Politics & Policy

Shining Countenance On a Hill

Reagan belongs on Mount Rushmore.

Not all great men merit great memorials. Those with spectacular achievements should surely be honored in ways more distinctive than mere recitations in history books. Statues, parks, and libraries usually suffice, for while many great leaders have momentous achievements, those of only a few are transcendent.

Ronald Reagan’s achievements were incontrovertibly the latter (those who would argue their significance, or Reagan’s responsibility therefore, need only spend a little time with the victims of what Solzhenitsyn calls the Big Solitaire–the millions subjugated by Communist tyranny). That’s why a memorial in his honor must adequately capture the scale of his accomplishments, not only as recognition of their importance, but as a visible standard to which future generations may aspire.

An airport and an aircraft carrier have been named after him. The Reagan Legacy Project has dozens of similar projects in the hopper. Efforts to have post offices renamed, coins struck, and highways dedicated in his honor are underway. There’s even talk of a memorial around the National Mall.

These are all fitting but somehow insufficient. Only Rushmore suffices–and it is peculiarly appropriate to Ronald Reagan.

When Doane Robinson first conceived the idea of Mount Rushmore, he wanted to commemorate larger-than-life Western heroes. After Congress authorized the carving, the Mt. Rushmore National Commission determined that the faces depicted on the southeast face of the 5,000-foot granite mountain should be of those individuals who best exemplified the principles of the “foundation, expansion and preservation of the Republic.” The choice of Washington was a no-brainer. Jefferson was chosen not only because he was the principal architect of the Declaration but because of the Louisiana Purchase (expansion). Lincoln, of course, preserved the republic. The selection of Theodore Roosevelt was slightly controversial, some suggesting that it had more to do with sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s admiration for the Rough Rider than with any of his accomplishments. No doubt the impact of Roosevelt’s vigor and charisma played a role. But Roosevelt’s implementation of the Monroe Doctrine, both through the construction of the Panama Canal and facing down encroachments upon the Western Hemisphere from European powers such as Germany, had much more to do with it.

The reason for Reagan’s inclusion on Rushmore has been set forth over the last few days in exhaustive detail on this page as well as in editorials in almost every newspaper across the country. Few presidents remained as true to the nation’s founding principles as Reagan. He also expanded America’s influence–effectively rendering it the sole super power in the world.

Moreover, Borglum envisioned the monument as a “shrine to democracy,” a national monument “commemorating America’s founders and builders.” No single person has done more to spread democracy in the last 100 years than Ronald Reagan. No one has done more to build the infrastructure–political, economic and military–to speed the adoption of American ideals across the globe than the 40th president.

Reagan on Rushmore is not a new concept. Michael Novak championed it years ago. Former representative Matt Salmon (R. Ariz.) proposed it in 1999 but the National Park Service maintained that Rushmore was now too fragile to sustain another carving. An addition to Rushmore similar to the other figures would require blasting, sanding, and jack-hammering a 60-foot profile into the 400-foot southeastern flank of the mountain. Some maintain that this could be done by reinforcing the site with granite, gravel, and concrete. But there is no doubt it would be a formidable undertaking. (If it can’t be done, then perhaps the carving should be placed on Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome as suggested years ago on NRO.) Carving the existing four faces took more than 300 people nearly 14 years to complete. The cost: approximately $1,000,000 Depression-era dollars.

Geology probably wouldn’t be the only obstacle. Political resistance to the project would be held in abeyance only for a short period following Reagan’s interment–possibly through the election cycle. That’s why the monument must take off now, preferably with enabling legislation passed before the present Congress adjourns.

It’s doable. If Reagan’s optimism taught us anything, it’s that.

Peter N. Kirsanow is a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission.


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