Wednesday is the 15th anniversary of the death of President Ronald Reagan. To mark the occasion, his son, Michael Reagan, offered some personal memories and an assessment of his father’s accomplishments and legacy. This link also includes some thoughts from Herman Cain, Floyd Brown and others who admired or worked with Reagan, as well as a must-see video of Reagan’s speech in Normandy on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which is especially timely since Thursday marks the 75th anniversary.
As this story notes, a recent C-SPAN survey of historians found Reagan ranked as one of the top 10 presidents, moving up two spots over the past two years. Heritage Foundation historian Lee Edwards calls him the greatest President of the second half of the 20th century. His accomplishments include turning around a moribund economy, rebuilding the American military, defeating the USSR without firing a shot, and restoring a sense of pride in America.
Here’s what you seldom hear these days, but those of us who lived through the Reagan era remember it only too well: Reagan’s opponents, particularly in the media and Hollywood, were dismissive, insulting and absolutely vicious toward him. He was portrayed as a dunce, a doddering old fool, a drugstore cowboy who was going to start a nuclear war, and yes, that old reliable term the left applies to everyone they dislike without knowing what it means: a fascist.
One infamous editorial cartoon depicted him as a skull-headed merchant of death, playing chess with frightened soldiers as chess pieces. Liberal newspapers scorned his economic policies with derisive terms such as “trickle down” and “Reaganomics” (Reagan famously joked that they stopped calling it Reaganomics after it started working.) They claimed the ‘80s tax cut and economic boom was based on “greed” and only helped “the rich” (feeling any déjà vu?) Young leftists sneeringly called him “Ray-gun” in the mistaken belief that repeating the same dumb joke endlessly made them appear witty (“Drumpft” ring a bell?) His missile defense shield idea was mocked with the nickname “Star Wars” and the “settled science” crowd declared it impossible to shoot down an incoming missile. Today, America not only has anti-missile defense technology, but it’s saved countless Israelis by intercepting incoming Hamas missiles.
That relentless negative press took a toll. Among Americans in general, Gallup showed that his average approval rating during 1988, his last year in office, was 53%, down from a high in the mid-60s and tying his average for his entire term. But when asked to assess him in 2002, with an extra 14 years of perspective, they gave him a 73% approval rating.
As for C-SPAN’s survey of historians, it reflects both the benefits of perspective and hindsight and the fact that C-SPAN polls historians from a diverse range of viewpoints, rather than the rankings from lockstep liberal historians we got for years, who placed Reagan ridiculously low.
This is typical of liberal historians’ “objective” ratings of recent Presidents. For instance, they ranked Obama high for his moral integrity because he had “no scandals” (I can hear your eyes rolling from here.) They also assured us that George W. Bush (whom the left liked to call “fascist” and “Hitler” – sound familiar?) was the worst President ever. In a 2006 Sienna college poll of 744 professors, over two-thirds said Bush had no realistic chance of improving his rating. That is, until another Republican (Trump) was elected, and now he’s “the worst ever” and Bush has already moved up two spaces. Funny how you can be a history professor, yet have no concept of your own lack of historical perspective.
I find that the more history you’ve lived through, the easier it is to discount the opinions of self-proclaimed “historians.” Judging from their own track record for judging Presidents, I’d say a lot of these historians belong on the “ash heap of history” – the coining of that phrase being yet another accomplishment of Ronald Reagan.