Ronald Reagan on Smoking and Sexuality


Historian Rick Perlstein recently turned up a gem from the November 3, 1978 issue of the Spokane Daily Chronicle (I assume it was syndicated) and linked to it on his Facebook page.  In this article Ronald Reagan, two years before he became President of the United States, opposed a California ban on smoking and a ban on teachers who advocate homosexuality.

Liberals will use this article, as they should, to show that Reagan was more willing to defend the rights of homosexuals than many of the Republicans who claim his legacy today.

But whatever one’s position on these issues, it is also worth noting that this article shows that Reagan seemed to have a handle on matters of public policy and was capable of making a rational argument in print (assuming he wrote it) consistent with his libertarian ideals.  Would our current Republican presumptive nominee be able to make such an argument in this reasoned way? Or better yet, would he even be interested in engaging with policy this way?

2 thoughts on “Ronald Reagan on Smoking and Sexuality

  1. BTW, does the epithet “pseudo-historian” only apply to those on the right?

    Don’t take it from me, as I have a bone to pick with Perlstein (more on that later, too), listen to Perlstein’s fellow liberals:

    Sam Tanenhaus, former editor of the New York Times Book Review, reviewing the trilogy in The Atlantic, dismissed Perlstein out of hand as simply a “Web aggregator.” Tanenhaus goes on to call Perlstein “intellectually lazy” and says his writing is now characterized by “an insistent vulgarity.” Perlstein, he adds, “now finds rumor more illuminating than fact.”

    Nathan Heller of The New Yorker dismisses Perlstein’s work as “cheap, and obfuscatory, and heading toward intellectual dishonesty . . .”

    “Liberal bias,” noted the Miami Herald, “permeates Rick Perlstein’s time capsule.” Noted liberal essayist Steve Donoghue witheringly wrote that Perlstein’s book has a “stink of sloppiness and data-massaging.” Data-massaging is a polite way of saying “making it up.”

    A reviewer for the Buffalo News, Edward Cuddihy, found it “disturbing that Simon & Schuster has chosen not to include footnotes or endnotes in the print version of this book. . . . If this is to be considered legitimate history . . . endnotes must be included.”

    Meanwhile, Geoffrey Kabaservice in The National Interest called Perlstein “simplistic” and concluded that his book was “a bridge to nowhere.” He says of Perlstein, “He continually inserts himself into the narrative with sarcastic asides that make reading the book akin to watching an episode of the cult television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which the movie onscreen is drowned out by its wisecracking spectators.”

    Unfortunately for Mr. Perlstein, it goes downhill from there…


  2. Shall we file this in the Strange New Respect Department, where Republicans are only of value as cudgels against other Republicans? ;-D

    Reagan’s opposition to the homosexuality part of the proposed law was against its broadness–the part that would be relevant to “many of the Republicans who claim his legacy today” was about a teacher using his position of trust to advocate homosexuality, which, as Reagan notes was already prohibited by law, thus making a broader statutory ban unnecessary, and open to abuse in bringing in teachers’ private lives into a legitimate public concern.

    Now that advocacy of homosexuality is mandatory in California

    it’s rather moot would Ronald Reagan thought of Proposition 6 in 1978, since the government has gone far past plausible neutrality or ‘libertarianism’ on the issue.

    As for smoking, Reagan was quite prescient about where government power would go with that too. The slippery slope he warned about is now reality.

    As for Donald Trump, I see little evidence he cares about these things one way or the other. On government intervention in the ‘transsexualism’ issue, he’s on record as favoring leaving it to the states and leaving the federal government out of the whole thing, a position that most “Republicans who claim [Reagan’s] legacy today” are obliged to honor, since it’s also their federalism position on abortion and gay marriage.


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