Saturday, June 05, 2004

Reagan's Legacy

Ronald Reagan died today and the number of words that will be written about this occurrence on the Internet and in print will undoubtedly number in the millions. I feel compelled to say a few words because the presidency of Reagan had a significant impact on me and my political outlook.

I was a teenager during the 1980’s, I graduated high school in 1986 and college in 1990. All of my fond reckless memories are from this era. This is also the time that I became politically aware. During the hostage crises of 1979 I first became interested in things political. I had known more or less from early boyhood that being a soldier was something I wanted to do. The events surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis served to thrust me into the Reaganite camp rather firmly.

In 1979 I asked my mother if I could miss school to attend a speech Reagan was giving locally during the campaign. After the speech I deftly positioned myself right beside the exit door and was able to shake the man’s hand. After his election I wrote him a letter to thank him and I received a letter back with and automated but authentic looking Reagan signature at the bottom.

Reagan’s early talk of national defense and being strong before the world appealed to my awakening sense of what the world ought to be. I found myself enthralled by Reagan’s speeches and his words.

When he spoke of the Evil Empire and the need to stand on a wall and defend against it I was ready. I was only seventeen for a month, the minimum age that the Army would accept a person, and a junior in high school but still I joined up. I completed basic training the summer between junior and senior years and served in the National Guard all through high school and college. I was predisposed and maybe even destined to serve anyway but my early entry is due in large part to Reagan.

Those that write Reagan’s legacy will say many things. One of the truest of the things that will be said is that he was a coalition builder. Reagan brought in to the Republican Party a myriad of disenchanted groups. The Christian Right saw Reagan as the best hope to restore to America a moral base. States’ Rights and small government types heard within the words of Reagan a return to the right kind of government. Ordinary American without deep ideological beliefs say Reagan as the man to move us away from something.

To be sure there was something to worthy of the desire to move on. The 1970’s were in essence a very low point for America. Americans of all sorts looked to Reagan to move America forward.

As we examine the legacy of Regan we must ask what did we move away from or more aptly stated what did we move toward? Were the hopes and dreams of the Reagan Republicans realized?

Another foundation in the legacy of Reagan will undoubtedly be the he looked the bear in the eye and forced the Soviet Empire to crumble. This is something so stuck in the realm of legend that it is hardly worth disputing. has an interesting set of statistics that demonstrate that although the first two years of Reagan’s presidency contained massive defense spending increases the following six years did not. They also show that the Soviet system was in trouble long before the 1980 increase here and that inevitably the system was destined to collapse.

Reagan’s legacy includes the concept that he was and always was a conservative. Reagan has missed most of the neo-con backlash because this idea has taken root and is not easily removed. It must be remembered that Reagan voted for FDR each time he ran. He supported liberal and quasi-socialist candidates as late as 1950. In many respect Reagan might be considered the first Neo-con.

Instead of the various groups getting the things they wanted from the Party of Reagan they have been slowly “waking” up over the last fifteen or so years to realize that the Party of Reagan is not the party of Jefferson. It is in fact the Party of Lincoln. It is a party that does not wish to do away with the socialism of FDR, they just want to change it a little. It is not a party of small and limited government. It is not a party of Christian values. Ronald Reagan rebuilt and redefined the Republican Party on the hopes and dreams of millions of people that wanted something different. Instead of Reagan moving us in the direction that these new Reaganites really anted to go we left the 1980’s set on a straight path toward Empire.

I shall not speak ill of the dead, especially a man that was once such a large hero of mine. Reagan will no doubt go down in the pantheon of “heroes” beside Lincoln, FDR and other sorts that have made America what it is. I will mourn his loss but I will not celebrate his legacy.

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid

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