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Ronald Reagan: The 'Original Tea Party Candidate'

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Ronald Reagan: The 'Original Tea Party Candidate'


Ronald Reagan: The 'Original Tea Party Candidate'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Ronald Reagan was born 100 years ago tomorrow. NPR has been looking at the 40th president's legacy in a series of pieces. In the 1970s and 80s, Mr. Reagan helped inspire a conservative era in U.S. politics. Today, it's the Tea Party movement that's become a dynamic force on the right.

NPR's Don Gonyea talked to some Tea Party activists about Ronald Reagan.

DON GONYEA: Spend any time at all at Tea Party meetings and one thing you learn pretty quickly - these activists are far quicker to criticize than praise politicians. But, yes, they do make exceptions, and Ronald Reagan makes that list.

President RONALD REAGAN: In this present crisis government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

GONYEA: Craig Shirley is author of the book "Reagan's Revolution," which chronicles Reagan's run for president in 1976 when he took on the political establishment and incumbent President Gerald Ford.

Mr. CRAIG SHIRLEY (Author, "Reagan's Revolution"): Ronald Reagan was in many ways the original Tea Party candidate. He took on what he called the Washington buddy system.

GONYEA: Tea Party activist Dee Armstrong is a member of the Blue Ridge Patriots, a Tea Party in Berkeley County, West Virginia, and she sees Reagan as one of them.

Ms. DEE ARMSTRONG (Tea Party member): I think he would embrace us. I think he would embrace us, not on our principles only. I think he would embrace us on our striving for freedom and constitutionality. In other words, it wouldn't be just a conservative approach, he would be recognizing us as speaking for the people.

GONYEA: Washington, D.C. based FreedomWorks is one of the big national groups involved in Tea Party activity. I asked FreedomWork's vice president Max Pappas if his group will be doing anything to mark Reagan at 100.

Mr. MAX PAPPAS (Vice president for Public Policy, FreedomWorks): Well, FreedomWorks isn't doing anything special for President Reagan's birthday. I mean we didn't even do anything for Friedrich Hayek's birthday.

GONYEA: That half-joking mention salutes Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist and philosopher whose 20th century work on capitalism many Tea Party activists revere.

Pappas goes on to say that the movement is about ideas more than any one individual, even one as iconic in conservative circles as President Reagan.

Mr. PAPPAS: Reagan certainly did more than most recent presidents for economic freedom, but it certainly wasn't a perfect record.

GONYEA: For Tea Party activists those imperfections include Reagan's record on taxes. He pushed through big tax cuts. But he also agreed to a series of tax increases that made the reductions far smaller than originally planned.

Again, author Craig Shirley.

MR. Shirley: No, that was not a Tea Party moment but he did what felt he had to do.

GONYEA: Deficits also ballooned under President Reagan as he increased defense spending, but Dee Armstrong says she doesn't blame President Reagan for that, adding that government spending today is far more out of control.

Ms. ARMSTRONG: I think defense of our country - I'd sign my tax check any day with the privilege of defending my country. I just think that we're spending money in way too many places that the federal government has no business, and I think Ronald Reagan would definitely recognize that today.

GONYEA: Max Pappas of FreedomWorks adds that if Ronald Reagan were in office today, the Tea Party would keep the pressure on him just like any other politician. Says Pappas, we'd hold his feet to the fire.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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