February was the month in which we celebrated Ronald Reagan’s one hundredth birthday and remembered that he left us almost seven years ago. It is fascinating to me how this great man, who was once excoriated by the Democrats and some moderate Republicans as a “right-wing fanatic”, and an “amiable dunce”, is suddenly being transformed and accepted by his former tormentors as a political giant.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited and published Reagan’s diaries in 2007, linked the Gipper, a former Democrat, to his original political hero, President Franklin Roosevelt. “People really used to loathe FDR, and now everybody considers him a great president”, said Brinkley, adding: “We in America like winners. FDR won World War II. And Ronald Reagan, it is thought, won the Cold War. That’s hard to overcome. It transcends politics.”
Even President Obama and TIME magazine have gotten in on the act (no pun intended) when Reagan’s superimposed image was seen on the cover of TIME with his arm around the current President. “If Obama has bounced back from the drubbing his party took at the polls last November”, wrote historian Richard Norton Smith in the magazine, “it is in no small measure because he has been acting more Reaganesque as of late.” Note that Smith emphasizes “acting” but not “governing”.
It was reported by the POLITICO that President Obama has recently been praising Reagan’s “faith in the American promise” and carries around with him on his travels Lou Cannon’s biography of Reagan for bedtime reading. “He tapped in to what people were already feeling, which is, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing”, Obama said. Really?
In a poll released this month and taken to coincide with Presidents’ Day, Gallup asked 1015 adults to name the president they regard as the greatest in history. Ronald Reagan finished first with 19 percent, followed by Abraham Lincoln at 14 percent and Bill Clinton at 13 percent. Even taking into account that recent presidents tend to dominate the list (in part because their names are the easiest to remember and also because partisan leanings also influence people’s choices), the results are still startling to me. One of three presidents – Lincoln, Reagan or Kennedy – has been on top the past 12 years. Franklin Roosevelt finished sixth, Obama finished seventh, and George W. Bush finished tenth.
In an article entitled “Reagan’s True Legacy” in REAL CLEAR POLITICS dated February 2, 2011, Ed Feulner, the President of the Heritage Foundation, correctly points out that “what passes as praise of Reagan today is veiled criticism.” In other words, Reagan is hailed by Democrats as a “great communicator” but not for his accomplishments or his philosophy. They believe that by studying his methods, perhaps some of the “Reagan magic” will rub off on their liberal policies that have been such a hard sell.
Feulner says this transparent attempt to dress up the liberal agenda in Reaganesque terms is “condescending nonsense”. It was not just Reagan’s optimistic style that endeared him to millions of Americans, it was also (and primarily) because he articulated their most cherished beliefs. He said, “Taxes are too high – let’s cut them. Inflation is too high – let’s tame it. The Cold War can be won, not managed . . . let’s do it.” In the process, Reagan created an economic miracle and our nation experienced its longest peacetime expansion in history. He beefed up the military, declared it was “Morning in America”, and brought the Soviets to their knees without firing a shot.
I agree with Feulner that only a presidential candidate in 2012 who agrees with Reagan’s farewell address (and governs accordingly if elected) can be considered the Gipper’s true heir:
“ ‘We the people’ tell the government what to do, it doesn’t tell us. ‘We
the people’ are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide
where it should go, and by what route, and how fast.”
Happy Birthday, Mr. President. R. I. P.