Bush assuredly takes comfort that the critics of another visionary -- President Ronald Reagan -- also called him a simple-minded warmonger. While Democratic contender John Kerry gave a phony salute to Reagan during one of the presidential debates, in 1988, Sen. Kerry condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration." When Reagan gave his "Evil Empire" speech, Columbia University historian Henry Steele Commager wrote (and was widely quoted in many media outlets) that this was "the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." Anthony Lewis of The New York Times denounced the speech as "primitive." "What is the world to think," wrote Lewis, "when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology . . . ?"
Halfway through his first term, a January 1983 New York Times editorial pronounced Reagan's administration a catastrophe: "The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan's White House. The people know it, judging by the opinion polls. Corporate titans know it and whisper disenchantment with a fellow conservative."
Critics derided Reagan's economic policies as "trickle-down." They dismissed his strategic defense initiative by calling it "Star Wars." A 1986 New York Times editorial about Soviet missile strength said, "On a . . . vital matter on which he had had to be briefed to the teeth, then, Mr. Reagan confirmed that he still does not have a firm grip." Later that year, another Times editorial continued the Reagan-as-dummy theme, "Previous U.S. administrations have prompted [Moscow] either to explain or desist from questionable activities through the diplomatic channel for resolving arms disputes. Mr. Reagan's solution is radically different: tear up the rule book. In doing so he removes the grounds for complaint -- and for correction. How does that leave America better off?"
We know history proved Reagan's critics wrong. The Soviet Union -- and the threat they posed -- did, indeed, end up on the ash bin of history. Reagan's tax cuts produced increasing government revenues, and Reagan policies ushered in an era of long-term prosperity. The Reagan years saw explosive job creation and income growth. The economy created 20 million new jobs. Individual and corporate charitable contributions increased.
And now, in a few short months, with minimal casualties, despotic terrorist-supporting regimes no longer exist in Afghanistan and Iraq. Taking the hint, Libya's Moammar Kadafi promptly renounced his WMD program.
Some day -- it may take decades -- historians will look back at this period of American history, and they will salute Bush's courage, steadfastness and vision. It just may take a . . . healing period.
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