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Are the Democrats Crazy? On Reagan's Paradise Drive

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Ronald Reagan, RIP

by Christopher Chantrill
June 05, 2004 at 8:00 pm


I LOVED RONALD Reagan, eventually.  But in the winter of 1980 I went to my local precinct caucus as a Bush supporter.  Over in the corner were the Reagan supporters.  They were lower middle class types, technicians with long sideburns, and they looked like they ought to be Democrats.  But David Brooks is right.  Politics is tribal, and I walked out of the caucus a Reagan supporter.

The opinion polls tell us that conservatives are happier than liberals, and by quite a significant margin.  I don’t know what the reason may be, but one reason must be that it is forty years since Democrats had a leader they could be proud of.  They loved JFK, but they had to have been embarrassed by Carter and ashamed of Clinton, even if they will go to their graves before admitting it.  That’s why they have to be so angry at Bush.  It cannot be, it must not be that Bush will turn out to be a great president that transformed the world.

But we Republicans can still bask in the afterglow of Reagan: the bold initiatives, the stirring words, the charm, and the sense of humor.  And in George W. Bush we have a president who has transformed American foreign policy with the forward strategy to fight World War IV and who has somehow cut the taxes on capital in half in the teeth of outraged opposition from Democrats

The moment when Ronald Reagan burned himself into the heart of every Republican must have been his great swansong at the 1992 Republican Convention when, with exquisite timing, he advised Americans what do with candidate Bill Clinton.  “Don’t.  Inhale.” And he brought down the house.

It was a moment of quintessential Reagan, making a deadly serious point with a twinkle in the eye and a charming sense of humor.  And we loved him for it, making politics full of light and hope.

They said he was a lightweight, and we believed them, even as we pulled the lever and voted for him.  We believed them and we hoped and prayed that despite it all he would muddle through.  We hoped that he would somehow be able to handle the Soviets, even if he was only an actor.  We hoped that somehow he would manage to sneak the Kemp-Roth tax cut through Congress, though we didn’t see how he could outfox the wily Tip O’Neill and the powerful Democratic barons in the House of Representatives.

Oh we of little faith, how foolish we were.  Now we know better.  We’ve read the biographies, checked through his radio addresses, learned of his courage, how he stood up to the commie Hollywood unions, realized that the man was a work-horse, not the show-horse he pretended to be.  We know now that he was a man of great compassion, always anxious to respond to people that wrote to him about their troubles. 

We know now that he was not a dumb actor just reading the cue cards his handlers put up for him.  We know now that his cue cards were part of a careful system that he had set up for himself, that the ideas were his ideas and the speeches his speeches.

We know now why Ronald Reagan struggled for forty years against the “evil empire.”  He got mugged by reality in the late 1940s when fighting to keep Communists from taking over the Screen Actors Guild.  Threats of physical violence have a way of changing your life.  Forty years later t led to the great cartel and challenge flung over the Berlin Wall: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  And at the Brandenburg Gate: “Open this gate.”  Those were the historic words that Justin Kaplan, editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, didn’t think warranted inclusion in the 1992 edition.

As we look back at the extraordinary men that have held the presidency of the United States in its hours of need: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and now perhaps George W. Bush, we can only ask, in awe, how it could be possible?  How is it possible that again and again American presidents have answered the call of greatness?  Were they born great, did they achieve greatness, or did they merely have greatness thrust upon them?

In Ronald Reagan’s case, he brought to an end five hundred years of European civil war with a grand strategy of penetrating brilliance that still has not penetrated to the highly educated minds of America’s bien-pensants, if Sunday’s New York Times is any indication.

But we know that Ronald Reagan was a great man and a great president, and that we shall not see his like again.  And we loved him for it.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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