The Airing of Grievances
Monday, June 07, 2004
He is the elephant in the room, so, even though enough has been written elsewhere this weekend, there's no point in avoiding a discussion here at AofG. Being only five when he was elected, Reagan was the first president I remember. Any family members who read this will no doubt remember my becoming completely obsessed with the presidency around that time (quite possibly the first episode in a long history of obsessive behavior...I'm sure this will be discussed on a couch someday). The "President" section in the "P" volume of our World Book Encyclopedias was completely dog-eared by the time I was six, as I stared for hours at the black and white portraits of the thirty-six men (it was the 1965 edition) who had served in America's highest office, memorizing their order. I would pull each volume that had a biography of a president and read through them, in order, from Washington to Johnson, and then consult the yearbook updates for the bios on Nixon, Ford, and Carter. I still remember how psyched I was to get the 1981 yearbook with Reagan's biography, having my Mom help me affix the update label in the "R" volume that would refer future readers (pretty much just me and my sister) to the proper place to read about the Gipper. When I was 5 year old, I wanted to be a lawyer. Why? Because in that list of all the presidents, under "Occupation", the majority were lawyers.
This is a long, overly sentimental way of describing my respect and awe for the office at a very early age, a respect that, believe it or not, I try to maintain. Despite the aura of fallibility that LBJ and Nixon brought to the White House, I always saw presidents as a cut above, leaders to whom, no matter your political leanings, you could look to as models of ambition. Past presidents understood the challenges presented to them and, at least from my naive perspective, responded pragmatically rather than in a partisan manner. Sure, you had your Harrisons, Hardings, and Hoovers, but for the most part, presidents represented an elite moral authority, the best our country had to offer. Reagan, I still feel, fit this mold. If he ran for office today, I might not vote for him, but I would respect him and I would not feel the need to lower myself to the level of muckraking that this blog has reached all too frequently in recent months.
Probably better than any president in my lifetime, Reagan understood his office, what it meant and how to most effectively deal with its inherent challenges. The major policy directives of his administration, jumpstarting a moribund economy and initiating the denouement of the Cold War, were placed in a paramount position and decisions made were towards achieving practical solutions to the tasks at hand. You may not have agreed with the methods, but the decisions were firm and rooted in a genuine sense of what Reagan felt was best for the country. There were no overly politicized, triangulatory attempts to make everybody happy, nor were ridiculous accusations of being un-American or giving comfort to our enemies lobbed in the direction of those who stood in opposition to Reagan Era policies. There was respect for the political process and the vitriol of middle-aged white guys was only observable between the lines, during working hours. The current set of dilettantes that now curse us on all sides, at all levels gives rise to a cynicism and a pessimism within me that Reagan, in his infinite optimism and desire to make America a stronger, better country, would never be able to fathom. I try to be hopeful, but like so many problems these days, it seems like things need to get worse before people realize that they have to get better.
You take it from here. Discuss in the Comments section...