18 January 2008

 

Reagan

I doubt that I have to establish my credentials here. I'm a yellow-dog Democrat. I've voted Republican exactly twice: once for whoever was running against Teddy Kennedy for the Senate in 1982 in Massachusetts, because I was pissed at Kennedy for having run against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter (one of the worst presidents ever), for the Democratic nomination in 1980; and once when I voted for George H. W. Bush (i.e., Bush, 41) against Michael Dukakis in 1988, when I had been living in Massachusetts for six years and knew that there was no way in Hell that Dukakis would in any way be able to handle the presidency.

(My friend Paul's girlfriend almost cried: "But Tim is our friend! How can he vote for Bush?")

I'd like to think that I had absorbed the lessons of Jimmy Carter by then.

So, now that Obama has raised the issue and that the usual cadre within my party have gone apoplectic about it, what about Reagan?

He was one of the three great presidents of the 20th century (the other two being Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt). His instinctual understanding of what Americanism was, what it means to the world, has, by and large, yet to be understood and recognized. Well, outside the pages of National Review.

Does that mean that I believe in or support Reagan's policies? No way. But just because I oppose almost all the policies he advocated doesn't mean that I can't respect that he was a great president, who achieved many of his political aims (without being a dick about it); whose engagement with the Soviet leadership (for all the bluster and "the bombing begins in five minutes") led to the first reductions in the number of nuclear weapons our (then) two nations had pointed at each other for the first time; and who, through squashing the PATCO strike, having the kids in Granada rescued, and bombing Libya ultimately in response to the state-sponsored Pan Am 103 terrorism restored America, for all its mistakes, on the world stage and in the eyes of its people as the great nation on the world stage in the 20th century.

Some say that they can't see a homeless person without thinking about Reagan. Well, it was Rosalyn Carter's having Jimmy Carter's ear that led to the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, leading to the homeless crisis of the 80s. Alternatively, it was Carter's decision initially to deploy Pershing II missiles to Europe in response to Soviet deployment of SS-20s, later implemented (correctly) by Reagan, that had the left up in arms. And Reagan's support for the Contra's (so stupidly funded by selling arms clandestinely to Iran) was entirely justifiable, although the fans of the Castro brothers in Cuba or the Ortega brothers in Nicaragua will likely never see that.

So, as a liberal Democrat who also happens to be a liberal anti-Communist, I'm more than happy to support Obama in his declaration of respect for Reagan. We're much better off as a nation that Reagan was president than we would have been had Carter been re-elected or Mondale elected in 1984. Just thinking of either makes my stomach turn.

Ronald Reagan, for all his faults and policy wrongness, was a great American president. I'm confident that history will recognize as much.

I'm also confident that Barrack Obama has similar greatness within him: An understanding of American and Americanism; an ability to connect to the nation's sense of those; and a good-natured willingness to engage those who disagree with him without disrespecting them or failing to listen to their concerns.

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