Fund Your Utopia Without Me.™

06 April 2011

When Were Democrats Ever The "Loyal Opposition"?

Clark Clifford, advisor to a string of Democratic Presidents and a major league elite, called Reagan "an amiable dunce."

The Chicago Tribune called Reagan ignorant and said his "air-headed rhetoric on the issues of foreign policy and arms control have reached the limits of tolerance and have become an embarrassment to the U.S. and a danger to world peace."

Washington Post columnist David Broder (still on the beat and front and center in the Obama cheering section) said the job of Reagan's staff is to water "the desert between Ronald Reagan's ears."

Henry Kissinger said that when you meet Reagan, you wonder: how did it ever occur to anyone that he should be governor, much less president?'

Jimmy Breslin, the columnist, said Reagan was senile and then insulted his supporters by saying they were proof that senility was a communicable disease.  For good measure, he called Reagan "shockingly dumb."

Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift said that "greed in this country is associated with Ronald Reagan." 

Joining in this common slur was USA Today's White House reporter Sarah McClendon, who said that "it will take a hundred years to get the government back into place after Ronald Reagan. He hurt people: the disabled, women, nursing mothers, the homeless."

Lesley Stahl of CBS News (and now "60 Minutes") said, "I predict historians are going to be totally baffled by how the American people fell in love with this man."

Hollywood director John Huston (not a pundit as such, but illustrative of a mindset in Hollywood -- a major source of Democratic donors) said Reagan was a "bore," with a "low order of intelligence," who is "egotistical."

Tip O' Neill (the powerful Speaker of the House) said Reagan's mind was "an absolute and total disgrace" and that it was "sinful that this man is President of the United States."  Steven Hayward reminds us in his recent "Reagan Reclaimed" column that O'Neill said that "the evil is on the White House at the present time.  And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He's cold. He's mean. He's got ice water for blood."

John Osborne in the New Republic magazine wrote that "Ronald Reagan is an ignoramus."

After his election, columnist William Greider said, "[M]y God, they've elected this guy who nine months ago we thought was a hopeless clown."

The Nation warned "he is the most dangerous person ever to come this close to the presidency" and that "he is a menace to the human race."

When, in his first term, the country faced some economic weakness and Reagan's poll numbers turned down, pundits were celebrating as they wrote his political obituary.  Kevin Phillips, political pundit, wrote that "it didn't take a genius to predict on Inauguration Day that Reagan would unravel" and that it was foolish to think that Reagan could solve the nation's economic problems with policies based on "maxims out of McGuffey's Reader and Calvin Coolidge."

The New York Times joined in: "the stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan's White House."

When Reagan delivered his famous "evil empire" speech (that, by the way, also was critical of America's own historical failings), New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis was apoplectic, deriding it as "simplistic," "sectarian," "terribly dangerous," "outrageous," and in conclusion, "primitive...the only word for it" (then why did he use all the I could go on with more examples of the invective and personal insults hurled at Reagan by the chattering classes and opinion-makers over the years....

But, I'll let Lech Walesa speak for me...

When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty.

This can’t be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989. Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship.

President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.I often wondered why Ronald Reagan did this, taking the risks he did, in supporting us at Solidarity, as well as dissident movements in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, while pushing a defense buildup that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink.

Let’s remember that it was a time of recession in the U.S. and a time when the American public was more interested in their own domestic affairs. It took a leader with a vision to convince them that there are greater things worth fighting for. Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.

President Reagan, in a radio address from his ranch on Oct. 9, 1982, announced trade sanctions against Poland in retaliation for the outlawing of Solidarity. I distinguish between two kinds of politicians. There are those who view politics as a tactical game, a game in which they do not reveal any individuality, in which they lose their own face. There are, however, leaders for whom politics is a means of defending and furthering values. For them, it is a moral pursuit. They do so because the values they cherish are endangered. They’re convinced that there are values worth living for, and even values worth dying for.

Otherwise they would consider their life and work pointless.  Only such politicians are great politicians and Ronald Reagan was one of them.  The 1980s were a curious time — a time of realization that a new age was upon us. Communism was coming to an end. It had used up its means and possibilities. The ground was set for change. But this change needed the cooperation, or unspoken understanding, of different political players. Now, from the perspective of our time, it is obvious that like the pieces of a global chain of events, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and even Mikhail Gorbachev helped bring about this new age in Europe. We at Solidarity like to claim more than a little credit, too, for bringing about the end of the Cold War. 

In the Europe of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan presented a vision. For us in Central and Eastern Europe, that meant freedom from the Soviets. Mr. Reagan was no ostrich who hoped that problems might just go away. He thought that problems are there to be faced. This is exactly what he did.  Every time I met President Reagan, at his private estate in California or at the Lenin shipyard here in Gdansk, I was amazed by his modesty and even temper. He didn’t fit the stereotype of the world leader that he was. Privately, we were like opposite sides of a magnet: He was always composed; I was a raging tower of emotions eager to act. We were so different yet we never had a problem with understanding one another. I respected his honesty and good humor. It gave me confidence in his policies and his resolve. He supported my struggle, but what unified us, unmistakably, were our similar values and shared goals.

I have often been asked in the United States to sign the poster that many Americans consider very significant. Prepared for the first almost-free parliamentary elections in Poland in 1989, the poster shows Gary Cooper as the lonely sheriff in the American Western, “High Noon.”  Under the headline “At High Noon” runs the red Solidarity banner and the date — June 4, 1989 — of the poll.  It was a simple but effective gimmick that, at the time, was misunderstood by the Communists. They, in fact, tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the “Wild” West, especially the U.S.  But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys in Western clothes had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual. Solidarity trounced the Communists in that election, paving the way for a democratic government in Poland. It is always so touching when people bring this poster up to me to autograph it. They have cherished it for so many years and it has become the emblem of the battle that we all fought together.  As I say repeatedly, we owe so much to all those who supported us. Perhaps in the early years, we didn’t express enough gratitude. We were so busy introducing all the necessary economic and political reforms in our reborn country. 

Yet, President Ronald Reagan must have realized what remarkable changes he brought to Poland, and indeed the rest of the world.

And I hope he felt gratified. He should have.

Lech Walesa