It Wasn't Reagan's 11th Commandment, and He Didn't Obey It Anyway

When a Republican invokes “Reagan’s Sacred and Holy and Inviolable Eleventh Commandment,” (in nomine Patris et Filii et Spritus Sancti, Amen), you can rest assured you’re witnessing a frightened establishment type trying get himself out of trouble.

It’s actually comical to watch these guys: shaking with rage, forcing one of those pained, contraindicative grins as they wag a hostile finger at a woman a quarter their size. “Thou shalt NOT speak ill of a fellow Republican!” they declare. “Reagan, chapter 19 verse 66.”

Frightened. Establishment.

And ignorant. (Not to mention ill-mannered, about which more in due course.)

Every student of 20th century American politics knows, for instance, that Reagan never claimed the 11th commandment. While Reagan mentioned the Commandment in his 1966 campaign for governor, he attributed it then and later to Gaylord Parkinson, former chairman of the California GOP.

Moreover—and I love Reagan, so this hurts a little—while Reagan claimed he obeyed it, he didn’t.

Another lesson from 20th century American politics 101: Reagan challenged the sitting Republican US President, Gerald Ford, in 1976. He took his campaign right into the Republican National Convention that year, damaging Ford’s chances of re-election in November. Is any speech more ill than declaring, by your candidacy, that the Republican in office is unfit for the job?

Reagan also mounted a late “favorite son” campaign against Nixon in 1968. Again, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the sitting Vice President.

And Reagan wasn’t the only conservative hero to challenge his own party. William F. Buckley ran for mayor of New York City as a Conservative against Republican John Lindsay in an attempt to throw the election to the Democrat. Buckley later ended Republican Lowell Weicker’s career in the US Senate by forming “Buck-PAC” to support the Democrat nominee Joseph Lieberman. (I am still proud of the $25 I sent to Buck-PAC at a time when I couldn’t even afford a cigarette pack at the Navy Commissary.)

And what about Winston Churchill? I know, he wasn’t a Republican—or an American for that matter—but he abandoned the Tories and joined the Liberals in 1904 for what Jefferson might have termed “light and transient causes.” He didn’t return to the Conservatives until the 1920s. (My internet is down right now, so if some of these details are wrong, please correct them in the comments below.)

I’ve observed that people tend to invoke the 11th commandment to avoid due censure. For example, failing to RSVP for a Republican Picnic, then showing up with 15 mouths to feed. (I’m looking at you, Rick Stream.)

Let’s admit that Reagan’s use of Gaylord Parkinson’s 11th Commandment was—politically convenient. And let’s create a new 12th commandment: If you don’t RSVP, don’t friggin’ eat.