Monday, June 14, 2004

During last week’s mourning for Ronald Reagan, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, set aside politics for a moment to share fond memories of the former president. Even John Kerry admirably postponed campaigning for the week out of respect. In all, it was probably the longest span of bipartisanship in Washington since the days following September 11. Mr. Reagan deserved nothing less.

It’s too bad that some of those same politicians were singing a different tune while Mr. Reagan was alive and doing those things like, as Sen. Ted Kennedy acknowledged last week, winning the Cold War. Had Mr. Kerry had his way during Mr. Reagan’s first term, history would surely have turned out differently, and no doubt for the worse.

In 1983, in response to Mr. Reagan’s military buildup, a policy that led conclusively toward unhinging the Soviet Union, then Lt. Gov. Kerry had this to say: “What we as citizens can tell our government is that President Reagan should reorder his priorities. We don’t need expensive and exotic weapons systems.” In February 1984, Mr. Kerry expressed his concern that Mr. Reagan “has mortgaged our future in order to pay for a bloated military budget.” Again, in May 1984, Mr. Kerry said, “The defense expenditures of the Reagan administration are without any relevancy to the threat this nation is currently facing.” It was that very threat which Mr. Reagan’s military buildup helped to eradicate six years later.

In 1986, Libyan terrorists bombed a Berlin disco that killed one American GI and wounded 51. Mr. Reagan ordered an immediate retaliatory air strike. This response apparently angered Mr. Kerry, who said, “It is obvious that our response was not proportional to the disco bombing … There are numerous other actions we can take, in concert with our allies, to bring significant pressure to bear on countries supporting or harboring terrorists.” Sound familiar?

When Mr. Reagan sent Marines into Grenada in 1986, Mr. Kerry described it as “a bully’s show of force.” When Mr. Reagan was sending aid to anti-Communist forces in Nicaragua, Mr. Kerry called it “haughtiness.” He also was one of the signatories in a “Dear Comandante” letter to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, asking the murderer to play nice with the United States in defiance of Reagan administration policy.

Last week, Mr. Kerry issued a statement on Mr. Reagan’s death. In it he said, “Today in the face of new challenges, [Mr. Reagan’s] example reminds us that we must move forward with optimism and resolve. He was our oldest president, but he made America young again.” That’s a kind sentiment to be sure, but a far cry from the “moral darkness” that Mr. Kerry said he hoped was coming to an end back in 1988.

Mr. Kerry also waxed sentimental on one of Mr. Reagan’s more enduring lessons for Washington: “Despite the disagreements, [Mr. Reagan] lived by that noble ideal that at 5 p.m. we weren’t Democrats or Republicans, we were Americans and friends.” We wonder, then, why, in 1992, after Mr. Reagan had left office and was fading from the public debate, Mr. Kerry felt the need to say: “Ronald Reagan certainly never served in combat. I mean, many of his movies depicted him there. And he may have believed he was, but he never was. And the fact is that he sent Americans off to die.” To give Mr. Kerry the benefit of the doubt, he might have said this before 5 p.m.

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