As Jonah Goldberg writes, for the left, “The only good conservative is a dead conservative,” a tradition that started in recent years with the left’s mock-canonization of Barry Goldwater:
Then there was William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, the magazine I call home. For more than four decades, Buckley was subjected to condemnation for his alleged extremism. Jack Paar (the Johnny Carson/Jay Leno of his day for you youngsters) was among the first of many to try to paint Buckley as a Nazi. Now, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times book review section, who is writing a biography of Buckley, insists that Bill’s life mission was to make liberalism better.
But it’s Ronald Reagan who really stands out. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Gipper is enjoying yet another status upgrade among liberals. Barack Obama took a Reagan biography with him on his vacation. A slew of liberals and mainstream journalists (but I repeat myself) complimented Obama’s State of the Union address as “Reaganesque.” Time magazine recently featured the cover story “Why Obama (Hearts) Reagan.” Meanwhile, the usual suspects are rewriting the same columns about how Reagan was a pragmatist who couldn’t run for president today because he was too nice, too reasonable, too (shudder) liberal for today’s Republican party.
Now, on the one hand, there’s something wonderful about the overflowing of love for Reagan. When presidents leave office or die, their partisan affiliation fades and, for the great ones, eventually withers away. Reagan was a truly great president, one of the greatest according to even liberal historians like the late John Patrick Diggins. As you can tell from the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth from the far Left, the lionization of Reagan is a great triumph for the Right, and conservatives should welcome more of it.
On the other hand, what is not welcome is an almost Soviet airbrushing of the past to serve liberalism’s current agenda. For starters, if liberals are going to celebrate Reagan, they might try to account for the fact that they fought his every move, alternating between derision and slander in the process. As Steven Hayward, author of the two-volume history The Age of Reagan, asks in the current National Review, “Who can forget the relentless scorn heaped on Reagan for the ‘evil empire’ speech and the Strategic Defense Initiative?” Hayward notes that historian Henry Steele Commager said the “evil empire” speech “was the worst presidential speech in American history, and I’ve read them all.”