Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan. There is a lot to celebrate. But when he died seven years ago, Reagan still provoked bitter outbursts. “He’s a fascist, of course,” New Yorker William H. Depperman told me the day Reagan died. “He is a slime; basically, a horrible, horrible person. People didn’t like him. They despised him.” “Good riddance to Reagan,” Virginian Jared Hermann, also protesting outside the White House, said. “He deserves what he gets and more. He should be tried for war crimes.” Masked demonstrator David Barrows simply declared, “We need to clap when he dies.”
Gradually, the enmity faded—at least within the mainstream. Reagan’s name now graces an airport in northern Virginia, an aircraft carrier, numerous highways, and a large federal building in the nation’s capital. Perhaps most gratifying to the staunch anti-Communist would be the honor amidst the utilitarian architecture, soot-stained facades, and geometric-grid streets of Nowa Huta, Poland. Near where a gaudy statue of Lenin once towered in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Krakow now stands a modest street sign bearing the 40th president’s name.
Like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan was a transformational figure. The world shifted in his wake. In today’s America, 70 percent tax rates, price controls, and air-traffic-controller strikes seem as exotic as dueling or the single tax. Abroad, the idea that Prague, Budapest, and Berlin could have ever been captive cities strikes traveler and inhabitant alike as a slur upon civilization. That is, if the idea strikes them at all—unlike past liberations, the peaceful one that Reagan did so much to realize left no scars upon architecture or landscape pockmarked by stone rows to memorialize the struggle.
He eclipsed his predecessors. His successors live in his shadow. In their accomplishments, George H.W. Bush (Kuwait’s liberation), Bill Clinton (NAFTA), and George W. Bush (tax cuts), Reagan’s successors seem mere stewards of his legacy. After all, it was his military that defeated the Iraqis, his free trade agreement, and his tax-cut cause made the Republican cause. Even in Bushclintonbush’s most memorable lines—“Read my lips: no new taxes,” “The era of big government is over,” “axis of evil”—the president derided as a dummy played the ventriloquist.
Now the current occupant of the Oval Office pays unlikely tribute to its former occupant. Obama made a show of toting a Reagan biography on his Christmas vacation, penned a laudatory op-ed on the Gipper in USA Today, and appeared on a “Why Obama Loves Reagan” Time cover alongside the man he once denounced as a practitioner of “dirty deeds.”
If a former Communist hellhole such as Nowa Huta and the most radical man to serve as president can pay homage to Ronald Reagan, then we are all truly Reaganites now—or at least we want people to believe that we are.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.
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