- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

The lot of the no-account eastcoast libsnob longhaired artsyfartsy slagpunk francophile comsymp is not a happy one. Not this week.

All of America and much of the world is celebrating the life of a man who actually changed the course of history, and, for once, for the better. But not quite everyone.

Ronald Reagan’s body is not yet mouldering in the grave, and already the tattered remnants of the counterculture are crying tears of baffled frustration that the passage of only a little more than a decade has begun to confer universal recognition of greatness on the 40th president of the United States.

The subterranean Internet sites where embittered lefties gather to trade their venomous toxins are aglow with incendiary hatred. One prominent Internet pundit describes the Gipper as a “stupid lizard” and another, a best-selling author, says of him: “Killer, coward, con man — Ronald Reagan, goodbye and good riddance.” Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist who only a month ago derided Pat Tillman as a “sap” and an “idiot” for giving up a pro football career and going to Afghanistan as a soldier, where he was killed, gloated over the Gipper’s death: “I’m sure he’s turning crispy brown right about now.” A “gay activist” (and aspiring theologian) in Florida writes that Mr. Reagan will “spend eternity in hell” because he was “responsible for 500,000 American AIDS deaths and 10 million worldwide,” which if true would have made the Gipper the studliest and busiest man in the bathhouse. (Ten million tricks is a lot of tricks, even for a Gipper.)

What turns these unworthies a shade of crispy brown is not that they think Ronald Reagan actually fits any of their purple descriptions, but that he transformed, and transformed irretrievably, the politics not only of his country, but of the world.

Margaret Thatcher got it right when she said more than a decade ago that Mr. Reagan’s greatest accomplishment was that “he has achieved the most difficult of political tasks, changing attitudes and perceptions about what is possible.”

A generation has risen almost to maturity that cannot remember that only yesterday the triumph of free men and women over the blight of communist tyranny was no sure thing. When Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981, the Soviet Union looked no worse than even money to win the Cold War. Powerful, reasonable voices were raised suggesting that the best the West could achieve was to make a subservient peace with the communists.

The 40th president is rightly remembered in tributes and praise for rebuilding both the economy and the nation’s defenses, and doing both simultaneously. But before he could cut taxes, free the market or order a single bullet, bayonet or Pershing missile, he had to change calcified attitudes. In his diaries, he often said he moved forward with an initiative, sure of successful outcome, only after “I felt it in my gut.” What he felt most in his gut was that America was what Lincoln said it was, with all its faults “the last best hope of mankind,” that America was good and the Soviet Union was bad, and it was time to say so and act on it. This is the blunt assessment that the nation was waiting to hear, and if this caused heartburn in Paris or Bonn (Berlin was still red and half-dead) or Brussels, that was just too bad.

The man the chattering class regarded as bumbling, dumb and already moving into the outer suburbs of senility understood what the intellectuals of academe and the smart alecks of the media did not, that the bulging muscle of Soviet arms was all cattle and no hat, that Soviet economic might was a myth and the Russians were ripe to be taken down.

“He was right,” the Economist observed the day after Mr. Reagan died. “By the year he left office the Russians had lost Eastern Europe; two years later they abandoned communism. … A large part of the chin-stroking classes of America and Europe had thought the clumsy fellow’s Cold War policy unnecessary and dangerous. When it worked, it became retrospectively obvious.”

Not bad for an old guy moving through his eighth decade, the champion of small-town America values of freedom, faith and family, the man the remnants of the counterculture regard as hopelessly inferior in all the ways important to eastcoast libsnob slagpunk comsymps etc. Everything about the life and accomplishments of Ronald Reagan says to the embittered critics choking on his dust: “I may be slow, but I’m miles ahead of you.”

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times

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