The buzz word to praise Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address is “Reaganesque.” Time magazine gushed that Obama’s emphasis on innovation, nod to American Exceptionalism, and deft use of storytelling places him “squarely — with Reagan — on the side of sunshine and enterprise.” As one conservative commentator remarked, “ever so slowly, liberals are attempting a subtle revisionism” of our 40th president. Though Reagan was portrayed as a simpleton B-movie actor (lacking compassion for the little man or good sense about policy) while president, liberals now reinterpret his legacy in order to bludgeon conservatives with it.

What defines Ronald Reagan?

Reagan’s greatest accomplishments were undoubtedly in foreign policy. He demonstrated great courage in challenging and defeating the Soviet Union. Reagan assisted pro-freedom anti-communist forces in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, and Cambodia. Some estimate that the cash-strapped Soviets spent $8 billion a year on counterinsurgency operations against U.S.-backed guerrillas. The accelerating Soviet losses in Afghanistan demoralized the Kremlin and the Red Army, hastening the collapse of the Soviet empire.  There was vehement opposition to his Strategic Defense Initiative (even within his administration), but Reagan continued to push SDI and to persuade the Soviets to stop waging a Cold War they could not win.

At home, liberal intellectuals lauded the economic accomplishments of the Soviet Union. Reagan was not so easily seduced. In late 1981 and all of 1982, when his tax cuts had not yet kicked in and the U.S. economy still lagged, President Reagan reassured his worried aides and counseled them to stay the course. He had faith in the American people who, if they could be “liberated from the restraints imposed on them by government,” would pull “the country out of its tailspin.” Reagan told the British Parliament that a “global campaign for freedom” would prevail over the forces of tyranny and that “the Soviet Union itself is not immune to this reality.” By the end of the decade, as he predicted, Marxism-Leninism was dumped on the ash heap of history. America, though, experienced the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history, with 17 million new jobs created during the Reagan years.

Reagan was indeed a gifted politician. He knew when to bend a little (in order to get what he wanted later on) and when to stand firm. In either case, his principles guided his actions. Ronald Reagan’s principles were rooted in two documents—the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. From his very first national speech supporting Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid in October 1964 to his farewell address to the nation in January 1989, Reagan turned again and again to the wisdom of the Founders.  Under Reagan’s leadership, his Attorney General Edwin Meese III reopened a fundamental debate about the meaning of the Constitution that liberals had thought to be settled long ago. An open discussion of the Constitution’s meaning was essential, because “Reagan understood that many of our problems descended from the decay of the Constitution’s restraints on the centralization of power in Washington.”

Considering that Reagan’s policies were grounded in the principles and documents of the American founding, it is more than passing strange to watch liberals twist Reagan’s legacy and declare Barack Obama heir to this new liberalized version of Reagan. Reagan’s understanding of America remained anchored in our country’s core documents. Obama’s vision of America requires us to shed our allegiance to these documents and build a new progressive foundation for America. Reagan unabashedly embraced American exceptionalism, declaring the Soviet Union to be an Evil Empire. Obama begrudgingly tips his hat towards American exceptionalism, spending his time abroad groveling before foreign dignitaries and apologizing for America’s sins. Reagan’s economic policies led to years of American prosperity.  Obama’s health care bill sucked the life out of the economy (and the bill has not yet gone into full effect). As we celebrate the Gipper’s 100th birthday, let us honor the Reagan’s true legacy anchored in America’s First Principles, lest we be fooled by liberals waxing Reaganesque.

Co-authored by Julia Shaw