With former president Ronald Reagan laid to rest and the week of Mourning in America at long last over, I guess I can stop biting my tongue.
Yes, Reagan deserves credit for helping end the Cold War, and even the staunchest liberal had to admire his optimism and political skills. But Reagan's worst offense - and clearly the quality most revered by his worshippers - was ushering in the era of black-and-white conservativism. Reagan was more complex than he seemed, and it's not clear the man himself saw the world in stark black-and-white terms, with no shadings of gray. But that is the world most of his folowers inhabit: blindly patriotic, unquestioning, sure of their moral high ground.
Much has been said this past week about how Reagan "rescued" America from the maliase of Jimmy Carter's presidency and the woes that accompanied it, the Iranian hostage crisis and stagflation atop the list. Carter did suffer from a mix of bad luck and middling leadership skills, but much of his term was simply a recovery period from the one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate. By 1980, America was ready to rally - behind an Olympic hockey team, behind Coneheads and "cheeburger, cheeburger," and behind a cowboy-actor-California governor who convinced us of our greatness. The thing is, many of us didn't need to be convinced. We understood the cycles of history, valued thoughtful leadership over celebrity flash, and stuck with Carter (or thought perhaps third-party candidate John Anderson was worth a try).
Reagan couldn't help having Alzheimer's, and given his age when he left the presidency, you have to figure he would have slipped into retirement, anyway. By contrast, Carter has spent his post-presidential life writing prolifically (from politics to poetry), pounding nails for (and raising the profile of) Habitat for Humanity, working for peace, and generally living the way his ultimate leader, Jesus Christ, would have him live. Even more to his credit, Carter has always been the sort of Christian who won't judge others, lest he be judged, so he's stayed miles away from the issues that serve only to divide our nation instead of bring us together.
Who's the real hero?
Reagan on Rushmore? On the dime, or the $10 bill, or the $20? Reaganites have already hijacked the name of National Airport. (I think warmly of my Democratic friends in the D.C. area who still refuse to call it by its new name.)