Skip to comments.AVE ATQUE VALE - DUTCH COURAGE Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004
Posted on 06/05/2004 10:47:42 PM PDT by Snake65
All Saturday across the networks, media grandees whod voted for Carter and Mondale, just like all their friends did, tried to explain the appeal of Ronald Reagan. He was The Great Communicator, he had a wonderful sense of humour, he had a charming smile self-deprecating the tilt of his head
All true, but not what matters. Even politics attracts its share of optimistic, likeable men, and most of them leave no trace like Britains Sunny Jim Callaghan, a perfect example of the defeatism of western leadership in the 1970s. It was the era of détente, a word barely remembered now, which is just as well, as it reflects poorly on us: the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of détente, the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasnt just the usual suspects who subscribed to this grubby evasion Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, Francois Mitterand but most of the so-called conservatives, too Ted Heath, Giscard dEstaing, Gerald Ford.
Unlike these men, unlike most other senior Republicans, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. Thats what counts. He brought down the evil empire, and all the rest is fine print.
At the time, the charm and the smile got less credit from the intelligentsia, confirming their belief that he was a dunce whod plunge us into Armageddon. Everything you need to know about the establishments view of Ronald Reagan can be found on page 624 of Dutch, Edmund Morris weird post-modern biography. The place is Berlin, the time June 12, 1987:
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! declaims Dutch, trying hard to look infuriated, but succeeding only in an expression of mild petulance ... One braces for a flash of prompt lights to either side of him: APPLAUSE.
What a rhetorical opportunity missed. He could have read Robert Frosts poem on the subject, Something there is that doesnt love a wall, to simple and shattering effect. Or even Edna St. Vincent Millays lines, which he surely holds in memory
Only now for the first time I see This wall is actually a wall, a thing Come up between us, shutting me away From you ... I do not know you any more.
Poor old Morris, the plodding, conventional, scholarly writer driven mad by 14 years spent trying to get a grip on Ronald Reagan. Most world leaders would have taken his advice: Youre at the Berlin Wall, so you have to say something about it, something profound but oblique, maybe theres a poem on the subject ... Who cares if Frosts is over-quoted, and a tad hard to follow for a crowd of foreigners? Who cares that it is, in fact, pro-wall - a poem in praise of walls?
Edmund Morris has described his subject as an airhead and concluded that its like dropping a pebble in a well and hearing no splash. Morris may not have heard the splash, but hes still all wet: The elites were stupid about Reagan in a way that only clever people can be. Take that cheap crack: If you drop a pebble in a well and you dont hear a splash, it may be because the well is dry but its just as likely its because the well is of surprising depth. I went out to my own well and dropped a pebble: I heard no splash, yet the well supplies exquisite translucent water to my home.
But then I suspect its a long while since Morris dropped an actual pebble in an actual well: As with walls, his taste runs instinctively to the metaphorical. Reagan looked at the Berlin Wall and saw not a poem-quoting opportunity but prison bars.
I once discussed Irving Berlin, composer of God Bless America, with his friend and fellow songwriter Jule Styne, and Jule put it best: Its easy to be clever. But the really clever thing is to be simple. At the Berlin Wall that day, it would have been easy to be clever, as all those 70s detente sophisticates would have been. And who would have remembered a word they said? Like Irving Berlin with God Bless America, only Reagan could have stood there and declared without embarrassment:
Tear down this wall!
- and two years later the wall was, indeed, torn down. Ronald Reagan was straightforward and true and said it for everybody - which is why his rhetorical opportunity missed is remembered by millions of grateful Eastern Europeans. The really clever thing is to have the confidence to say it in four monosyllables.
Reagan was an American archetype, and just the bare bones of his curriculum vitae capture the possibilities of his country: in the Twenties, a lifeguard at a local swimming hole who saved over 70 lives; in the Thirties, a radio sports announcer; in the Forties, a Warner Brothers leading man ...and finally one of the two most significant presidents of the American century. Unusually for the commander in chief, Reagans was a full, varied American life, of which the presidency was the mere culmination.
The Great Communicator was effective because what he was communicating was self-evident to all but our dessicated elites: We are a nation that has a government - not the other way around. And at the end of a grim, grey decade - Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises, Iranian hostages Americans decided they wanted a President who looked like the nation, not like its failed government. Thanks to his clarity, around the world, governments that had nations have been replaced by nations that have governments. Most of the Warsaw Pact countries are now members of Nato, with free markets and freely elected parliaments.
One man who understood was Yakob Ravin, a Ukrainian émigré who in the summer of 1997 happened to be strolling with his grandson in Armand Hammer Park near Reagans California home. They happened to see the former President, out taking a walk. Mr Ravin went over and asked if he could take a picture of the boy and the President. When they got back home to Ohio, it appeared in the local newspaper, The Toledo Blade.
Ronald Reagan was three years into the decade-long twilight of his illness, and unable to recognize most of his colleagues from the Washington days. But Mr Ravin wanted to express his appreciation. Mr President, he said, thank you for everything you did for the Jewish people, for Soviet people, to destroy the Communist empire.
And somewhere deep within there was a flicker of recognition. Yes, said the old man, that is my job.
Yes, that was his job.
President Reagan was extraordinary without need of praise because his life speaks for itself and we shall not look upon his like in America again.
Nothing is more threatening to an intellectual than the suspicion that the fellow he just called a simpleton is in fact cleverer than himself. Morris is the sort of intellectual who thought the Soviets would be impressed by poetry. They weren't. But they were impressed by Reagan.
So much good in here. Thank you Steyn.
He has run the race and finished it...For our sake I hope that their are others of his character and courage still out there. The dessicated elite...what a great description...for they never understood Mr. Regan and they hated him as much as G. W. they just weren't as vocal 24/7 with it then. May the angels sing him home. We are the sadder for losing him but the better for once having him
Good post, Snake.
Pokey, tell the world, would you, please?
I don't think his opponents really understand what Americans saw in him. I regret not voting for him in my youth and I didn't see what made the rest of America follow him. I certainly do now and if I had to do it all over again I would change my vote. Be that as it may, my views changed and that is one thing I do not regret.
I so glad to have Steyn commentary on President Reagan.
Reagan's presidency was a job well done.
He didn't get to do everything he wanted. Life is an unfinished journey and others have to take us there. President Bush is fulfilling President Reagan's legacy. And that work will continue for as long as we humans are on this Earth.
Liberals and European appeasers say many of the same things about Bush that they did about Reagan...'cowboy, dull, dumb, fumbler, simplistic, dangerous'. Interestingly, though, they're careful not to say much about Bush's sunny personality and likeability. (Reagan's political victories were always dismissed as Americans having been fooled by his charm and likeability.) God forbid that we connect the dots and reelect Bush! Well, once again the world is faced with two clear choices, and once again the usual suspects are backing the wrong horse.
What a poetic condemnation of the witless klunks of the American "intelligentsia"--notably the mediocre minds of academia.
The genius was to have *conceived* it in four monosyllables.
Amazing. How could Morris so completely miss the point. Frost's poem, which ends with the wisdom that "Good fences make good neighbors", is exactly the opposite message that Reagan actually wants to convey. To Morris' "mind" (Reuteresque scare quotes intentional), it is better to impress your enemies with your erudition even if it defeats your point. Nothing is more important that appearing intelligent.
Ronald Reagan knew what was important. What was important was that Mr. Gorbachev tear down the wall. That is why he said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
BTW, have you noticed how Gorbachev is excised from that quote, every time you see it? The left is still protecting that man and acting as if he decided to implode the Soviet Union out of some noble desire, rather than attempting to stem the tide of history to keep the boot of the Red Army of the face of the Soviet peoples, but ultimately failing.
God Bless Ronald Reagan, the man who defeated the Evil Empire.
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