, the biggest single grouping of conservatives is to be found in that party. It makes more sense to build on that grouping than to break it up and start over. Rather than a third party, we can have a new first party made up of people who share our principles. I have said before that if a formal change in name proves desirable, then so be it. But tonight, for purpose of discussion, I’m going to refer to it simply as the New Republican Party.

And let me say so there can be no mistakes as to what I mean: The New Republican Party I envision will not be, and cannot, be one limited to the country club-big business image that, for reasons both fair and unfair, it is burdened with today. The New Republican Party I am speaking about is going to have room for the man and the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat and the millions of Americans who may never have thought of joining our party before, but whose interests coincide with those represented by principled Republicanism. If we are to attract more working men and women of this country, we will do so not by simply “making room” for them, but by making certain they have a say in what goes on in the party. The Democratic Party turned its back on the majority of social conservatives during the 1960s. The New Republican Party of the late ’70s and ’80s must welcome them, seek them out, enlist them, not only as rank-and-file members but as leaders and as candidates.

I need not remind you that you can have the soundest principles in the world, but if you don’t have candidates who can communicate those principles, candidates who are articulate as well as principled, you are going to lose election after election. I refuse to believe that the good Lord divided this world into Republicans who defend basic values and Democrats who win elections. We have to find tough, bright young men and women who are sick and tired of cliches and the pomposity and the mind-numbing economic idiocy of the liberals in Washington.

My friends, the time has come to start acting to bring about the great conservative majority party we know is waiting to be created.

And just to set the record straight, let me say this about our friends who are now Republicans but who do not identify themselves as conservatives: I want the record to show that I do not view the new revitalized Republican Party as one based on a principle of exclusion. After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with. If we truly believe in our principles, we should sit down and talk. Talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time if it means talking about the principles for the Republican Party. Conservatism is not a narrow ideology, nor is it the exclusive property of conservative activists.

Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are not a cult, we are members of a majority. Let’s act and talk like it.

The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?

Our party must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group. No greater challenge faces our society today than ensuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society.

Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business, galloping inflation, frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.

Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. Any organization is in actuality only the lengthened shadow of its members. A political party is a mechanical structure created to further a cause. The cause, not the mechanism, brings and holds the members together. And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs.

Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.

Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan are examples of people who had a vision going forward with a mechanical structure created to further a cause that lasts a long time, and unfortunately too many Republican leaders today are only concerned with holding on to seats in the next election. They see issues only as something they can use to get elected instead of as something to resolve. The violators of the eleventh commandment are the country club big business Republicans that want to exclude the tea party movement activists from being leaders and candidates in the party. They need to stop it. Stop it now.

About Author

I am retired after 36 years of being a state of Indiana employee. I enjoy writing and reading conservative blogs.

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