Saturday, June 12, 2004

Krauthammer on Reagan

Charles Krauthammer does a nice job making the liberal media look a little silly in their attempt to find an appropriate way to cover the week's memorials to President Reagan. He begins his column by noting that:

"[T]he liberal establishment that alternately ridiculed and demonized Ronald Reagan throughout his presidency is in a quandary. How to remember a man they anathematized for eight years, but who enjoys both the overwhelming affection of the American people and decisive vindication by history? They found their way to do it. They dwell endlessly on the man's smile, his sunny personality, his good manners. Above all, his optimism."

For Mr. Krauthammer this is a ludicrous cop-out:

"Optimism? Every other person on the No. 6 bus is an optimist. What distinguished Reagan was what he did and said."

Krauthammer focusses on Reagan's foreign policy successes in this essay, but he might also have written about how the Gipper healed the nation's sick economy and restored America's confidence in itself after the shattering experiences of Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis and a decade of stagnation and malaise during the seventies. Krauthammer writes:

"Rarely has a president been so quickly and completely vindicated by history. The Berlin Wall came down 10 months after Reagan left office. His policies of unrelenting toughness won the Cold War and brought a new peace. That is because Reagan understood that the key to peace was never arms control. Security had nothing to do with the number of weapons, it had everything to do with the intention and power of those who possessed them."

"This success is an understandable embarrassment to the critics who opposed his every policy. They supported the [nuclear]freeze, denounced [his] military buildup, ridiculed strategic defenses, opposed aid to the Nicaraguan anti-communists and derided Reagan for telling the truth about the Soviet empire."

"So now they praise his sunny smile. Normally, people speak well of the recently deceased to honor the dictum of being kind to the dead. When Reagan's opponents speak well of him now, however, they are trying to be kind to themselves."

As usual, Krauthammer has it pretty much right. Reagan wasn't perfect, of course. His tenure was certainly not uniformly glorious. There were black marks, some of them serious, on his presidency. From a conservative perspective he was remiss in choosing justices for the Supreme Court who lacked a commitment to finding a remedy for Roe v. Wade. Sandra Day O'Conner and Anthony Kennedy, both appointed by Reagan, have been disappointing on those issues, dear to conservatives, which bear on the question of how we shall value human life.

He was also negligent, it seems to some, in not insisting on stricter oversight of the Contras in Nicaraugua. The cause of opposing communism in this hemisphere was right and just, and sometimes, if you want to dance, you have to embrace the only lady in the bar, even if she's not very pretty. But some of the Contras were undisciplined and indiscriminate in their tactics and guilty, evidence indicates, of atrocities which simply should not have been tolerated. To the extent that our tax dollars supported murders of innocent people we should weep in repentance.

Even so, Krauthammer is surely correct that what Reagan did for the United States, a nation sliding deep into the economic and psychological doldrums by the late seventies, and what he did for the world by catalyzing the collapse of totalitarian communism in Europe and Central America, at a time when it seemed as if opposition to communism put one on the wrong side of history, warrants far more than an editorial emphasis on sunny dispositions and warm smiles.