Column: Clone one for the Gipper
WASHINGTON -- When news broke that a vial of Ronald Reagan's blood was being auctioned online, the price quickly jumped to $30,000 as websites and blogs explored a tantalizing possibility: Did this mean the late president could be cloned?
Before mad scientists got the chance to perform a Dolly-the-Sheep experiment with the 40th president, the seller succumbed to criticism and decided to donate the blood to the Reagan foundation. But this should only encourage the cloning speculation because the Gipper's DNA is now in the hands of those who would most like to reproduce him: Republicans.
Party officials have been making the pilgrimage to the Reagan Library this year to express their wish to recreate the great man. "I believe boldness and clarity of the kind that Ronald Reagan displayed in 1980 offer us the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition in 2012," vice presidential aspirant Paul Ryan said at the library last week.
Also making the trip were VP hopefuls Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. "Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in what this country and its citizens can accomplish," the latter declared. "The America I speak of is the America Ronald Reagan challenged us to be."
The man they hope to join on the ticket, Mitt Romney, once boasted that he was "not trying to return to Reagan-Bush." Now he says the party's standard-bearer should be in "the same mold as Ronald Reagan."
But before they go filling that mold by mapping the Reagan genome, Republicans may wish to consider some genetic flaws that party scientists should repair in the cloning process. To make the Reagan clone more compatible with today's Republican Party, a bit of genetic engineering may be in order:
Reagan's AFL-1 gene, on the labor chromosome, has a mutation that made him susceptible to worker rights. He said of unions: "There are few finer examples of participatory democracy." He said the right to join a union is "one of the most elemental human rights." And he said collective bargaining "played a major role in America's economic miracle."
Reagan's EPA-4 gene, on the regulatory chromosome, has a protein that can summon anti-industry sympathies. He signed a law establishing efficiency standards for electric appliances, and an update to the Safe Drinking Water Act punishing states that didn't meet clean-water standards.
SSA-2 and MDCR-1
These related genes, on the long arm of the retirement chromosome, are problematic. Reagan expanded Social Security in 1983 and imposed taxes on wealthy recipients. He also signed what was at the time the largest expansion of Medicare in its history.
DEBT-1, DEBT-2, DEBT-3
A trio of abnormalities on the fiscal chromosome caused Reagan to increase taxes several times after his initial tax cut, to embrace much higher taxes on investments than current rates, and to sign 18 increases in the federal debt limit.
SPND-1, SPND-2, SPND-3
These Reagan mutations, in the same sector as the debt mutations, created a genetic predisposition to expand the federal government. Reagan grew the federal workforce and the federal budget, added the Department of Veterans Affairs (one of the largest Cabinet agencies), and pursued a military buildup that would be impossible under spending limits proposed by congressional Republicans.
For all his talk about welfare queens, Reagan had a gene on the compassion chromosome that led him to champion the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program for the working poor that takes more children out of poverty than any other program. Budgets proposed by today's Republicans would cut or eliminate the credit. A related abnormality caused Reagan to say that bus drivers should not pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than millionaires -- one of President Obama's tax proposals opposed by current Republicans.
The DEAL-4 and related genes on Reagan's strategy chromosome are probably the most troubling for modern conservatives. These abnormalities led Reagan to compromise routinely on arms control, the size of government, taxes and other matters of principle. In his autobiography, he criticized "radical conservatives" for whom "'compromise' was a dirty word." He continued: "They wanted all or nothing and they wanted it all at once. ... I'd learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for."
Come to think of it, Republicans would need a whole lot of new genetic material to repair Reagan's defects. Maybe they should instead put the blood in a vault and accept that they don't want to clone Reagan but to replace him with a fantasy. Modern Republican ideas simply aren't in their revered leader's DNA.
Dana Milbank's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.