This is a piece about Thursday night's Republican presidential debates, but first I would like to note that the media's fixation with which Republican is the most like Reagan, and who is the next Reagan, and who parts his hair like Reagan, is absurd, and subtly undermining of Republicans, which is why they do it.
WHICH is why who does what, Peggers? Google "republican most like Reagan". You'll get a CBS piece about how it's difficult for the current crop to sound like Reagan, meaning optimistic. You'll get Ann Coulter, and a Fox News poll which actually asks the question, but you'll have to decide whether Fox qualifies as "the media" before explaining why they want to undermine Republicans. On the second page there's the Dallas Morning News, a liberal hotbed if ever there was one, and somebody in Albuquerque recapping the debate. Wow. Is anyone talking about anything else?
Say this for the Bush years: At their beginning it was still possible to wonder if there was some fiendish plan behind this sort of thing, some magic pixie dust in the formulation, some tantalizingly evident but maddeningly half-glimpsed trollery at work. Didn't they manage to turn every issue into a bumper-sticker slogan? Right to Life, the Unborn, Reverse Discrimination, Death Tax, Freedom Fighters, War on Terror? Didn't they win election after election that way, despite the obvious Eau de Snake Oil the stuff gave off? But it's now well established as the product of prodigious ignorance and an emotional and possibly chemical imbalance, perhaps, as in this case, exacerbated by injudicious application of strong drink and modern pharmacology. The last Republican Presidential candidate who can even vaguely claim The Media treated him worse than his opponent is Barry Fucking Goldwater.
They should stop it already, and Republicans should stop playing along. They should try instead a pleasant, "You know I don't think I'm Reagan, but I do think John Edwards may be Jimmy Carter, and I'm fairly certain Hillary is Walter Mondale."
See? Q.E.D. In the midst of the worst Presidency since Buchanan, which is my way of trying to be nice about it, the spectre of Jimmy Carter is still supposed to frighten little children in their beds. How badly would Carter beat Bush in an election next Tuesday? How badly would Mondale? Raise taxes? I think he could promise to confiscate all property in excess of $1000 and still carry everything outside of Dixie.
Reagan was Reagan, a particular man at a particular point in history. What is to be desired now is a new greatness. Another way of saying this is that in 1960, John F. Kennedy wasn't trying to be the next FDR, and didn't feel forced to be. FDR was the great, looming president of Democratic Party history, and there hadn't been anyone as big or successful since 1945, but JFK thought it was good enough to be the best JFK. And the press wasn't always sitting around saying he was no FDR. Oddly enough, they didn't consider that an interesting theme.
Okay, look. I'm not saying that Peggy Noonan isn't a remarkable case even when it's a buyers' market in galloping Miss Havishamitis on the Right. Yes, they know the value of a lie, and they're willing to tell one just for the exercise, let alone when they imagine some small benefit. But an adult liar is supposed to exercise some modicum of restraint. These people lie like children, and like children they've run off to some secret womb-like location to lie to each other. And that womb-like structure is Ronald Reagan. And the let JFK and FDR in when they feel like telling bogeyman stories.
What "faith in America" did Reagan "restore"? Certainly not any among his own party; they hate everything about American government--except its ability to bully ten-rate military powers, of course, now called into question--even more vehemently than they did before, and now they hate it even when they're in control. I'm not giving away any secrets by admitting that stuff was always lost on me, that at the time it had, not the feel of Rhinoceros but the vibe of the mega-promoted pop culture phenomenon. Still, I don't know anyone who became a "conservative" because of Reagan. No doubt some people did, just as there's no doubt some admirers of Beethoven out there owe it all to A Clockwork Orange, but that doesn't constitute proof of anything. I know there's a demimonde of thirty- and forty-somethings out there who claim Road to Damascus-type revelation, but their precocious supposed liberalism is never credible nor believable. David Brooks? Glenn Harlan Reynolds? Neither evinces even a passing familiarity with the Civil Rights movement; both have a political cartoonist's take on Feminism. What the hell were they so damned Liberal about in the 70s, anyway? The Reagan Era gave them the opportunity to keep dressing like their Inner Nixon Staffer but feel like they were finally trendy. It changed the things people talk about. So does every new administration.
Then there's the fictitious record of fictitious "conservative" accomplishments of the Reagan Era. Do we really need to intone the litany here? That his "Tear down this Wall!" had about as much to do with the collapse of Communism as his throwing a bottle of hair dye at it would have? Okay, okay, Reagan hated Commies. That was the guiding principle of the government of the United States of America for forty fuckin' years. We knew, absolutely, by the 1970s that the Soviet economy was going to collapse and that they could not sustain their military spending, yet the Reagan administration chose to "outspend" it militarily, for which it is often given undeserved credit. (To be clear about it, we're not suggesting Reagan should have simply ignored the Soviets, only that his wanton spending on Bright, Shiny Objects should not be credited with accomplishing something that was already happening before he was elected. The Soviets didn't bankrupt themselves trying to find an answer for Star Wars.)
We can go on and on, from running the most corrupt administration in history (present occupant excepted), to ignoring Posse Comitatus law, violating the Boland Amendment, and quite possibly the Logan Act (hey, thanks for bringing it up), to cutting and running in Lebanon, the S&L scandal, the War on Drugs Not Being Smuggled By Section 8 Marine Colonels in Administration Employ, to the simple question of why the first President hailing from the "FDR was a tool of the Communists!" end of the political spectrum turned tail the minute he met opposition to his plans to scrap Social Security. That's greatness?
Ronald Reagan's "greatness" is a product of his supporters' wishful thinking. FDR's is not a Democrat Thing. We can acknowledge that the New Deal was a mixed bag, that the Second World War is what eventually lifted the United States out of the Great Depression. But then let us also admit that some major reworking of the government was inevitable with 25% unemployment, farm prices off more than 50% in two years, and a Too Little Too Late administration and Congress tossed on its ear in the '32 elections. So let's note that whatever pummeling it's suffered while being used as a political football, under Social Security (and Medicare) we no longer have 60% of our elderly population living in poverty. The Roosevelt administration was responsible for Federal Home loans, Rural Electrification, the GI Bill, Federal Deposit Insurance, and, by extension to the Truman administration, the School Lunch program and the creation of the Centers for Disease Control. Granting different approaches to the functions of government, this still would seem to top, objectively, "Selling natural resources on Federal lands for two cents on the dollar" and "Declaring ketchup a vegetable".
And granting that there's something admirable, in a Miss Havishamish way, of the continued Republican fealty to the bankers and railroad barons of 75 years ago, we'd like to remind you, Pegs, that FDR proved a genius as a wartime leader. He made correct strategic decisions right down the line. He put the right people in the right jobs. Lend-Lease saved the Allies (over Republican opposition, we could add). His handling of the MacArthur-Navy squabbles in the Pacific was Solomonic. He kept both your boy Churchill's propensity for hare-brained Gallipoli schemes and the British desire to restore their Empire with American blood in check. He made George Marshall Chief of Staff, put Ike in charge of the Channel crossing, even saved the cracked thespian MacArthur, who wound up remaking Japan in a way no other man is likely to have done. He acted on the Einstein letter. He did all that in four years, Peggy; tell me again what Reagan did in eight.