EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the June 28, 2004, issue of National Review.
Ronald Reagan’s legacy is not one of ideological purity. He raised taxes and signed liberal abortion legislation in California. Despite his “evil empire” speech, he was not the preeminent Cold Warrior: Truman and Eisenhower had both fashioned the policy of containment and deterrence. It was Barry Goldwater who laid the foundation of sagebrush conservatism. In contrast, federal spending went up during Reagan’s two presidential terms. It was Reagan, not George W. Bush, who set the precedent of a Republican piling up larger federal deficits than do many Democrats.
And we forget now the various resignations, palace coups, and job switches that occurred during Reagan’s terms in office. Iran-Contra and the withdrawal from Lebanon weakened America’s reputation abroad. Astrology, the sometimes embarrassing confessions of the presidential children, and occasional misstatements about the past did not always reflect bedrock values.
Instead, Reagan’s greatest contributions were more psychological, amounting to nothing less than a reawakening of the American faith in common sense and blunt speech. True, his one-liners sometimes reflected intellectual laziness, but far more often they were insightful ways of cutting through obfuscation to separate truth from lies.
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