Jonah Goldberg

Now, on one hand, there's something wonderful about the overflowing of love for Reagan. When presidents leave office or die, their partisan affiliation fades and, for the great ones, eventually withers away. Reagan was a truly great president, one of the greatest according to even liberal historians like the late John Patrick Diggins. As you can tell from the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth from the far left, the lionization of Reagan is a great triumph for the right, and conservatives should welcome more of it.

On the other hand, what is not welcome is an almost Soviet airbrushing of the past to serve liberalism's current agenda. For starters, if liberals are going to celebrate Reagan, they might try to account for the fact that they fought his every move, alternating between derision and slander in the process. As Steven Hayward, author of the two-volume history "The Age of Reagan," asks in the current National Review, "Who can forget the relentless scorn heaped on Reagan for the 'evil empire' speech and the Strategic Defense Initiative?" Hayward notes that historian Henry Steele Commager said the "evil empire" speech "was the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all."

The point isn't that liberals were wrong to oppose every Reagan policy. But what they seem to ignore is that those policies were the products of a political philosophy. Sure, he made pragmatic compromises, but he started from a philosophical position that the self-anointed smart set considered not just wrong, but evil or stupid or both. The Media Research Center has issued a lengthy report chronicling countless journalistic examples, but my favorite is probably comes from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London, which in 1982 held a vote for the most hated people of all time. The winners: Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Dracula.

While the encomiums to Reagan & Co. are welcome, the reality is that very little has changed. As we saw in the wake of the Tucson shootings, so much of the effort to build up conservatives of the past is little more than a feint to tear down the conservatives of the present. It's an old game. For instance, in 1980, quirky New Republic writer Henry Fairlie wrote an essay for the Washington Post in which he lamented the rise of Reagan, "the most radical activist of them all." The title of his essay: "If Reagan Only Were Another Coolidge ..."

Even then, the only good conservative was a dead conservative.


Jonah Goldberg

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