My inaugural post: Ronald Reagan, RIP
I just started this blog tonight. To signal my entry into the blogosphere, here is a short e-mail I sent this week to my political e-mail list:
I love this quote from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in May 1988:
"A few years from now, I believe, Reaganism will seem a weird and improbable memory, a strange interlude of national hallucination, rather as the McCarthyism of the early 1950s and the youth rebellion of the late 1960s appear to us today."
I did not start out my adult life in politics as a Reaganite, but I did become a believer. In 1976 I supported Gerald Ford against Reagan. I was 21 years old and a loyal Republican; it seemed to me that I ought to support a sitting GOP president. I had not yet formed much of a political philosophy. On top of that, in my home state of Utah the Reaganites were not an easy bunch to like, at least in my youthful view.
I also supported a 1976 Senate candidate in Utah named Jack Carlson, who ran against Orrin Hatch in the Republican primary that year. Carlson remained neutral in the Ford-Reagan fight, but Hatch enthusiastically attached himself to Reagan. Oops. In the closing days of the election the polls showed we were losing anyway by 5-7 points, but two days before the election Reagan endorsed Hatch (in a primary, no less!). Hatch creamed Carlson by 30 percentage points or more. In other words, Ronald Reagan ran over us.
I did not learn much from this experience. In 1980, for personal reasons, and a seeming glutton for punishment, I supported George H.W. Bush in the early going-- again, versus Reagan. Bush got absolutely run over too.
I started to realize there must be something to this Ronald Reagan. I cheerfully voted for him in 1980 and became converted to Reaganism after I saw what he did as president. I enthusiastically voted for him again in 1984. (As a side note, I became a friend of Orrin Hatch too.)
So during the past week, as I have read the more liberal commentators describe Reagan as just a "sunny optimist," a big warm likeable teddy bear, I have to smile and say that the Reagan who ran over me and so many others surely was all of that, but he was not only that. It seems to me that the teddy bear description is a tactic to discredit Reagan's memory, used by those who dislike him or are unwilling to recognize his genius.
The fact is, Ronald Reagan was a hard-hitting and formidable political adversary. He was the train coming right down the tracks at you. You took him on at your own peril. I personally experienced how that feels.
What drove that train? Reagan believed in sound principles and he was commited to them. There was no space between him and what he believed. As Margaret Thatcher said at his funeral, he knew his own mind; and his mind was set on the right ideas!
So all the commentary about "The Great Communicator" and his presidency amounting to a victory of form over substance is just bunk. During the past week of mourning and remembrance, liberals have been in denial about the power of ideas the The Gipper took on and communicated. Even today those ideas dominate the political landscape. (For example, President Clinton's signal achievement as a Democrat president was welfare reform, of all things. Think about that.)
As Charles Krauthammer noted Friday in the Washington Post:
"The liberal establishment that alternately ridiculed and demonized Ronald Reagan throughout his presidency is in a quandary. How to remember a man they anathematized for eight years but who enjoys both the overwhelming affection of the American people and decisive vindication by history? They found their way to do it. They dwell endlessly on the man's smile, his sunny personality, his good manners. Above all, his optimism.... Optimism is nice, but it gets you nowhere unless you also possess ideological vision, policy and prescriptions to make it real, and, finally, the political courage to act on your convictions."
You can find Krauthammer's entire piece here.
And thanks to Hugh Hewitt I found a link to a nice collection of Reagan's ideas here.
Final thought: Almost 20 years ago Reagan made his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech in Berlin. Who would have thought then that in 2004 those two old Cold Warriors, Baroness Thatcher and Mr. Gorbachev, would be sitting next to each other at Reagan's funeral, with Mr. G. representing Russia, not the now-defunct Soviet Union? I think Reagan would have gotten a kick out of that.
Rest in peace, Ronald Reagan.