- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

Columnist E.J. Dionne has joined the chorus of those who think there are too many buildings and public works being named in honor of Ronald Reagan. He recently proclaimed that the nation should celebrate only those presidents whose achievements "transcend ideology." He wonders, though, why Americans so unappreciate presidents like (hyper-ideologue) Lyndon Johnson. (The answer is simple. Mr. Reagans ideas worked. Johnsons didnt.)
In a strange sort of way, Mr. Reagan meets even the criteria Mr. Dionne has set for a suitable memorial on the National mall. In foreign policy, Mr. Reagan pursued Cold War policies every American president from Harry Truman to the first George Bush enunciated. His greatness, though, lay in his ability to see that the United States could win a struggle the others merely wished to manage and bring down an "evil empire" they only wanted to contain.
On the domestic side, Mr. Dionne insists "there is no consensus on the meaning of the Reagan years." Bill Clinton, who declared the "era of big government" over, certainly thought there was. So too did the American people, who twice gave Mr. Reagan the go ahead to enact his agenda in record landslides.
In February, Gallup released a poll showing that Mr. Reagans countrymen rate him the "greatest" American president. While the Gipper would be the first to yield that place of honor to Washington or Lincoln, the results do bespeak "consensus."
Given Mr. Dionnes disdain for memorializing presidents who aroused controversy and whose records of performance and achievement remain open to debate, one wonders what he thinks of that orgy of political correctness on the National Mall that goes by the name of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. One would hardly know from George Segals powerful sculptures that World War II, rather than Roosevelts domestic policies, brought an end to the Great Depression. Its severity increased rather than decreased during the second New Deal. (Ask the Waltons.)
Mr. Dionne singles out Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist, who also directs the Reagan legacy project, for special scorn. A walk through the FDR memorial, though, and the long debate disability activists have waged over how to depict in his memorial the paralysis FDR tried so hard to hide, suggests that he is hardly alone in understanding the importance of the past. He joins a distinguished group that includes historians Arthur Schlesinger Jr., James MacGregor Burns, Kearns Goodwin, Robert Dallek, Alan Brinkley and so many others.
Their celebratory writings about the advance of 20th century liberalism from Wilson to Roosevelt to Truman to Johnson are just as ideologically laden as the utterings of Mr. Norquist and his compatriots. Conservative columnists have yet, though, to depict them or those who put FDR on the dime and JFK on the half-dollar as liberalisms "Lenins." (Mr. Norquist took it as a compliment when Mr. Dionne called him the "Lenin" of the right.)
One finds in these "mainstream" historians works few examples of why so many government programs their "heroic" presidents enacted failed to achieve their desired ends. Such admissions or explanations, of course, would have undermined the conventional wisdom, which Mr. Dionne calls the prevailing consensus. It took the Reagan Revolution to do that.
Mr. Dionne is right to bemoan the short-shrift Dwight Eisenhower gets when it comes to naming buildings and monuments, but credits him for the wrong things. Ike did not make "peace with the New Deal" because he became a convert. Had he been that, the general president would have attracted less criticism from the left of his day. He acquiesced as a price he was willing to pay in order to achieve other goals: balanced budgets, low inflation and deterrence to nuclear annihilation.
"Democrat for Eisenhower" Ronald Reagan was paying attention. He honored Ikes memory by hanging his portrait in the Cabinet room along with that of the other most underrated president of the last century, Calvin Coolidge.

Alvin Felzenberg, who writes and lectures on the American presidency, direct the "Mandate for Leadership" project at the Heritage Foundation.

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