Sunday, February 13, 2011

When The Emperor Has No Clothes, Dress Him The Way You Want

That seems to be what Ronald Reagan's admirers keep on doing.  Typically, they try to point to things he either didn't accomplish (such as cut taxes and shrink government) or stumbled into (the end of the Cold War, when Communism decided to bankrupt itself the year after Reagan's watch ended, something that not even Reagan expected to happen at any time).  Michael Kinsley does an effective job of laying out this argument, here and here.

As I've said elsewhere, the argument in favor of Reagan boils down to saying "he made us feel good about ourselves."  This is only valid praise if you take the view that a President is more of a head of state, symbolizing the nation and its spirit, and not the leader of the government, working to build a better society for everyone.  In this context, I've often thought that the late Tip O'Neill had the best take on Reagan:  it was sinful that he became President but, giving him his due, he would have been a helluva king.

Unfortunately, Reagan was, as President, both head of state and government.  And, in his latter capacity, a case can be made that he was an unmitigated disaster, bankrupting the Republic while increasing its exposure to threats against its existence, and polarizing the political system in the process.  Let's not forgot that he championed the Taliban.  Let's also not forget that over 90 percent of the national debt was accrued not only on his watch, but on the watch of his Republican successors.  The result:  even funding for the arts, which used to be as nonpartisan a part of public spending as anything else, is now seen as a threat to the nation's future.  It's dead in Kansas, it may be killed in other states, and it may ultimately die off completely.  A sad legacy for a President who once headed the Screen Actors' Guild (although maybe not an inconsistent one for him; he nearly destroyed SAG by failing to protect its members from the witch-hunting of the House Un-American Activities Committee).

And this doesn't even get into his enabling of terrorism.

Ronald Reagan can only make you feel good if you're hell-bent on fooling yourselves.  Shame on you if you are; shame on me if I let you bully me into believing you.  Dress him however you want; his long-term legacy will still be naked.


JTT said...

You're totally correct about Reagan, Steve. Good post!

--John T.

Stephen R. Rourke said...

Thanks, John!