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Saturday, June 05, 2004

Ronald Reagan

I may be naive, and I may get kicked out of the progressives' club, but I have to admit that I never disliked Ronald Reagan. I know now, much more than I did when he was president, about some of the terrible things that were done during his presidency: the arming of the Contras, of Saddam Hussein, and of the mujahaddin in Afghanistan, which became the core of al Qaeda, and the invasion of Grenada. I suspect that he was probably our second least-curious president, second only to the current pResident. I know that he was an actor, and maybe the thing that he was best at portraying was sincerity. But I never had the impression that he was intentionally lying to us, and I never had the impression that he was mean. I doubt if he blew up frogs as a kid like W did.

Reagan had some atrocious advisors--James Baker, James Watt, William Casey, Oliver North, John Poindexter, Donald Rumsfeld, and George H. W. Bush, to name a few. These were/are men of few scruples who easily gained the trust of someone who seemed to trust people in general, at least face-to-face. (For example, his anti-Soviet rhetoric was bombastic, but he seemed to have very cordial relations with Soviet leaders.) And, again granting that I may be naive, I believe that these sleazy advisors convinced Reagan to do many of the terrible things that were done in his administration. But when he became aware that one of his policies or decisions was wrong, he was willing to make changes and even to admit that he had been wrong. When 241 Marines were killed in Beirut, he had the rest pulled out of there in short order. When it became clear that his administration had traded arms for hostages, he went on national TV and said so.

And I don't think anyone really knows when the Alzheimer's started to cloud his thinking, which may never have been completely clear (but whose is?). But I didn't have the Internet back then, nor was I nearly as suspicious as I am now. And I never heard a Reagan speech that frightened and disgusted me the way that W's "with us or with the terrorists" speech of 2001 did.

So while I don't think Reagan deserves the honor of being called a great or even good president, I also don't think he deserves the extreme dishonor of having our current pResident speak at his funeral. I hope that doesn't happen. Because however bad Reagan may have been, George W. Bush is far, far worse.