June 05, 2004

For The Gipper

Ronald Reagan passed away today.

I grew up in a fairly left-of-center house; my dad was a teacher who would have described himself fairly accurately as a moderate Democrat; I'm convinced that if my mother hadn't been married with three kids by 1968, she'd have been a hippie.

There was a time, in my teens, before my conversion to conservatism about 20 years ago, when I'd have probably agreed with this rather infamous piece of hate-speech by Village Voice, ahem, theatre critic Michael Feingold:

o U.S. president, I expect, will ever appoint a Secretary of the Imagination. But if such a cabinet post ever were created, and Richard Foreman weren't immediately appointed to it, you'd know that the Republicans were in power. Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.
Reading this today, I realize what a wondrous rejoinder Reagan's classic "Well, there you go again" was to the impotent, bilious sputterings of his, and our, enemies.

As to the imagination? I refute Feingold thus: with the ordinary life and extraordinary legacy of Ronald Reagan.

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, I was a senior in high school. The seeds of doubt in my left-of-center upbringing were already there; Jimmy Carter's "national malaise" speech had already affected me with a deep sense of "how dare you?" But I couldn't quite see becoming a Republican. I coudn't quite see myself supporting that man, that being so reviled by so much of my family's social circle, and so many of my own in college.

But over time, when juxtaposing the worlds and the Americas envisioned by Reagan with that of his opponents - a world of malaise versus a world of hope; a world of coexistence with the threat of nuclear oblivion versus victory over it; a world of self-abnegation before tyrants and murderers versus a world where they were negated - my resistance to the idea of being one of those people faded as I tripped upon one of the key ideas of my life:

Ronald Reagan's imagination was better than that of his opponents.

And it still is. I doubt that George Bush would say he were another Reagan - but he's carrying on that same struggle today. The struggle between those who think America whose horrors must be managed by the larger world, and those who see us as a shining city on the hill, embodying still for all our faults the best that humans can strive for in a self-government. The struggle between those who think life is best served as an unquestioning cog in a soulless machine versus spent uplifting the dignity of man the individual at home and abroad.

The struggle between perpetual snivelling versus proud acceptance of, and living up to, our nation's singular historical mission.

Quick - who were the congresspeople, authors and media figures who attacked Reagan? Answer: Who cares? Their contributions are of no more value to this world than month-old newspapers. We remember only Reagan's deft, self-effacing and yet devastating rejoinders...

...and of course, his legacy: No USSR; the greatest butchers in history, erased from the pages of history. No Berlin Wall. The threat of nuclear annihilation eliminated in less time than it took to develop the MX missile.

The twenty years since my college conversion to conservatism and today's sad milepost are littered with the intellectual corpses of many Alexander Cockburns and Michael Moores and Michael Feingolds - all left, sputtering and impotent in the wake of a movement that is, Feingold be damned, a movement of the imagination, through and through. A movement of people who dared to imagine, who dared to rip away the mental cobwebs and sweep away the dust of despair that covered the great, exceptionalist dream. And Ronald Reagan sparked that imagination.

Rest in peace, Ronald Reagan. You were the greatest president of my lifetime.

Posted by Mitch at June 5, 2004 08:32 PM

That Feingold piece is the last nail in the coffin of the lefty lie that only a "fringe" element thinks and speaks that way. How many lefties will be forced to see the hate in their own hearts because of this? It's our only hope.

That Feingold gets me all upset. I wish you would reconsider quoting him so extensively. I don't think your lovely point is well served by including his most outrageous and hateful rhetoric. I've tried not to think this way, but we may really be at war with people like Feingold soon. Who was it that said, these people don't want to live in dictatorship. They want to run one.

Posted by: Brian Jones at June 5, 2004 09:23 PM

I admired Reagan's courage to cut taxes. Yes this was gutsy, not to mention somewhat popular.

But I especially admired his courage to then RAISE them:

One year after the tax cut, takes one third back: 100 billion over three years. (Oh, yes this was tax "reform" - just closing some "loopholes".) Largest tax hike since WWII.

1983: gasoline tax hike

1984: 50 billion over three years (again, closing more "loopholes").

The prize: 1986 Tax "Reform" - raised corporate taxes by 120 billion over five years and closed loopholes worth 300 billion over the same period.

Had to pay for the military buildup somehow I guess.

I wonder how Bush is going to pay for a manned mission to mars - my money is on another tax cut.

Posted by: LeftHander at June 6, 2004 06:39 PM

I think it's typical of people like Lefthander that when confronted with someone who rocked the world and changed the course of history, all they can do is bitch and whine about the little inconsistencies. Face it, Chumley. He won the Cold War by convincing us it could be won and should be won. He started the counter-revolution against America's long march into a socialist twilight. Mitch was right - nobody is going to remember his critics. Especially if this is an example of the kind of criticism they dish up.

Posted by: Kevin at June 6, 2004 07:31 PM

I don't know when we will see his like again. He did not need to be president to fulfill a personal need. I'm convinced he did not really care if he was president at all, as long as someone would take up the fight he knew needed to be fought. He ran for president because he wanted to do something, not because he wanted to be something.

Posted by: The other Mitch at June 6, 2004 11:09 PM