Ronald Reagan, Dead at 93

I called my wife from the car telling her I think Ronald Reagan died today — National Public Radio was running some sort of program about him, and I can’t imagine them doing that unless he had died. Sure enough, Reagan died today at his Los Angeles home. He was 93.

Reagan was clearly far and away the most important Western political figure in the post-WW II era, and his two terms as president completely altered the political landscape in the United States.

One of the things that always fascinates me about Reagan is that his views and policies are portrayed as having been radically right wing, but in many ways he was simply retaking ideological ground that his opponents had chosen to give up.

Take Reagan’s vehement anti-Communism. His description of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and similar statements were widely ridiculed by the press and his opponents as, at best, oversimplistic sloganeering and, at worst, dangerously destabilizing ideas that could bring the U.S. into direct military conflict with the Soviet Union.

But if you actually read the speeches and statements he gave, they are not all that different than statements and speeches given by another great American president and anti-communist, John F. Kennedy. Like others born well after Kennedy’s death, I learned about the “ask not what you can do for your country . . .”, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and of course his assassination, but it’s amazing to go back and read Kennedy’s speeches and realize just what a hawk and critic of Communism and champion of freedom Kennedy was.

It wasn’t Reagan who necessarily lurched right in his anticommunism views, but the Democratic Party which lurched left with Jimmy Carter and others who mistook the American fiasco in Vietnam as delegitimizing anti-Communism.

Certainly Reagan’s foreign policy included its fair share of problems and fiascos, but I couldn’t disagree more with an NPR reporter’s observation this afternoon that his foreign policy had mixed results. The man presided over the rapid decline and eventual dismantling of the Communist empire, for Christ’s sake, after every elitist politician and journalist said his policies would never work and would likely result in a stronger, not weaker, Soviet Union. Yes, you could point to Iran-Contra or the Lebanon disaster, but that’s like saying that Winston Churchill’s efforts during World War II were “mixed” because of the Operation Market Garden defeat.

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