What they said then, and what they're saying now

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Jun 24, 2004 12:00 AM

What a magnificent week it was wherein the nation buried Ronald Reagan. Overdone, perhaps, and a bit too much of a muchness. Still, it was wife and choreographer Nancy's final gift to her husband - regarding whom, her beloved Ronnie, it wasn't always so.

The week had unlikely people on the fringe - too often called "observers" - saying astounding things. As one watched in awe, one listened in incredulity. Many of those most fulsome in praise of Reagan now were most sneering in criticism of him then - which set the mind to comparing President Reagan's circumstances to President Bush's.

Reagan viewed his foremost achievement as winning the Cold War. During the funeral week, many agreed. But Mikhail Gorbachev did not. He termed the very notion as "not serious," adding: "I think we all lost the Cold War." What's more, Reagan's military buildup and commitment to Star Wars, he said, had "no connection" to either the Soviet implosion or the Cold War's end. Nancy Reagan graciously put Gorbachev on the list of invitees to Reagan's Washington service, but she did so despite his abiding faith in the virtues of dialectical materialism.

Tom Brokaw, reputedly the most moderate of the network anchors, got an invitation, too. And Dan Rather, in announcing Reagan's death, is said to have been close to tears. But if the two are offering themselves as Reagan disciples today, they were hardly so years ago:

- Brokaw, in Mother Jones, April 1983, on Reagan's values: "Pretty simplistic. Pretty old-fashioned. And I don't think they have much application to what's currently wrong or troubling a lot of people. . . . Nor do I think he really understands the enormous difficulty a lot of people have in just getting through life, because he's lived in this fantasy land for so long."

- Rather, on "CBS Evening News," March, 1992: "In America in the 1980s, what former President Reagan and those who support him call the Reagan Revolution put more money in the pockets of the rich. We already knew that. But a new study indicates that those who did best of all by far were the very richest of the rich."

Further quotes, culled from a report by the ever-vigilant Media Research Center:

- Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, 1991: "Reagan's approval ratings never put him in the top rank of most popular Presidents."

- ABC's Jim Wooten, 1990: "Ah, yes. The dreaded federal deficit - created, for the most part, by the most massive peacetime military buildup in America's history."

- NBC News President Michael Gartner in a 1991 review of Lou Cannon's "President Reagan: Role of a Lifetime": "By many measures, the Reagan administration was a failure. It left us with a huge debt and unfocused domestic policy. It got us in a moral mess with Irangate and a military disaster in Lebanon."

- CBS' Lesley Stahl, 1989: "I predict historians are going to be totally baffled by how the American people fell in love with this man and followed him the way they did."

And that's some of the milder stuff. For any of those people now to applaud Reagan even for his optimism and restoration of national confidence suggests yet another reason public trust of the Establishment Media continues to plunge toward the pits.

Scroll Forward.

President Bush, like Reagan, is an optimist and strategic thinker whom self-appointed lofties dismiss as a doofus. He dares to believe Islamofascism can be defeated and democracy established not only in Iraq but elsewhere in the Middle East. He is not the great communicator Reagan was, but has, perhaps, an equal resolve.

Yet the left says about him, as it did about Reagan, the meanest things:

- Al Gore, in effect parading with a sandwich board proclaiming The End Is Near in promoting the alarmist flick "The Day After Tomorrow," charges "the Bush-Cheney administration" with duplicitous ignorance about global warming. Moreover, he cites "arrogance, willfulness, and bungling" in demanding the resignations of six administration officials over Iraq.

- In April, John Kerry termed the Bush administration "the most crooked, lying group I've ever seen." In May, his wife called Vice President Dick Cheney "unpatriotic."

- In September, Teddy Kennedy said of Bush and Iraq: "There was no immediate threat. This was made up in Texas [and] announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically." Last month Kennedy said, "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management - U.S. management."

- This month, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota ripped "the Taliban wing of the Republican Party." Ralph Nader, in a May speech, blasted Bush as "a messianic militarist" and "an out-of-control West Texas sheriff."

- In April of last year, Gary Kamiya of Salon.com wrote: "I have a confession: I have at times, as the war has unfolded, secretly wished for things to go wrong. Wished for the Iraqis to be more nationalistic, to resist longer. Wished for the Arab world to rise up in rage. Wished for all the things we feared would happen. I'm not alone: A number of serious, intelligent, morally sensitive people who oppose the war have told me they have had identical feelings. . . . What if you are convinced that an easy victory will ultimately result in a larger moral negative - four more years of Bush, for example, with attendant disastrous policies, or the betrayal of the Palestinians to eternal occupation? . . . Wishing for things to go wrong is the logical corollary of the postulate that the better things go for Bush, the worse they will go for America and the rest of the world."

Only with Reagan safely out of earshot are some of his most ideologized detractors basking in his success. If the funeral week was overmuch, so some of those lamenting Reagan's death disparaged him in overblown language when he was at the heights. Likewise, their replacements on this bitter ideological battlefield - including the tactical, say-anything-to-get-elected Kerry - are outdoing even the anti-Reagan rhetoric in disparaging Bush now.

Will the moment come when they, too, bury Bush with praise?