Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Friday, June 11, 2004

Reagan, yet again
Written by: Beck

I would have to imagine that by this point, regular inhabitants of the blogosphere are getting a bit tired of reading Reagan redux posts. If you fall into that category, you might want to skip this post entirely. Look hard enough and I'm sure you'll find something sufficiently lightweight to pass the time. Now, on with the story.

I'm not sure what to think of this piece by Daniel Henninger in WSJ's Friday Opinion Journal. He does an extraordinary job of bringing a liberal bias to the Reagan Legacy debate while simultaneously dancing away from any overt assertion which could pin him down as behaving in a biased manner. Enough with the preamble, let's dive into his editorial.
Next to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan was perhaps the most divisive president in the nation's history. Lincoln ended a way of life for the American South.
I thought the big Democratic talking point of this election was that Bush Jr. was the most divisive president in American history? While I'm glad that Henninger can at least recognize that Lincoln takes the cake, I'm still quite surprised to see that tail pinned on any donkey other than Bush. Reagan was the most divisive? Pardon? Well, let's see what else he has to say.
Reagan said that he was ending a way of life for American liberalism. As with Lincoln, the challenge Reagan posed to his opposition was not merely political or economic. It was profoundly moral--and so worth a death-struggle. The tensions and bitterness evident in the body politic today, and in the current presidential campaign, arrived in Washington in 1981 with the 40th president. This quiet week of remembrance is a temporary truce.

These are not cheerful thoughts at a time when all are calling to mind the grandest qualities in Ronald Wilson Reagan. But the bitterness of our politics now is a phenomenon admitted by all. People ask whence it arrived. The answer will not be found in George W. Bush's west Texas accent or in his decision to depose Saddam Hussein. Ronald Reagan himself fired the first volleys--and hot lead it was--in his first inaugural speech, in 1981:

"It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government."
Essentially, Henninger's point is this: Reagan "declared war" on the opposition party. This implicit suggestion here is that all previous presidents regarded themselves as in disagreement with the other party without ever regarding themselves as an opponent or an enemy. I'd like someone try to argue that point with Nixon's shrink, or for that matter, with the uber-intellectual early presidents such as John Adams--people who could declare themselves anathema to another's viewpoint over the tiniest of issues.

But really, I'm getting worked up over a minor issue, namely the debate over who was the most "divisive" president. The bigger issue at hand is LBJ's Great Society versus Reagan's anti-government philosophy of governing.
It is difficult to convey now the day-to-day excitement that infused Washington in those years, as young liberals arrived to build new agencies such as the Office of Economic Opportunity. Ralph Nader was one of them. [ed: note the quiet Democrat attempt to appeal to potential Naderites] The Beltway of fat-cat lobbyists and Gucci Gulch came later, but for awhile, [ed: note the quiet suggestion that this is somehow unique to Republican administration] there was no corner of American life that was able to hide from the moral certainty [ed: translation: starry-eyed idealism] of the best and bright Democrats [ed: the ones not too stoned to find D.C.] gathering in Washington.

The fervor with which LBJ's speeches describe the Great Society's legislative crusade matched and even exceeded
Ronald Reagan's [ed: doesn't this rather dilute the argument that Reagan was the most divisive?]. His 1964 State of the Union Speech was astonishing in its list of "we must" goals: "All this and more can and must be done." He committed the government to "unconditional war on poverty." [ed: Ah yes, the war on poverty, how can we forget!]The next year he was giving speeches on the signing of historic bills for civil rights, Medicare, education, even highway beautification, which seeded the environmental movement. [ed: ok, so now Ladybird Johnson's pet projects to plant wildflowers along Texas highways seeded the environmental movement? Right. The seeds of environmentalism vastly predate Johnson, and the president with the greatest responsibility for furthering that movement is Nixon who signed the EPA into existence, for goodness sake.]
I'm afraid I haven't left myself much room for commentary with all the parenthetical interruptions to Henninger's narrative.
I recall in 1985 attending a confirmation hearing (another heavy weapon) for Edwin Meese to be attorney general. The confirmation was a long ordeal whose details are forgotten. But on this day Sen. Joe Biden ended a long, dramatic denunciation of Mr. Meese by intoning, twice, that the nominee was "beneath contempt." There was a sound in the silent room. It was Mr. Meese's wife seated behind him, sobbing violently. The Bork confirmation, this war's most famous assassination, was two years away.
Ah yes, and the Democrat's strategy of transforming the executive appointment confirmation process from its intended function of ensuring the fitness of candidates to a brutal politicized slaughterfest continues to this day. Divisive indeed. The article's final statements (with the parting shots against Bush Jr. excised as pointless):
Did Ronald Reagan succeed? He had more measurable success against the Soviet Union. It's gone. [ed: what, that's minor?] Much of the Great Society endures, no longer exciting the brilliant young, and smoking with inefficiencies [ed: and whose fault is that? The implication here is that the Republicans ruined it, completely ignoring economic principles which would suggest they were doomed to failure from the outset]. But the basic tenet of Reaganism, "the individual genius of man," now has a moral claim in our politics at least equal to the Democrats' distributive justice.
Re-read that last sentence (assuming you've made it this far). While rereading it, go ahead and replace the misleading dodge "distributive justice" with its proper appellation, "redistributive economics". Here, in plain text, is the difference between liberal and conservative. Conservatives believe in the primacy and nobility of the individual. Liberals believe in the dependence upon and supremacy of the state. It's as simple as that. Reagan believed in the former. Which do you believe in?

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