Skip to comments.A president worthy of Mount Rushmore
Posted on 06/06/2004 5:49:10 PM PDT by Pokey78
Ronald Reagan was a great American president - perhaps the greatest of the post-war epoch - who certainly deserves a stone-carved niche in that Olympus of commanders-in-chief atop Mount Rushmore.
Yet despite his intense Atlanticism, Reagan never really received his due in this country, both for substantive and for stylistic reasons. He was often denigrated by much of the British Establishment as either extreme or stupid. He proved himself to be neither, most notably in his highly prescient belief that the rotten Soviet system would implode rather than lash out if the United States finally stood up to it.
Nor was he the kind of obviously "sophisticated" and laconic East Coast American, after the fashion of a John Kennedy, whom Britons tend to like. His "aw shucks", often sentimental, Middle American ways did not travel well. In that sense, he was the very opposite of his close ideological soul-mate, Margaret Thatcher, who was more loved and admired abroad than at home (especially, but not only, in America).
Of course, Reagan was a product of his time and place. His ideological and geographical journey from Rooseveltian New Deal liberalism to "Sunbelt" conservatism was one made by millions of his fellow Americans, helping to turn the Republicans into the country's majority party for the first time since the Great Depression.
He could never have made it to either Governor of California or the White House but for the fracturing of the old Democratic coalition under the pressures of the Vietnam War, the New Left counter-culture and the racial disorders of the 1960s. Notwithstanding the circumstantial chasm that divides Britain in the 21st century from the America of the Reagan epoch, his career contains profound lessons that all our politicians, and especially Conservative parliamentarians, ignore at their peril.
Reagan vaulted to political prominence after making a speech in support of Senator Barry Goldwater's disastrous defeat in the 1964 presidential election. Although, in philosophical terms, little divided the super-conservative Arizonan from the Californian, they were light years apart stylistically.
Whereas Goldwater frightened, Reagan reassured. Instead of the Goldwater scowl, there was the Reagan smile. Reagan thus played a key part in "humanising" the conservative movement, seen as a bunch of penny-pinching, po-faced, Midwestern skin-flints, and making them not merely a part of the American mainstream but the predominant strain in American political life.
Whereas Goldwater was spokesman for a sectional interest - the South and the West - Reagan's appeal, even before he became president, was national.
A key part of attaining this objective was Reagan's utter lack of bigotry against any segment of society. Nor did he display rancour against his opponents. This is what proved so frustrating about him for Democratic and Republican liberals: however much they deplored his policies, they could not lay a glove on him personally.
This quality proved especially significant in internal party terms. One of his earliest sound bites was the so-called "Eleventh Commandment" - "thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans". This "inclusivity" sometimes irritated his core conservative supporters, but it meant that all segments of the party, and especially its critical centre ground, understood that he would not behave in a factional way once he obtained the top job.
Reagan had a great eye for the "rising class" in any given situation and thus went looking for new constituencies. For much of the post-war era, the Republicans had been stuck in a rut as the party of the affluent and of small-town Protestants. Reagan built upon the initial inroads made by Richard Nixon, and turned it into the party of evangelical southerners and white Roman Catholic ethnics - notably the Irish and Italians.
Thus, the presidential election of 1984 was the first such contest in which the GOP won the same support from church-going Catholics as it did from their Protestant counterparts. But this willingness to embrace new constituencies also implied a willingness to forgo support in old constituencies when the price of their support became electorally and ideologically too high.
Likewise, Reagan understood that traditionally Democratic trade union leaders no longer necessarily spoke for their membership - and that he could win the grassroots' support by making a direct appeal over their representatives' heads. Reagan's success in this department was often attributed to his skills as "the great communicator", which he certainly was.
He grasped that the attention span of the modern electorate was much shorter than it used to be and conveyed his message through personal, folksy anecdote rather than by adumbrating grand themes. And he had an uncanny capacity to alight upon instantaneously graspable topics that incarnated a bigger picture, such as turning the relatively minor issue of the Panama Canal Treaty into a symbol of national decline.
But while Reagan was a "great communicator", he always communicated substance. He was "issues-oriented" and kept his eye on the big picture. His vision was that America's greatest days were still to come; that government should get off the people's backs, in terms of high taxation and regulation; and that America, as "a shining city on a hill", had to remain strong if freedom were to be safeguarded at home and abroad. In contrast to Republican "realists" and "moderates", Reagan believed in the moral rightness of the American way of life and, no less important, the need to proclaim it loud and clear.
Above all, Reagan focused on what was possible. He carefully selected the ground upon which he fought with uncanny intuition as well as first-rate polling advice. He knew that in 1966 a Republican could not make a successful appeal to the middle ground by pledging to revamp social security as Americans knew it or to terminate funding for such obsolescent but still revered public works projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority.
It was not a question of compromising principles. He knew he had a lot of principles; the key issue for him was the order in which to advance them. The political strategy of the old actor was thus as perfectly timed as the delivery of his speeches. Look at him and learn: we shall not see his kind again.
There a lot of us in the Mt. Rushmore state that agree Reagan's image should be added to the Shrine of Democracy. P
There a lot of us in the Mt. Rushmore state that agree Reagan's image should be added to the Shrine of Democracy.
Mount Rushmore is not simply a national monument, it's also a work or art, by Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln. It would no more be appropriate to add Reagan to Mount Rushmore than it would be to, say, paint Linda Vester into the Mona Lisa.
I say we find Reagan his own mountain. If it'll bring the Dems in on the deal, we can put FDR up there too--the American Presidents who defeated the great homicidal ideologies of the 20th Century.
There it is, I say we do both. Put FDR & Reagan up on Rushmore.
I agree with you Scott.
FDR Teamed with the man who helped create the mess that it took Reagan to end; lovingly referring to Stalin as "Uncle Joe!" HE thought more of Stalin then he did of Churchill. Screw FDR! Its a miracle that this country survived with him in office.
My God! No one else even comes close!!! "Perhaps" indeed!!
Wilson made the mess, FDR had to clean it up by propping up and feeding Stalin and allowed the USSR to create the Iron Curtain. Why should either be be honored for having screwed up? We are still paying for DNC vote buying schemes.
I would settle for the portrait of Ronaldus Magnus on the next edition of the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson.
Those of us who were not fans had to tolerate FDR on dimes, and Ben Franklin was bumped from the fifty cent piece for JFK.
I would object to FDR - we still have to live with his toxic legacy, like Ponzi Social Security.
You really want to honor a president who tried to pack the Supreme Court with his cronies, who didn't see WWII coming, and who after the war, gave half of Europe to the tender mercies of Stalin? No thanks. FDR had no vision for the future and should never be spoken of in the same breath as Ronald Reagan. Pres. Reagan deserves his own mountain. That would just KILL the lefties!
Great idea! A contrast between the one who traded our Republic for a democracy, and the other who attempted to change it back.
I believe he should go on the $1 coin the government has been trying to get us to use for several years. One reason that the coin never caught on was that the average American thought that either Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea deserved the honor (not to mention that no one really wanted to look at SBA's sour puss every time he went to buy a newspaper). With Reagan on the coin, it would be a hit, and Reagan would be in good company with George Washington.
I'm with you.
FDR did more to bugger up post-war internal and external politics for America that just about anyone I can recall. Our bloated federal mess is but one example. The expansion of the Soviet state was another. I could go on.
Carve up a mountain for the Gipper, but name the public restrooms there in honor of FDR.
Well, I'd say something, but I have an urgent need to go to the FDR at the moment.
Right you are!! Coulter's Treason places FDR squarely where he belongs: On the dung heap of history. It's too bad we can't bring him back to TRY him for treason...and shoot him!!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.