The Corner

Turning Point at Kent State

In response to my comments on Reagan and being a Reaganite, or Reagan Republican, a reader writes,

You’ve sparked a bit of introspection in me, about the precise day I became a Reagan Republican. In November 1980, I cast my first presidential ballot. I voted to reelect Carter.

Now flash forward to the day Reagan was shot. I was at Kent State University. I came back to my dorm to see the TV lounges filled with students fervently wishing for the president not to survive the surgery. The worst of will was being expressed toward “Ronnie Ray-gun,” to use just one of the epithets.

Right then, I knew that, whatever side I belonged on, it wasn’t the one where people were wishing for the death of the democratically elected president. For the first time, I started to pay real attention to American politics, and to investigate what American conservatism really was.

Though I lean much more toward the libertarian side of conservatism, I’ve known since that day that I wasn’t under any circumstances – ever – going to be part of the Left. And much to my father’s disgust, I have proudly called myself a Reagan Republican. His irrational hatred of the 40th president was another straw, but that’s another story.

There is a lot in this letter that’s very, very familiar to me. Allow me to excerpt a speech I gave, long ago:

I had many turning-points — a great many (if it’s possible to have more than one) — but one of those was the assassination attempt on Reagan. I saw the bravery, the grace, the humanity. I could never again accept the cartoon of Reagan as an empty-headed, soulless nuclear cowboy. I saw that all those drawing that cartoon were either dumb or lying. Besides, my grandparents liked him, and they were the best people I knew — so how bad could he be?

I could go on (and, of course, have).

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