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Ronald Reagan: A Relaxing View
From the Nov. 28, 1967, issue of NR.


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William F. Buckley Jr.

In this here neck of the woods, there is some uneasiness in the air, and the reason why is Ronald Reagan. Here is how the nightmare goes. Romney does so-so in New Hampshire, not well enough to give him a solid lead, not poorly enough to dispose of him once and for all and leave time to build up another liberal. Nixon does poorly, maybe not so poorly as to make him withdraw either, but poorly enough to prevent the bandwagon’s forming. On to Wisconsin. Same sort of thing. Then in Oregon and in Nebraska Reagan supporters submit his name, and without campaigning Reagan wins decisively. On to the convention. A bitter fight, but once again the liberals are disunited. George Romney has had a divine visitation telling him to stay in the fight, and he does: through the first or second ballots, fracturing the liberals. And — big difference from 1964 — somehow the disparagement of the Reagan forces hasn’t had the desirable effect of weakening the Republican Party so as to guarantee, at least, its ultimate defeat in November. Add to that the ecumenical goo that Ronald Reagan is so good at extruding — why you would think, sometimes, that Senator Kuchel was his best friend. So Reagan gets nominated, and then we all rush off to our artillery pieces, aim, pull the triggers and — typical nightmare — nothing happens; so that, smiling that confounding smile of his, he rides his horse right into the front lawn of the White House, dismounts, hands the reins over to the benumbed editor of the Washington Post, and proceeds to the throne, whence he judges over us all.

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The nightmare peters out at this point, for one thing because it never is absolutely clear just how a political conservative is actually going to succeed in destroying the country — it is better for nightmares to end with such details unspecified (a haunted house should never be entered — no bad can come of it). Presumably, that which he would do which is undesirable is a projection of what he has done in California. And concerning what he has done in California, there is thoroughly mystifying disagreement in many quarters.

There is the opinion, for instance, of Mr. Hale Champion. Mr. Champion, who is now uncoiling at Harvard at what has been called the Center for the Advancement of the Kennedy Family, served Governor Pat Brown as State Finance Director (one thinks of serving President Kubitscheck of Brazil as Budget Balancer). Mr. Champion undeniably earned a period of repose in the groves of academe, or even of a sanatorium. He suggested an appropriate structure for the criticism of the Reagan administration in West Magazine (April 23), in which he commented on the new governor’s first 100 days. Governor Reagan, said Mr. Champion, (a) is “in deepening trouble with the legislature and with the public”; (b) has a “completely negative and destructive attitude [towards] higher education”; (c) has “accomplished” almost nothing, “except the dismissal of Clark Kerr”; (d) is likely to be swamped by “the future consequences of [his] failure to work out the solutions to problems” and (e) is aesthetically offensive, as witness “the loose bundle of social and moral pronouncements that constitute the governor’s vague, historically inaccurate, philosophically sloppy, and verbally undistinguished inaugural address.”

From this criticism we were all to infer that Mr. Reagan is quite as bad as it was feared by the most fearful that he would be. Well, perhaps not quite as bad as some of Governor Brown’s campaign rhetoric predicted. After all, at one point in the campaign, Governor Brown, addressing a Negro child in a widely played television spot, reminded the boy that Ronald Reagan was an actor, and that it was an actor who had shot Abraham Lincoln — a sorites that Mr. Champion did not, at the time, identify as philosophically sloppy or even verbally undistinguished. On the other hand, Mr. Champion is in a position to point out that Reagan hasn’t had the opportunity to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and how can we know that, given the opportunity, he would not seize it?


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