Chewing Over the Reagan Legacy - June 11, 2004 -

Times Watch for June 11, 2004

Chewing Over the Reagan Legacy

Longtime political essayist (and noted gourmand) R.W. Apple drops his fork long enough to file a "Washington Letter" essay on Ronald Reagan-and takes the knife to the former president's policies.

"Legacy of Reagan Now Begins the Test of Time" dominates Friday's front page with more backhanded compliments on Reagan's sunny "geniality" and praise for his tax-raising "pragmatism." Yet Apple despairs of Reagan's "severe and continuing [Editor's note: and nonexistent] cutbacks in government services to the poor and vulnerable."

Apple writes: "It could be argued that Mr. Reagan's greatest triumphs came in his role as chief of state rather than as chief of government. He was often ignorant of or impatient with the policy minutiae that preoccupy most occupants of the Oval Office, sometimes with unfortunate consequences (as when Oliver North ran amok in the Iran-contra affair, for instance). But his extraordinary political gifts carried him through-his talents as a communicator, his intuitive understanding of the average American, his unfailing geniality even after being hit by a would-be assassin's bullet, his ability to build and sustain friendships across partisan lines (as with Tip O'Neill, for instance)."

Apple then brings his dubious geopolitical expertise (he compared the Afghanistan war to a Vietnam-style "quagmire") to the fore: "But he came to power as the cold war was nearing a denouement, and he did all he could to hasten the process by beefing up the American military and then, in Berlin, boldly challenging Soviet leaders to 'tear down this wall.' After that, it would have been hard for Mikhail S. Gorbachev to believe that Americans had lost their will to resist Soviet power, and he joined with Mr. Reagan to bring the long struggle to a conclusion. It was the result of 45 years of aggressive allied containment, but the commander in chief, as always, got much of the credit."

Again, the Times refuses to give Reagan credit for winning the Cold War. And was it common knowledge that "the cold war was nearing a denouement?" Reagan believed it, but hardly anyone else did. And Jimmy Carter as fierce Cold Warrior just doesn't fly.

Then there's more Times praise for Reagan the tax-raiser: "Few will deny Mr. Reagan's trustworthiness or his immense charisma, matched only in the modern era by F.D.R. and John F. Kennedy, and he demonstrated his pragmatism in rolling back some of his huge 1981 tax cuts with two tax increases when the cuts failed to produce as much revenue as he expected." It's an old theme for Apple. In 1993, while serving as the Times Washington bureau chief, he wrote of President Clinton's new tax plan: ""the package comes nowhere close to undoing Ronald Reagan's tax breaks for the wealthy. It leaves the tax burden in the United States far less onerous than those in most other Western nations. If the electorate is as serious as it tells itself it is about eliminating the deficit and cutting the national debt, it will eventually have to accept far more than this modest effort to increase revenues."

On Friday Apple writes: "Much of the country, including most of those who are physically, economically or otherwise disadvantaged, deeply resented and still resent his insistence that government is the problem, not the solution. Severe and continuing cutbacks in government services to the poor and vulnerable resulted, and the gulf dividing rich from poor widened."

Of course, as the raging federal deficits showed, those cutbacks, "severe" or not, never came about, except in the minds of Reagan's liberal foes.

"Many missed Mr. Carter's burning commitment to civil rights and liberties at home and human rights abroad. African-Americans and trade union members felt particularly aggrieved, as did many Jews, who resented Mr. Reagan's participation in a ceremony in 1985 at a German cemetery where Nazi SS troopers were buried."

Well, there's at least one trade union (Polish Solidarity, which was in the forefront of the fight against Soviet Communist tyranny) that might disagree with Apple's assessment of Reagan's supposed indifference to human rights abroad. And what of the Latin American countries that became democracies under Reagan's watch?

Apple sniffs that Reaganism was a dead-end: "His brand of radical conservatism had a counterpart in Britain under Margaret Thatcher, but it has achieved little success elsewhere." LBJ's liberal "Great Society" is more to Apple's liking: "Vietnam blackened Lyndon B. Johnson's reputation and forced him from office, despite his tremendous achievements in domestic policy, notably in lifting the cruel yoke of segregation from black Americans."

For the rest of Apple's sour reminiscence of Reagan, click here.

" R.W. Apple | Cold War | Communism | Ronald Reagan | Taxes

Gorbachev's "Bold and Brilliant" Perestroika

Thom Shanker interviews former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Gorbachev Honors His Enemy And Friend," and gives him credit for ending the Cold War: "As Mr. Reagan's obituaries uniformly proclaim, the late president won the cold war, but historians agree that the outcome would have been impossible had any man other than Mr. Gorbachev been sitting behind the Kremlin's red-brick walls and across the negotiating table."

Actually, the Times obituary says no such thing. Writer Marilyn Berger dismisses the timing as luck: "It was Mr. Reagan's good fortune that during his time in office the Soviet Union was undergoing profound change, eventually to collapse, setting off a spirited debate over Mr. Reagan's role in ending the cold war."

Shanker continues with praise for Gorbachev: "His program of change, called perestroika, was bold and brilliant and fetchingly na"ve all at the same time. And it ended a Communist empire that spanned a dozen time zones from Central Europe, across Asia and to the Pacific Ocean, and with barely any loss of life."

No loss of life? Lithuanians around in 1991 might disagree with that assessment.

For the rest of Shanker's interview with Gorbachev, click here.

" Cold War | Communism | Mikhail Gorbachev | Ronald Reagan | Soviet Union

Abu Ghraib, on the Tube

The Times keeps Abu Ghraib in the news with Mark Glassman's Friday piece, "U.S. Religious Figures Offer Abuse Apology on Arab TV." It's about an upcoming TV commercial condemning the Abu Ghraib prison abuse from "spiritual leaders from different faiths" (who all turn out to be liberals.)

The story even includes a screen capture from the commercial (to be aired next week on the Arab satellite networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya) of the Rev. Donald Shriver.

Glassman refers to the group only as a "month-old nonprofit advocacy group," but it's clearly left of center. Shriver, a convinced liberal, even opposes the death penalty for Saddam Hussein: "Do you treat the evildoer with the same evil in return?"

The group's own website contains campaign-oriented links to the left-wing religious magazine Sojourners and the liberal Interfaith Alliance.

" Abu Ghraib | Mark Glassman | Iraq War | Labeling Bias | Prisoners

Abu Ghraib, at the Movies

Film critic Stephen Holden is attending the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York, and though there's not yet a movie on Abu Ghraib out, Holden waste no time bringing the matter up.

His rundown of the festival's offerings begins: "Arriving right on the heels of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival has a new, uncomfortable resonance for those who habitually regard the United States as remaining above the moral fray. 'Persons of Interest,' for example, is a spare, modest documentary in which New York-area residents of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent describe their arrests and detainment by the Justice Department in the weeks after 9/11. The movie, which has the first of three screenings at the Walter Reade Theater tonight at 6:15, offers disturbing first-hand testimony of how the safeguards of civil liberty were relaxed in a time of panic".Because the film records only their versions of what happened, it is obviously one-sided, but the cumulative impact of their stories creates the sickening impression of people who are persecuted and humiliated on the flimsiest of excuses in a witch-hunting atmosphere."

Holden's never been reluctant to mix popcorn with liberal politics. Last December, he wrote on a documentary on the politics of electricity in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia: "When Georgia was a constituent of the Soviet Union, electrical power was state controlled and free. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia slid into chaos and civil war, and utility services crumbled. Desperate for electricity, the citizens improvised crude wiring systems to steal power."

For the rest of Holden's review, click here.

" Abu Ghraib | Stephen Holden | Iraq War | Movies | Prisoners