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Chicken Little

Jun
11
2004

This recently hatched White House strategy tying President Ronald Reagan’s “conviction” about the Soviet Union to George Bush’s conviction about Saddam Hussein may not have the long-term pay out gleefully cynical Republicans are expecting.
For fans of political theater, it’s a wonderful spectacle, of course. The Republican Party coming together to celebrate the man who undid Richard Nixon’s disastrously untelegenic presidency – the stooped shoulders, the heavy beard – with a smile, a wave and the California casual ability to wear a brown suit without looking silly. From former Missouri Senator (and soon-to-be U.N. Ambassador) John Danforth’s intonation opening this funeral to the chimes of the National Cathedral ringing out the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it was a stirring and beautiful ceremony laden with symbolism, patriotic and political.


But here’s the question: Does President George Bush increase or decrease his stature by standing next to Ronald Reagan? In today’s New York Times, Johnny Apple had a hard time evaluating Reagan. That doesn’t do Bush any good; inconclusive? Well that’s President George Herbert Walker Bush, not the son. Yesterday Mo Dowd made the point that while Reagan might be George W. Bush’s rightful political father, the differences between the Bushs and the Reagans are more than skin deep. And, as Kevin Drum pointed out late Friday, Ron Reagan Jr., a calm and careful presence at his father’s funeral, isn’t happy with this White House. He hasn’t been for quite some time.
More interestingly, Professor John Patrick Diggins, writing on today’s NYTimes OpEd page gives a careful explanation of the differences between Reagan’s relationship to the hard-core NeoCons who floated around his presidency and George Bush’s relationship with that same crowd of self-deceivers. Reagan had no patience for hard-core ideology. George Bush seems to revel in it.
Which raise another questions: Would Ronald Reagan’s America have created, nurtured and produced the thinking, the attitude, the conviction that made Abu Ghraib possible? I don’t think so. In his eulogy – in all the eulogies – President Bush made a point of talking about Ronald Reagan’s kindness. His geniality. His optimism. All qualities lacking – rhetorically and in practice – in this administration. If this presidency truly falters – and I have believed for some time that is the likely outcome of this steady drip of horrible news – it will be because of the president’s inability to see past the fear of fear that surrounds and colors the world of his advisors.
I am no fan of President Reagan’s; his administration, his domestic policies – from AIDS to the nurturing of attitudes that were, at their core, racist, to frequent denunciations of the role that government can and a should play in people’s lives – led this country down a path of selfishness and self-congratulation that may well cost us the empire we only recently realized we had. But I do not think that Ronald Reagan’s advisors would have countenanced torture as a response to terror – their own and others. Ronald Reagan was not a great president. But he wasn’t a frightened one.
UPDATE:Cutting through the schmaltz Hollywood sentiment that was so much a part of the “private” Regan burial, this loss of courage and optimism is what’s really being mourned. Hundreds of thousands of people – these are real people outside Washington — lined up to pay their respects at the Reagan Library earlier this week and then, came back, to line the freeways, streets and overpasses in L.A. to watch Reagan’s funeral procession.
Ryan Kim at the Chron talked to a few of them and put their comments at the end of his story. These aren’t die-hard Democrats. So listen carefully.
Kathy Speakman, 55, of Lake Forest in Orange County: “I don’t feel there is anyone that is Ronald Reagan’s equal, not in my lifetime. He really brought a sense not only of optimism, but he brought back nobility and a sense of right and wrong.”
Though the moment was fleeting, some marveled at the ability of Reagan to unite so many people and conjure up so many good feelings.
“This was his final legacy,” said Mikie Hellie of Agoura Hills. “He’s brought the country together again. We’re so divided right now. There is so much bashing and name-calling. There’s no integrity now. But Reagan was a good old-fashioned gentleman. I think that’s what’s lost in politics these days.”

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