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reagan

He [Ronald Reagan] always divided opinions down the middle. Half of the people saw him as this figure of heroic stature, whom they would follow into a fire. And half found him to be a toadie and phony. He had these extraordinary gifts, what I call his emotional intelligence. It’s really extraordinary: His ability to read a crowd, and to tell them a story that is inspiring to them. This guy completely bucked the trend of seeing Watergate and Richard Nixon as this necessary moment of reckoning for the republic itself. He was the only political figure to not only say that Richard Nixon was innocent, and this was a liberal witch hunt, but that Watergate just wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t even something worth talking about or thinking about. Rick Perlstein

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Heroes can thrive only where ignorance reduces history to mythology. They cannot survive the coldly critical temper of modern thought when it is functioning normally, nor can they be worshipped by a generation which has every facility for determining their foibles and analyzing their limitations. Reinhold Niebuhr

So the Economist got in trouble for a review that complained a book on slavery was unkind to the people who owned the slaves. Guess who said something similar about “Roots”? Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Washington Post, February 14, 1977, p. A3: “Very frankly, I thought the bias of all the good people being one color and all the bad people being another was rather destructive.” Rick Perlstein

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Even at age twelve I could tell that Jimmy Carter was an honest man trying to address complicated issues and Ronald Reagan was a brilcreemed salesman telling people what they wanted to hear. I secretly wept on the stairs the night he was elected President, because I understood that the kind of shitheads I had to listen to in the cafeteria grew up to become voters, and won. I spent the eight years he was in office living in one of those science-fiction movies where everyone is taken over by aliens—I was appalled by how stupid and mean-spirited and repulsive the world was becoming while everyone else in America seemed to agree that things were finally exactly as they should be. The Washington Press corps was so enamored of his down-to-earth charm that they never checked his facts, but if you watched his face when it was at rest, when he wasn’t performing for anyone, you could see him for what he really was—a black-eyed, slit-mouthed, lizard-faced old son-of-a-bitch. He was a bad actor, an informer for McCarthy, and a hired front man for a gang of Texas oilmen, fundamentalist dingbats, and right-wing psychotics out of Dr. Strangelove. He put a genial face on chauvanism, callousness, and greed, and made people feel good about being bigots again. He likened Central American death squads to our founding fathers and called the Taliban “freedom fighters.” His legacy includes the dismantling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the final dirty win of Management over Labor, the outsourcing of America’s manufacturing base, the embezzlement of almost all the country’s wealth by 1% of its citizens, the scapegoating of the poor and black, the War on Drugs, the eviction of schizophrenics into the streets, AIDS, acid rain, Iran-Contra, and, let’s not forget, the corpses of two hundred forty United States Marines. He moved the center of political discourse in this country to somewhere in between Richard Nixon and Augusto Pinochet. He believed in astrology and Armageddon and didn’t know the difference between history and movies; his stories were lies and his jokes were scripted. He was the triumph of image over truth, paving the way for even more vapid spokesmodels like George W. Bush. He was, as everyone agrees, exactly what he appeared to be—nothing. He made me ashamed to be an American. If there was any justice in this world his Presidential Library would contain nothing but boys’ adventure books and bad cowboy movies, and the only things named after him would be shopping malls and Potter’s Fields. Let the earth where he is buried be seeded with salt. The Pain

…the outsize Republican idolatry of Reagan is explained in part by the fact that there’s no one else in their history of whom they can really approve. The Bushes are a bad memory for most, Ford was a non-entity and Nixon was Nixon. Eisenhower looks pretty good on most historical rankings, but he’s anathema to movement conservatives: Eisenhower Republicans were what are now called RINOs. Going back a century, and skipping some failures/nonentities, Theodore Roosevelt is problematic for related but different reasons. Going right back to the beginning,and skipping more nonentities and disappointments, some Repubs still try to claim the mantle of the “party of Lincoln” but that doesn’t pass the laugh test. As many others have observed, the “party of Jefferson Davis” is closer to the mark. So, they have little choice but to present Reagan as the savior of the nation. Reagan and the Great Man in history

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The issue of Reagan’s intelligence is a controversial thing. Liberal friends love to dismiss him as dumb. Everyone has a Reagan story that allows us to dismiss him and his appeal. For example, people would make fun of the fact that while in office he would only read one-page memos. Well, so did FDR, because it’s a good management technique. But whatever you think about his intelligence, what’s unquestionable is that Reagan had extraordinary emotional intelligence. He could sense the temperature of a room, and tell them a story and make them feel good. And that’s more fun, right? It’s more fun to feel good than feel bad. That’s part of our human state. And also that’s what leaders are for. Leaders are for calling people to their better angels, for helping guide them to a kind of sterner, more mature sense of what we need to do. To me, Reagan’s brand of leadership was what I call “a liturgy of absolution.” He absolved Americans almost in a priestly role to contend with sin. Who wouldn’t want that? But the consequences of that absolution are all around us today. The inability to contend with climate change. The inability to call elites to account who wrecked the economy in 2008. The inability to reckon with the times when we fall short. Rick Perlstein

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If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river. Nikita Khrushchev

Ronald Reagan never wanted to be a war president, and there were no wars on Reagan’s watch. None. The Gipper was no neocon. What Would Reagan Do?

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