WASHINGTON - "Welfare queens." The gender gap. Ketchup as a vegetable. Reaganomics. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development scandal. Right-wing judicial appointments. Iran-contra. Drug tests. Tax breaks for a university that segregated its students. Cuts to school lunch programs. The savings-and-loan scandal. The El Salvador massacres. "Constructive engagement" with South Africa's old white-minority apartheid regime.
These are a few of my least favorite things about the Ronald Reagan presidency.
But politics aside, you had to be a cold-hearted individual to dislike Mr. Reagan the man. Warm, personable and gifted with a crackling good wit, he got along well with powerful Democrats, even when he was dismantling their cherished social programs.
In fact, he reminded me a lot of my father. Both were born in 1911. Each radiated an irrepressible optimism that others found contagious. Both displayed homespun wit that compensated for many deficits in their formal education.
Sadly, both were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at about the same time, too, back in 1994. As months - and then years - went by and the light in my father's eyes slipped slowly and irreversibly into a void beyond laughter and remembrance, I felt a connection to the Reagan family. My sympathies go out to them.
My father died in the spring of 1998. Amazingly, the Gipper held on. Last month, former first lady Nancy Reagan said at a benefit dinner for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation that her husband's "long journey has taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him."
Families who have shared similar experiences know what she was talking about. It is painfully sad, my father's doctor told me, to see how the families of those who have this brain-wasting syndrome continue to emotionally suffer long after the patient is no longer able to know what is happening.
Mrs. Reagan committed herself to do whatever she could to "save other families from this pain." She has become a powerful spokeswoman over the past three years for easing government restrictions on human embryonic stem-cell research that could produce cures for juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's, heart disease, cancer and spinal-cord injuries.
Unfortunately, President Bush has banned the use of federal money for most stem-cell research, saying, as many anti-abortion conservatives do, that the destruction of stem cells is an immoral destruction of life.
Yet this is a debate about life at its most rudimentary level. Stem cells are taken from microscopic unions of sperm and egg that are less than 2 weeks old. About 400,000 excess frozen embryos exist as a result of in vitro fertilization procedures, and they will probably end up being discarded. Yet some anti-abortion conservatives are so extreme in their protection of the unborn that they oppose the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos to benefit the born.
Fortunately, a consensus appears to be building toward true progress. A day before Mr. Reagan died, a majority of the Senate, including 14 Republicans, sent a letter to President Bush asking him to loosen the restrictions on human embryonic stem-cell research that he imposed nearly three years ago.
The United States may be falling behind other countries that are aggressively pursuing stem-cell cures, the Senate letter warns, including Britain, Singapore, South Korea and Australia. A similar plea was signed last month by 206 members of the House. Some states have banned stem-cell research, but others are funding research on their own. The federal government could do more, and it should.
"Government is not the solution to our problems," Mr. Reagan declared. "Government is the problem." Not necessarily. Many lives can be improved by government, depending on who's running it.
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.