In Shakespeare's version, the English King Henry V rallies his badly outnumbered, ragtag troops against the flower of French chivalry before the battle of Agincourt with the reminder that in later years: "Gentlemen in England now abed, shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhood's cheap whiles any speaks, that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day."
But now, the accolades come rolling in for Ronald Reagan from journalists and politicians who, when Reagan's battles were raging, were either bystanders or his opponents. Rather than holding their manhood cheap, they step forward to share in the glory. As one of Reagan's many foot soldiers from the old days, I started to grumble to myself, then to my wife about these people who weren't there when it mattered.
I was about to get on the phone with some fellow old-timers to continue my grumbling, when I suddenly realized how un-Reaganite I was being. I actually said out loud to myself: "Blankley, have you learned nothing from the old man in four decades?" Reagan would have been delighted that they were now on board. He was always prepared to lead anyone who wanted to follow. I realized that there is a word for later gaining the support of those who opposed or stood by during the battle. It's called victory.
More to the point, the battle didn't end on Jan. 20, 1989. It did matter what we did between 1966 and 1989. But it continues to matter in 2004. And, in fact, that battle is still raging. Great men not only affect their own time, but in death remain a force to be reckoned with and fought over. We are seeing the opening round of that continuing struggle.
As a young White House staffer in 1983, I had a similar mission over another great dead man. I was assigned the job of working the media to stake our claim on George Orwell for the Right. We expected that the arrival of the date 1984 -- the title of his most famous book -- would unleash a battle between the Left and the Right for possession of the iconic political writer's fundamental commitment. Both Left and Right found evidence in his public writings, private letters and comments to support each claim. But George Orwell turned out to be too big to fit into one category.
I suspect the same may be true of Ronald Reagan. While he was heart, soul and mind a conservative -- and on an analytical basis always will be a conservative -- it is instructive to contemplate on the phenomenon of so many non-conservatives beginning to grab a piece of him.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.