Those who love liberty have lost one of their premier leaders when Ronald Reagan died this weekend. One need not consider all of Reagan’s policies excellent to realize that he was the only president in the twentieth century who understood what America meant to all the world, why it was dubbed “the leader of the free world,” despite many of its contradictions and problems.
Ronald Reagan was always dismissed by the academic Left and its legion ofpundits and public mouthpieces because they deemed him simple, ideological, not sufficiently in tune with the complexities of contemporary politics.
As usual, the academic Left had it wrong: Reagan was never simple, nor anideologue in the sense in which the Left uses that term—meaning by it someone who invents and simplifies ideas to serve ulterior motives. He was, instead, a skilled communicator of complicated ideas in terms that nearly everyone who paid attention could understand. Every great teacher must possess this skill and Reagan was one of the few politicians who took the role of teacher-leader in the uniquely American sense very
Such a teacher-leader is not supposed to grab people by the throat and shove them in the direction he wants them to go. Such a teacher-leader is supposed to inspire and explain why a goal is worthy pursuing, so other will choose to go the right way.
Reagan used to be ridiculed by the media—Sam Donaldson of ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley” was embarrassingly obsessed with trying tear down the man whenever he got the chance. But in time several books containing his writings and reflections were published that showed beyond any reasonable doubt that contrary to what his adversaries wanted everyone to think—mainly so as to discredit his good ideas and noble ideals—the man was sophisticated about most of the crucial issues of the times, especially the founding ideas of the United States. (See, for example, the books Reagan: A Life in Letters [New York: Free Press, 2003], edited by Hoover Senior Fellow, Martin Anderson, and by Kiron K. Skinner, and Stories in his own hand: The Everyday Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, edited,
with an introduction and commentary by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson [Free Press, 2001].)
To appreciate why the sophisticated class got Reagan so wrong one needs to know a bit about the intellectual framework within which most of these folks operate. It is a position, most basically, hostile to human understanding of the human world! Any claim to know something about ethics, political principles, or comparative government is deemed by these folks too judgmental, Eurocentric, and otherwise fraught with hubris (the only exception being all of their own pronouncements which are, of course, gems of human wisdom as they see it). To think that one’s society has it over another in, say, its legal constitution, its public priorities, and its institutions is to be nothing but blindly boastful, never correct based on evidence and argument. So, someone who unabashedly proclaims the opposite isn’t merely in disagreement with others but must be a simpleton, intellectually defective. That way no one needs to argue with such a person and those who dismiss him can proclaim victory by sheer default.
Ronald Reagan was never fooled by such sophistry and knew his purpose well enough to basically pay very little attention to these essentially ad hominem attacks. He was all the wiser for this and his detractors found that nearly intolerable, retaining a disdain for and opposition to him to this day.
Luckily for millions and millions across the globe, Reagan had the upper hand all along, and his academic detractors had to contend with that.
It was also quite awkward when it turned out that by all reasonable standards Ronald Reagan proved to be a better president and diplomat than any of those the Left championed, especially because he actually made a monumental contribution to the defeat of the Soviet Union by way not primarily of arms but of ideas and policies. And the Soviet Union, especially in its Gorbachovian rendition, was of course the Left’s last best hope. To see it collapse for reasons Ronald Reagan could lay out clearly and unambiguously was a very painful experience indeed for all
those Reagan bashers.
It is sad that we probably will not see a principled guy in—or even near—the White House like Ronald Reagan. Whatever his imperfections, he was the greatest political friend of liberty of our time.