[If you’re on the Left, read no further: this essay will just tick you off, and you’ll stop reading my stuff, and then you’ll miss out on future essays that side with you. For the rest, please note that the topic is only partly the legacy of the 40th president; it’s also about how history can undo the hardest-won victories.]
“Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” — Ronald Reagan
Dear President Reagan, wherever you are:
You gave it a really good effort. You tried to reign in our gigantic government and restore it to its original purpose, defense and refereeing interstate disputes. But during your two terms Congress discovered deficit spending, and to this day they’re on a spree with their credit card.
We apologize, sir, but since your time there’s been a quarter century of entitlement increases, and half the voters are now hooked on government handouts. Even national defense — the one area where everyone agrees on a need — has imploded, invading our civil liberties with wholesale spying, intrusive monitoring of public activity, and the kidnap and murder of citizens without trial. (If you’re in touch with President Eisenhower, please tell him he was spot-on about the Military-Industrial Complex.)
Today most people assume Washington is in charge of us all — doling out allowances, overseeing our doctor visits and retirement savings and charities and schools and roads — and we play the kids, whining for extra desserts while letting them monitor us “for our own good” because they’re the parents and they know better.
(Now that we’re accustomed to being watched via our own computers, soon we’ll have no objection to video cameras in our homes, allowing the social engineers in Washington to make sure we’re eating our broccoli, avoiding super-sized drinks, not smoking, and not expressing anti-social thoughts.)
It was a great try, Mr. President, and we sincerely hope that, looking back at us from the afterlife, you don’t feel too disappointed by the mess we’ve made of your work. Those of us who still agree with you will always remember your efforts fondly.
The rest will merely misconstrue you as a standard-brand conservative who therefore favored fat cats over fairness and should best be forgotten. Meanwhile, the Republican leadership — which still offers lip service to your memory — has already forgotten your principles. It’s sad.
(In case you get lonely for conversation with someone who knows what it’s like to do great things but be branded for other’s failures, please look up Joe Paterno. He spent his life as college football’s all-time greatest coach but got snookered by a chicken hawk and ended up misremembered as some type of child molester. No doubt he’d welcome a call.)
Here’s hoping that, wherever you are, you’re better appreciated there than here.