Reagan vs. "Reagan Conservative" Sean Hannity

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

A chapter in Sean Hannity's new book, Conservative Victory, is titled "Why I'm a Reagan Conservative." But from immigration reform to tax policy to the proper response to terrorism, the political platform Hannity espouses in the book and on his Fox News program directly contradicts the policies carried out under President Reagan.


Hannity attacks Democrats for "treating the war" against terrorists "as a criminal prosecution." In Conservative Victory, Hannity writes:

On nearly every issue since the war on terror bean, Democrats have stood for the wrong principles and policies and have proved incompetent in carrying out their own policies as well.


They reverted to the Clinton-era position of treating the war as a criminal prosecution, replete with constitutional protections for enemy combatants, and replaced what should have been military tribunals held outside the mainland with trials in U.S. civilian courts. [Pages 220-221]

Reagan: "We must act against the criminal menace of terrorism with the full weight of the law." In a July 1985 speech, Reagan stated:

Now, much needs to be done by all of us in the community of civilized nations. We must act against the criminal menace of terrorism with the full weight of the law, both domestic and international. We will act to indict, apprehend, and prosecute those who commit the kind of atrocities the world has witnessed in recent weeks. We can act together as free peoples who wish not to see our citizens kidnapped or shot or blown out of the skies -- just as we acted together to rid the seas of piracy at the turn of the last century. And incidentally, those of you who are legal scholars will note the law's description of pirates: "hostis humanis'' -- the enemies of all mankind. There can be no place on Earth left where it is safe for these monsters to rest or train or practice their cruel and deadly skills. We must act together, or unilaterally if necessary, to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere.

Official policy of Reagan administration: "Terrorists are criminals." In a 1987 speech before the Committee on Foreign Relations, seeking to "describe how our government is responding to the terrorist threat," L. Paul Bremer III, the Reagan administration's Ambassador at Large for Counter-Terrorism, stated:

Another important measure we have developed in our overall strategy is applying the rule of law to terrorists. Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are -- criminals -- and to use democracy's most potent tool, the rule of law against them.

Reagan administration tried terrorists in civilian courts. For example, Fawaz Younis was convicted of conspiracy, aircraft piracy, and hostage-taking in a federal court after participating in the hijacking of an airplane, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Nuclear arms control

Hannity: "We must not dismantle our nuclear weapons," "we can never return to a world" without them. In Conservative Victory, Hannity writes:

[W]e must be committed to retaining our position as the world's greatest superpower, by maintaining the world's strongest military and supporting our troops on and off the battlefield. We must not dismantle our nuclear weapons and must persist in perfecting our strategic missile defenses. [Page 222]

He also writes:

Conservatives, on the other hand, recognize that we live in a dangerous world, and that the world will always be dangerous because human beings are fallen. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle; the world has changed; much as we would like, we can never return to a world without nuclear weapons. [Page 209]

Reagan's "ultimate goal" was "eliminating all nuclear weapons." In several speeches, Reagan stated that his "ultimate goal" was the "total elimination of nuclear weapons."

Reagan: "[S]igning of the first-ever agreement eliminating nuclear weapons" "has a universal significance for mankind." In December 1987, President Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union, which "requires destruction of the Parties' ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment within three years after the Treaty enters into force."

In his remarks on signing the treaty, Reagan stated, "For the first time in history, the language of 'arms control' was replaced by 'arms reduction' -- in this case, the complete elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. Of course, this required a dramatic shift in thinking, and it took conventional wisdom some time to catch up. Reaction, to say the least, was mixed. To some the zero option was impossibly visionary and unrealistic; to others merely a propaganda ploy. Well, with patience, determination, and commitment, we've made this impossible vision a reality." He added that "I will venture to say that what we are going to do, the signing of the first-ever agreement eliminating nuclear weapons, has a universal significance for mankind, both from the standpoint of world politics and from the standpoint of humanism."

Reagan proposed reductions to ICBMs that eventually became the START I treaty. In a May 9, 1982 speech, Reagan stated:

The main threat to peace posed by nuclear weapons today is the growing instability of the nuclear balance. This is due to the increasingly destructive potential of the massive Soviet buildup in its ballistic missile force.

Therefore, our goal is to enhance deterrence and achieve stability through significant reductions in the most destabilizing nuclear systems, ballistic missiles, and especially the giant intercontinental ballistic missiles, while maintaining a nuclear capability sufficient to deter conflict, to underwrite our national security, and to meet our commitment to allies and friends.

For the immediate future, I'm asking my START -- and START really means -- we've given up on SALT -- START means ''Strategic Arms Reduction Talks,'' and that negotiating team to propose to their Soviet counterparts a practical, phased reduction plan. The focus of our efforts will be to reduce significantly the most destabilizing systems, the ballistic missiles, the number of warheads they carry, and their overall destructive potential.

At the first phase, or the end of the first phase of START, I expect ballistic missile warheads, the most serious threat we face, to be reduced to equal levels, equal ceilings, at least a third below the current levels. To enhance stability, I would ask that no more than half of those warheads be land-based. I hope that these warhead reductions, as well as significant reductions in missiles themselves, could be achieved as rapidly as possible.

In a second phase, we'll seek to achieve an equal ceiling on other elements of our strategic nuclear forces, including limits on the ballistic missile throw-weight at less than current American levels. In both phases, we shall insist on verification procedures to ensure compliance with the agreement.

This, I might say, will be the twentieth time that we have sought such negotiations with the Soviet Union since World War II. The monumental task of reducing and reshaping our strategic forces to enhance stability will take many years of concentrated effort. But I believe that it will be possible to reduce the risks of war by removing the instabilities that now exist and by dismantling the nuclear menace.

I have written to President Brezhnev and directed Secretary Haig to approach the Soviet Government concerning the initiation of formal negotiations on the reduction of strategic nuclear arms, START, at the earliest opportunity. We hope negotiations will begin by the end of June.

We will negotiate seriously, in good faith, and carefully consider all proposals made by the Soviet Union. If they approach these negotiations in the same spirit, I'm confident that together we can achieve an agreement of enduring value that reduces the number of nuclear weapons, halts the growth in strategic forces, and opens the way to even more far-reaching steps in the future.

Negotiations on the treaty that eventually became START I began in 1982 following Reagan's speech and continued intermittently through his presidency. President George H.W. Bush signed the START I treaty with the Soviet Union in July 1991.

Budget Deficits

Hannity: "[W]e must stand for... an end to deficit spending." On Page 203 of Conservative Victory, Hannity writes that "we must stand for fiscal integrity, and for sound money - and for an end to deficit spending, now more than ever."

Federal government ran budget deficit every year of the Reagan administration. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the federal government engaged in deficit spending every year of Reagan's presidency.


Receipts (in millions of dollars)

Outlays (in millions of dollars)

Surplus or Deficit (-) (in millions of dollars)


































Hannity: "[W]e must reduce, not increase" taxes. In Conservative Victory, Hannity writes that "we must reduce, not increase, the rate at which the government taxes our earnings." [Page 203]

"[N]o peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people" as Reagan. In a 2004 New York Times column, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman wrote:

But Ronald Reagan does hold a special place in the annals of tax policy, and not just as the patron saint of tax cuts. To his credit, he was more pragmatic and responsible than that; he followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.

The first Reagan tax increase came in 1982. By then it was clear that the budget projections used to justify the 1981 tax cut were wildly optimistic. In response, Mr. Reagan agreed to a sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts. Over all, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut; as a share of G.D.P., the increase was substantially larger than Mr. Clinton's 1993 tax increase.

The contrast with President Bush is obvious. President Reagan, confronted with evidence that his tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, changed course. President Bush, confronted with similar evidence, has pushed for even more tax cuts.

Mr. Reagan's second tax increase was also motivated by a sense of responsibility; or at least that's the way it seemed at the time. I'm referring to the Social Security Reform Act of 1983, which followed the recommendations of a commission led by Alan Greenspan. Its key provision was an increase in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance.

For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent; but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down.


Hannity has repeatedly expressed opposition to granting "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants." For example, on the August 11, 2008, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity stated (accessed from the Nexis database):

HANNITY: [I]mmigration reform, and I disagree with Senator McCain on this. McCain-Kennedy I think was a bad idea, I believe it was amnesty. I don't care how you spell in out. In essence, that's what it would be, I love President Bush, it was one of the areas I've had a disagreement with him on. I support immigration. I'm the product of immigration. ... Why can't - why would we for all the people that have waited all the years and gone through all the bureaucracy, why would we reward the people that didn't respect our laws and sovereignty just get to stay and $2,500 fine? Why?

Reagan provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Reagan signed the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, which provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements and met a series of conditions. According to then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III, "some 2.7 million people were granted amnesty" under that law. In his statement on signing the bill, Reagan said:

In 1981 this administration asked the Congress to pass a comprehensive legislative package, including employer sanctions, other measures to increase enforcement of the immigration laws, and legalization. The act provides these three essential components. The employer sanctions program is the keystone and major element. It will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here. We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.

Judicial Activism

Hannity criticizes "activist judges" who "legislate instead of interpreting the law." In Conservative Victory, Hannity writes:

When activist judges make up the law as they go - when they legislate instead of interpreting the law - they compromise the structural integrity of the Constitution and undermine the balance that was designed to ensure our liberties. Nothing is more important to our conservative philosophy than reverence for the Constitution as the indispensable bulwark of our liberties. [Page 212]

Studies show that Reagan's Supreme Court appointees are among the most likely to engage in "judicial activism." A 2005 study by Yale University law professor Paul Gewirtz and Yale Law School graduate Chad Golder showed that among Supreme Court justices at that time, Reagan's four appointees - then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Justices Andrew Kennedy and Antonin Scalia - were among the five most frequent practitioners of at least one brand of judicial activism -- the tendency to strike down statutes passed by Congress.

A 2007 study by Cass R. Sunstein (subsequently named by President Obama to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) and University of Chicago law professor Thomas Miles used a different measurement of judicial activism -- the tendency of judges to strike down decisions by federal regulatory agencies. Sunstein and Miles found that by this definition, Reagan's four appointees were among the five justices most likely to engage in "judicial activism."

Sean Hannity
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