Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reagan's "three legged stool" has become a pogo stick

By Kevin Price

If you know of Ronald Reagan, you are likely to be aware of his "three legged stool." Reagan developed a success formula to build winning coalitions that was as simple as it was brilliant. A sample of that simplicity and one of the hallmarks of Reagan's policies was his "three legged stool." Reagan's policies were built on three ideas; free enterprise, strong defense, and pro-family social policies. He chose these three because they, of course, reflected his own values, but he also realized that each of these ideas have enormous appeal on their own. I was attracted to the conservative philosophy as a young Christian and noticed that Reagan's philosophy was very strong when it came to traditional family values. Over the last few decades, economics have become my passion and expertise, but it started with a concern in culture (and this remains important to me)

This approach worked wonders and made Reagan incredibly success and well loved even to this day. He could sincerely speak to any of the three audiences and expect their votes in November. Today, the common cry from economic conservatives is that they are the only ones with a message that matters to the voting public. After 40 years of Roe vs. Wade, we have two generations who only know a country with abortion on demand, they argue. Secondly, many conservatives have grown suspicious of "the military" leg. They believe that just as the government has gotten suspicious in its domestic spending, it has also lost its bearings when it comes to defense and has found itself being internationalists with muscle. Essentially, "the three legged stool" is being replaced by a pogo stick. A single area of interest and concern -- the economy, being the springboard for political success.

The Conservative Political Action Conference provides a reminder of the rift. Fox News notes that "several high-profile groups, including the Media Research Center, the Family Research Council, Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and the Heritage Foundation -- giants in the galaxy of conservative activism -- have pulled out this year, following boycott calls by the American Principles Project. APP and the others cited more than anything CPAC's inclusion of GOProud, a pro-gay Republican group that supported the recent repeal of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy, and unlike other social conservative groups or individuals, opposes a federal marriage amendment."

As a broadcaster who is planning on covering this event, the changes are hitting close to home. I have received numerous invites to attend GOProud events and must admit, I never thought I would see such in my life time. The notion that there is no room for social conservativism as a success formula is surprising to me. In fact, 70 percent of black men in California voted for Barack Obama even as they voted for an amendment to ban gay marriage. There could have possibly been different results if there had been a stronger social conservative movement to help show the contradiction in their voting. The vast majority of Americans want to see America strong and protected. For all those who fear a US government that is too ambitious internationally, there are many more who are concerned that the US is becoming a doormat to powers that mean us harm.

The reality is the "three legged stool" tripled the reasons why one would vote Republican. If the GOP provides the only means to protect traditional families, Christian conservatives will support it, regardless of the other legs of the stool. I think the same can be same of the other parts of a coalition that made the Republican Party very successful. If the stool is dead, the fortunes of the party may be also.

Kevin Price
Host, Price of Business, M-F at 11 am on CBS Radio News
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