In  his 1977 address to CPAC titled, The New Republican Party Ronald Reagan asks, “Isn’t it possible to combine the two major segments of contemporary American conservatism [social and economic] into one politically effective whole?”  Reagan says , “I envision not simply a melding… into an uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.  This will mean compromise.”

But how to define compromise?  Ronald Reagan tells us.

Compromise, he says,  is not the abandonment of basic principles.  Compromise requires holding fast to principle, yet this holding fast is the antithesis of ideological purity.

Equating ideological purity with Marx and Lenin, Reagan says, “If the facts don’t happen to fit the ideology, the facts are chopped off and discarded.  I consider this to be the opposite to principled conservatism.  Conservatism is the antithesis of ideological fanaticism.”

Reagan was a strategic conservative, a successful leader because his supple, flexible and non-ideological politics were the outward expression of a deeply held principle.   Let’s examine the issues he faced of taxation through this prism.

In Reagan’s 1967 Address to the CRA he opened with, “I have that warm feeling a person gets when he knows he’s among friends.”  Diving in, Reagan said:

“During the [1966 gubernatorial] campaign it looked almost as if we could put our fiscal house in order without resorting to new taxes. We did not know just how bad the situation was then. Now we have had access to, and a chance to read, the fine print. As a result, we have, as you know, submitted a revenue bill of nearly one billion dollars in increased taxes. … let’s set the record straight here and now.”  (Italics added.)

In what followed,  Reagan explained to the CRA (some were highly critical) the fiscal realities.  Reagan’s tax increases in his first year were massive; reputable historians say the 1967 CA tax hikes were the highest ever in our state and the highest ever in any state house in the nation.

Accounts of Reagan’s political wrangling with Jesse Unruh the Democrat leader over the tax hike are fascinating.  Reagan urgently needed the tax increase as his other legislation was blocked by Dems and his new administration floundering in a fiscal mess inherited from Pat Brown.

The point here is not that Reagan’s 1967 tax hike was a good thing.  Far from it.  Reagan’s record on taxes was frankly quite spotty;  in both Sacramento and Washington Reagan failed to shrink the leviathan state.   It will take fifty to a hundred years to complete what Reagan started, a roll back of the New Deal and Great Society in favor of the liberty he loved.

The point is that the 1967 California tax hikes were both strategic and necessary.

Had Reagan been hamstrung by purists and ideologues during his first year as governor, he would never have won re-election in California nor gone on to become our 40th president.   Had Reagan not been a supple, strategic and pragmatic conservative—principled but capable of making deals with liberal pols like Jesse Unruh and Tip O’Neil— we might have had two terms of Jimmy Carter and still live in a world with an Iron Curtain.

Given the present realities in California—  the fractured finances of the CRP, the potential for further registration decay, the gelding in the legislature, the stark demography—we must reject ideology and embrace the principled conservatism,  capable of compromise, of Ronald Reagan.

We must NOT become mushy moderates.

We must NOT allow Democrats to define us.

We must NOT violate the 11th Commandment.

But we must also once again redefine conservatism—as Reagan did—  so that the long, historical march toward a smaller state, political liberty and economic freedom can continue.

Towards the end of Ronald Reagan’s 1967 Address to the CRA he says:

“We cannot offer… a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments… This  kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat…  it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be.”