Jonah Goldberg

By the time this column sees daylight, it's unlikely that there will be many original nice things left to say about Ronald Reagan. To summarize why I admired the Gipper: He was put on earth to do two things: kick butt and chew gum, and he ran out of gum around 1962. The rest is commentary.

So let me comment on one aspect of the Reagan coverage that has been driving me nuts: the notion that Ronald Reagan was a "pragmatist."

I first picked up on this theme when I heard MSNBC's Lester Holt ask during an interview whether the "one word" that defines Reagan was "pragmatic" since, he explained, so many of his interviewees used the adjective.

A quick Nexis database search confirms my impression. Time and again, in scores of newscasts, obituaries and op-eds, a great many in the media establishment seem to think that what made Reagan a good president wasn't so much his idealism but his willingness to throw it out the window when it was politically convenient.

"The 40th president was a combination of ideologue and pragmatist who could compromise and still appear to be a man of unbending principle," observed The New York Times in its obituary.

The San Francisco Chronicle concurred: "For all of his ideological passion . . . he was also a pragmatist who could strike up human rapport and a deal with any Democrat."

He was a small government conservative, agreed The (British) Telegraph, "Yet Reagan also possessed a cheerful pragmatism . . . which prevented him from becoming doctrinaire or vindictive."

And the Chicago Tribune noted, "For a revolutionary, Reagan was a pragmatist who always governed more moderately than he orated." After all, he "called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire' but adhered to the arms control treaties it signed and negotiated another."

 Sigh. I suppose we should be grateful. After all, complimenting Reagan on allegedly  deviating from his principles is the only compliment many of these people can offer since they disliked his principles so much.

For many in the press, Reagan's decency was a sort of hypocrisy - since conservatism and decency are supposed to be contradictory terms. But rather than speak ill of the dead and condemn him for it, they call this perceived hypocrisy "pragmatism."

After all, when the very liberal Senator Paul Wellstone died tragically in a plane crash in 2002, the nearly universal consensus among the same journalists was that what made him a great man was his refusal to compromise his ideological agenda. With Reagan, it's the reverse.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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