- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

‘Tis the season for political pretzels. Only yesterday a presidential candidate’s Roman Catholic faith was poisonous stuff. John F. Kennedy stopped just short of hitting the sawdust trail to prove he wasn’t a lackey of Rome. John F. Kerry is stopping just short of taking holy orders to prove to Protestant evangelicals that he is, too, as Catholic as the pope.

Some of our liberal pundits, who can’t find words harsh enough to denounce traditional Christian morality — respect for the unborn, sexual abstinence before marriage, expressing reverence for God in the public square — twist themselves into pretzels making apologies for Muslims who say hateful things about George W. Bush.

But the most tortured pretzel-shaped pundits emerged, like the cicadas, in the week of mourning for Ronald Reagan. The Gipper, denounced as a bumbler, a fool and a rogue over the years since he left the White House, emerges as an OK guy, after all. He wasn’t even a conservative, though you could have fooled everyone but Jonathan Alter of Newsweek. He thinks the Gipper was actually a crafty liberal with a talent for conning conservatives into believing that “he was with them even when he wasn’t.”

The New York Times, which never had much truck with the live Gipper, now gloats that the Gipper’s family has no truck with George W. Bush. The New York Times lavishes undisguised praise on Ronald Reagan Jr. for his eulogy at his father’s funeral, dissociating George W. from the Reagan legacy.

Good manners requires that we overlook lapses of taste and judgment by the grieving kin of the dearly departed. But the lavish praise in certain quarters for young Mr. Reagan’s thinly disguised rebuke of President Bush, accusing him of expressing religious faith “to gain political advantage,” is surprising because only yesterday the Gipper’s children were regarded by the pundits as of a piece with the unsavory kinfolk that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton brought with them to Washington.

The Gipper never had much time for his children. Now we understand why. Neither did anyone in the press have much time for the Reagan children when their daddy was in the White House. When oldest daughter Maureen considered running for the U.S. Senate from California shortly after Mr. Reagan became president, reporters asked him whether she was serious. Replied the Gipper: “I hope not.”

The president was similarly dismissive of little Ronnie in tights, when he was aspiring to the ballet by day and a career at Playboy by night. He thought young Ronnie should find “more dignified” work than scribbling for an adolescent skin magazine. Younger daughter Patti — who wants to be known as a Davis rather than a Reagan — was used by reporters and columnists to embarrass the president with what George Newmayr of the American Spectator calls her “various pharmaceutical pursuits and drug experimentation.” Michael Reagan understood what his father was about, and cheers, which is why he is ignored by the authors of the rewriting project.

Ronnie, who calls himself a “progressive,” has nurtured a long-running grudge against the Bushes, in the beginning when George H.W. Bush was the president and his daddy, for whose politics he has such disdain, no longer was. He famously derided George W. at the Philadelphia convention four years ago as having accomplished nothing more than pulling himself up from being “an obnoxious drunk.”

Nancy was ridiculed by pundits and television’s talking heads during her White House years as a vain and burnt-out starlet with nothing in her head but a yen for expensive dishes, designer dresses, a personal astrologer and the company of the beautiful people. The same pundits are recasting her now as the reincarnation of Jackie Kennedy because, in the words of one Harvard professor, “the last thing she intends is for W. to inherit her beloved and sanctified husband’s mantle.”

But sanctification is not for her to keep. Just as the sins of the father are not visited on the son, so the regard and affection for a father are not inherited by the son (or daughter). Not even Nancy, as devoted to her husband’s memory as she is, try as she might, can control a legacy. When such a man belongs to the ages, he belongs to the ages.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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