by Jack Ross
The need to finally blog about something other than Egypt moves me to acknowledge the gathering out of the TAC vault to acknowledge the Reagan centennial. Dan came closest to nailing it of anyone in this review for Reason, that he was an enormously complex figure whose complexity we would only come to properly appreciate with time.
In an unapologetic militant anarchist personal memoir of the Reagan years (unfortunately can’t find it online), my friend Keith Preston made an argument that has stuck with me ever since – that Reagan was Hindenburg to the neocons’ Nazis. Outrageous though this may sound, we should remember that in spite of everything, Hindenburg was an honorable conservative, that the neocons did indeed exploit Reagan’s early onset dementia in Iran-Contra, and that what both figures had in common was that they were the perfect symbol for an anxious country.
The fortunate thing, however, is that we are likely to be spared the degree of tragedy that marred the similar complexities of, say, Pierre Laval. My impeccably liberal family background also forces me to acknowledge the line of Bill Kauffman, that Reagan was nothing but a Cold War liberal who didn’t want to pay the tax rates associated with the Hollywood lifestyle.
Yet one irony about Reagan that gets far too little attention is that he likely had the most progressive foreign policy of any Cold War President. This was, to be sure, a double-edged sword. Whereas support for anti-Communist authoritarians peaked under the liberal idol JFK, it was under Reagan that these regimes largely met their end and were supplanted by democracies right alongside the fall of Communism.
I remember it being said around the time of Reagan’s death that with respect to the then-raging controversy over the Iraq War, if his instincts would have led him toward the neocons on the one hand, one thing that would have absolutely appalled him was how Bush had shattered America’s good name in the world. One can extend this further to say that however much the present reality would have confused and angered him, Reagan would have no trouble at all recognizing that in the Arab world today, it is the protesters on the side of democracy with the US in the role of the Soviet Union.
This instinctive and unschooled empathy with the cause of democracy, double-edged sword at best and putty in the hands of the neocons at worst, gets to the heart of what makes Reagan stand out even now. Whatever his failings, and they were no doubt legion, Ronald Reagan was a decent human being who had not spent his whole life preparing to be President, a contrast in sharp relief to the decadent political class of the present day.