11 Jun 2004 Krauthammer: Who’s First?
Except for the first clause, Charles Krauthammer’s “Reagan Revisionism” in today’s Washington Post is a must-read.
“‘Optimism’ is the perfect way to trivialize everything that Reagan was or did. Pangloss was an optimist. Harold Stassen was an optimist. Ralph Kramden was an optimist. Optimism is nice, but it gets you nowhere unless you also possess ideological vision, policy and prescriptions to make it real, and, finally, the political courage to act on your convictions. Optimism? Every other person on the No. 6 bus is an optimist. What distinguished Reagan was what he did and said.”
“In the early ’80s, the West experienced a nuclear hysteria — a sudden panic about imminent nuclear destruction and a mindless demand to “freeze” nuclear weapons. What had changed to bring this on? Reagan had become president. Like George W. Bush today, the U.S. president was seen as a greater threat to peace than was the enemy he was confronting. The nuclear freeze and the accompanying hysteria are an embarrassment that liberals prefer to forget today. Reagan’s critics completely misunderstood the logic and the power of his nuclear posture. He took a very hard line on the Soviets, who had broken the nuclear status quo by placing missiles in Europe. Backed by Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, Reagan faced the Soviets down — despite enormous “peace” demonstrations throughout the West, including the largest one to date in U.S. history (New York City, 1982) — and ultimately forced the Soviets to dismantle the missiles and begin their overall retreat.”
One quibble on that paragraph: I wish Krauthammer had included Brian Mulroney in this paragraph. Canada may not be a military powerhouse, but under Mulroney it was a diplomatic one (especially within NATO, where the action was on the nuclear freeze and much else), and a stalwart ally of Reagan’s Cold War posture. (Side note: If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and click herefor the text of Mulroney’s eulogy for Reagan; it is a beautiful tribute.)
However, that’s a quibble. Speaking as someone who put about a year of my life into fighting the nuclear freeze, it is nice to read someone who actually remembers the nuclear freeze debate and understands why it was important. Over the last week I have more than once had the impression that some people think the 1980s were a cake-walk for conservatives. Good grief, no.
“Rarely has a president been so quickly and completely vindicated by history. The Berlin Wall came down 10 months after Reagan left office. His policies of unrelenting toughness won the Cold War and brought a new peace. That is because Reagan understood that the key to peace was never arms control. Security had nothing to do with the number of weapons; it had everything to do with the intention and power of those who possessed them…
This success is an understandable embarrassment to the critics who opposed his every policy. They supported the freeze, denounced the military buildup, ridiculed strategic defenses, opposed aid to the Nicaraguan anti-communists and derided Reagan for telling the truth about the Soviet empire.
So now they praise his sunny smile. Normally, people speak well of the recently deceased to honor the dictum of being kind to the dead. When Reagan’s opponents speak well of him now, however, they are trying to be kind to themselves.”
Now, as to Krauthammer’s first clause. It reads: “The second-greatest president of the 20th century dies (with Theodore Roosevelt coming a close third)…”
We can talk about Teddy Roosevelt some other time.