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June 11, 2004
Reagan Remembered: Antidotes For Saccharine Gloss

While I have always been interested in politics and current affairs -- I avidly read newspapers even in grade school -- I came of political age during the Reagan Administration. I remember how thrilled I was when he decisively beat Jimmy Carter and had the opportunity to put his philosophy of limited government to work. I also remember the bruising political wars that Reagan's election inspired, and while I think that the bitter partisanship that erupted ultimately finds its roots in Watergate, there is no doubt that the Reagan Era gave us a battle of philosophies unmatched since FDR.

In that regard, most of the eulogies presented in the media this week at the passing of Ronald Reagan have been unsatisfying. They recall a Reagan transcendent who somehow won his triumphs without much battle at all. Daniel Henninger today writes more of an effective remembrance of the Reagan Era rather than of Reagan himself in today's

Next to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan was perhaps the most divisive president in the nation's history. Lincoln ended a way of life for the American South. Reagan said that he was ending a way of life for American liberalism. As with Lincoln, the challenge Reagan posed to his opposition was not merely political or economic. It was profoundly moral--and so worth a death-struggle. The tensions and bitterness evident in the body politic today, and in the current presidential campaign, arrived in Washington in 1981 with the 40th president. This quiet week of remembrance is a temporary truce. ...

On hearing the Reagan inaugural in January 1981--a radical's blunt challenge to establishment Washington orthodoxy--the liberals mounted a counteroffensive. To any who were there, the first Reagan term was bloody. ... The air burned with political antipathy. I recall in 1985 attending a confirmation hearing (another heavy weapon) for Edwin Meese to be attorney general. The confirmation was a long ordeal whose details are forgotten. But on this day Sen. Joe Biden ended a long, dramatic denunciation of Mr. Meese by intoning, twice, that the nominee was "beneath contempt." There was a sound in the silent room. It was Mr. Meese's wife seated behind him, sobbing violently. The Bork confirmation, this war's most famous assassination, was two years away.

That recalls the Reagan Era more clearly than anything else I've read so far this week. Whenever anyone dies, of course, focusing on their best qualities and their achievements is considered the polite and respectful course to take, even though a few moonbats on the left couldn't bear to keep still for a single day before violating that tradition. However, Henninger's piece reminds us that the man's term of office was largely innocent of either politesse or respect, especially from the media and what we would call now the MoveOn crowd. Mostly it resembled a bare-knuckle prizefight, and many times we wondered whether the GOP had the stomach for that kind of battle. Mostly it didn't, but Reagan did, and mostly that was enough.

Make sure you read the entire Henninger piece. For another antidote, you couldn't do better than Charles Krauthammer in today's Washington Post, who believes that the saccharine focus on Reagan's optimism intentionally disregards his accomplishments:

Rarely has a president been so quickly and completely vindicated by history. The Berlin Wall came down 10 months after Reagan left office. His policies of unrelenting toughness won the Cold War and brought a new peace. That is because Reagan understood that the key to peace was never arms control. Security had nothing to do with the number of weapons; it had everything to do with the intention and power of those who possessed them.

Accordingly, Reagan put relentless pressure on the possessors of that power, the Soviet commissars, through his nuclear hard line, military buildup, Strategic Defense Initiative and the Reagan Doctrine of supporting anti-communist guerrillas everywhere (especially Nicaragua). Ultimately, that pressure brought about the collapse of the overextended Soviet empire. The result was the most profound peace the world had experienced in 60 years -- since the very beginning of the totalitarian era in the early 1930s.

This success is an understandable embarrassment to the critics who opposed his every policy. They supported the freeze, denounced the military buildup, ridiculed strategic defenses, opposed aid to the Nicaraguan anti-communists and derided Reagan for telling the truth about the Soviet empire.

So now they praise his sunny smile. Normally, people speak well of the recently deceased to honor the dictum of being kind to the dead. When Reagan's opponents speak well of him now, however, they are trying to be kind to themselves.

As I posted last weekend about John Kerry's otherwise classy valediction to Reagan, I suspect that Kerry intends to take the mantle of optimism for the remainder of the campaign, and probably spent the week retooling his advertising to do just that. I don't find anything wrong with that. However, optimism without a plan consists of nothing but empty gestures -- the very criticism Kerry and his party repeatedly made against Reagan, and as Krauthammer points out, they were wrong. Reagan had a plan, and he was on the right side of history.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 11, 2004 7:17 AM

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