Memory Lane

Monday, July 17, 2006
Fred Barnes makes note of the historical revisionism of the Reagan years.

Liberals pretend the Reagan years--in contrast to the Bush years--were a golden idyll of collaboration between congressional Democrats and a not-so-conservative president. When Reagan died in 2004, John Kerry recalled having admired his political skills and liked him personally. "I had quite a few meetings with him," Mr. Kerry told reporters. "I met with Reagan a lot more than I've met with this president."

Of course, that wasn't Mr. Kerry's take on Reagan during his presidency: In 1988, he condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration." A chief complaint of liberals and the media in those days was that Mr. Reagan was a "detached" president, not one easily accessible to Democratic members of Congress or anyone outside his inner circle of aides. But Reagan had to talk to Democrats on occasion since they controlled at least half of Congress. Mr. Bush rarely consults them for the simple reason that Republicans run all of Capitol Hill; so he talks frequently with Republican congressional leaders.

Liberals today talk about Reagan as if the hallmark of his administration was a lack of partisanship--again in contrast with Mr. Bush. Mr. Kerry noted in 2004 that Mr. Reagan "taught us that there is a big difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship." Mr. Bush, naturally, is the bitter partisan. Of course that's what liberals then thought of Reagan--and they were partially right: While never bitter, Reagan was in fact a partisan Republican.

On foreign policy, some liberals peddle the notion that Reagan wasn't the hardliner he might have seemed. Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, has argued that Reagan, having won the Cold War, was ready to rely on international organizations to police the world. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, is impugned as the enemy of the U.N. and multilateralism.

Reagan a moderate in foreign affairs? It strains credulity to imagine the president--who supported wars of national liberation in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan, who bombed Libya to punish Gadhafi, who defiantly installed Pershing missiles in Europe, who invaded Grenada--as anything but a hardliner. He was a hawk for whom defeating the Soviet Union was the essential priority.

It's on foreign policy that liberals and conservatives find common cause. Patrick Buchanan, rehearsing the pieties of the political left, argues that Mr. Bush has turned the world against America. The "endless bellicosity" of Mr. Bush and his neoconservative advisers, he recently argued, "has produced nothing but ill will against us. This was surely not the way of the tough but gracious and genial Ronald Reagan."

Of all people, Mr. Buchanan ought to know better, having served as Reagan's communications director from 1984 to 1986. Reagan generated massive antiwar and anti-American demonstrations around the world, far larger and more numerous protests than those Mr. Bush has occasioned. He famously denounced the Soviet "evil empire" headed for "the ash-heap of history." He was treated by the press as a cowboy warmonger, just as Mr. Bush has been. Ill will? Reagan produced plenty--all in a noble cause.

Conservatives attack Mr. Bush most vehemently on excessive government spending, and there they have a point. He could have been more frugal, despite the exigent circumstances, especially in his first term. But it's also on the spending issue that the Reagan myth--Reagan as the relentless swashbuckler against spending--is most pronounced. He won an estimated $35 billion in spending cuts in 1981, his first year in office. After that, spending soared, so much so that his budget director David Stockman, who found himself on the losing end of spending argume
nts, wrote a White House memoir with the subtitle, "Why the Reagan Revolution Failed."

It seems to me that we do this about a lot of things. I have noticed that the 90's seem to have taken place in a mythical land of singing butterflies and laughing flowers. There were no terrorists or wars or hurricanes and gas was cheap and everyone was rich and happy and young and beautiful and on and on.

Why do people rewrite the past to fit the present?


chuck said...

Why do people rewrite the past to fit the present?

And here I was thinking of calling Reagan the last great Democrat after Truman. Guess I'll have to put the kabosh on that one.

terrye said...


Well hell, today I would call Kennedy and Truman Republicans. They sure would not fit into Howard Dean's party.

loner said...

Just out of curiosity, did anyone read Fred's book?

Syl said...

Well, I'm sure our next Republican president will make Bush look good.

I said it first.

David Thomson said...

“I have noticed that the 90's seem to have taken place in a mythical land of singing butterflies and laughing flowers.”

This is because the MSM and its left-wing allies focus on the fact that a Democrat resided in the White House for most of the 1990s. Isn’t this the way it’s suppose to be?

terrye said...


I just got that book, haven't read it yet.