Monuments to Reagan? Don't get carried awayTributes to...


January 11, 1998

Monuments to Reagan? Don't get carried away

Tributes to Ronald Reagan! Monuments? Let us take a good look at the legacy of this president before we get carried away in some new Reagan swoon promoted by starry-eyed Reaganites.

It is too much to hope that Grover Norquist, the founder of a new Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, would accept an even-handed or objective assessment of the Reagan presidency.

His project and the front-page treatment it got in The Sun ("Tributes to Reagan are in the running," Dec. 2) contribute to the continued mythologizing of this man, who as president could do no wrong. To abide in such myths is to distort the historical record. Worse still, myths become popular history, and as such they become virtually indelible for all time.

Mr. Norquist says of Reagan, "The guy ended the Cold War, he turned the economy around . . . He deserves a monument like the Jefferson or the FDR or the Colossus of Rhode!"

The historical verdict is still out on the ending of the Cold War, but the claim that Reagan ended it is an absurdity. If there is a single individual who deserves most credit, it is surely Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who told the West that "we are going to deny you your enemy" and launched a peace offensive aimed at winning the trust of his adversaries.

The claim that it was Reagan's furious arms build-up that brought the Soviets to their knees is simplistic at best and completely ignores the role of Gorbachev and the consequences of his perestroika and glasnost drive within the Soviet Union.

The notion of Reagan as the great hero who turned the economy is also a myth that does not rest well with facts.

While it is true that his rhetoric lifted spirits and may have contributed to a modest recovery, it is also true that the debt of the U.S. government more than tripled during his tenure in the White House; that the average level of unemployment in his first four years was about the same as it was for Jimmy Carter's presidency; that the United States rapidly fell from being the number one creditor nation in the world to the number one debtor nation, and that the trade deficit with Japan rose from around $12 billion to more than $56 billion when he was at the helm.

This is hardly a record worthy of memorializing with monuments. Before we begin building monuments or renaming existing edifices for this pop hero president, let us wait a bit longer in order to get a better historical appreciation of his presidency.

In the short run, however, if you want to keep his name fresh, I have some suggestions.

How about giving his name to the Lawrence Livermore Institute out in California, which was recipient of some of the billions of dollars Reagan was willing to spend on "Star Wars," arguably the most hair-brained idea of any U.S. president?

Or how about renaming the School for the Americas down at Fort Benning, Georgia, for him in honor of his obsession for arming the Contras and other right-wing thugs south of our border?

Or perhaps the basement room of the White House in which the Iran-Contra scheme was cooked up (albeit unbeknownst to him) could use a new name above its door.

Or maybe the ruthless but homeless MX missile that he renamed the "Peacekeeper" could be renamed for its most ardent sponsor.

Enough of these facetious suggestions. Enough of Mr. Norquest's preposterous ideas.

Wayne C. McWilliams


Pub Date: 1/11/98

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