Tuesday, January 17, 2006
On this day:

Ayers: "Bothered by facts" on Reagan

Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004. Not long after his death, on July 11, The Anniston (Red) Star's publisher H. Brandt Ayers, wrote a column remembering the late President. He said (my emphasis added):

His intellectual curiosity ended when he quit reading Reader’s Digest as his political career began to absorb him. From that point on, every new thought or deed had to fit in the tight box of his conservative philosophy.

If he was a distant father and friend without curiosity, then was it his accomplishments that made him an outsized leader? Hardly.

He weakened the nation and worried allies by a spending spree that tripled the national debt. He lost more lives in Lebanon than Clinton did in Somalia and Bosnia combined, and Reagan did little to ease the pain of Palestine, the infected tooth of the Middle East.

His disciples credit him with defeating Communism. Historians will say the Soviet Union died of the internal contradictions of state socialism, and the historic efforts of an Atlantic Alliance stretching back to Truman. Reagan viewed the corpse, and pronounced it dead.

There is no doubt that he was magnificent, thrilling at the public theater of statecraft, a leadership trait lacked by both Bushes, Ford and Jimmy Carter. Who can forget, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"

How different he was from the approachable Bill Clinton. Because Clinton was not distant, was touchable, smart-ass superior journalists could cartoon him as a balloon-nosed performing clown.

It was Reagan’s very remoteness that made him larger than life, a figure who inspired both awe and warmth, a totem above the reach of media into which people could project their desires for self and country.

Who was Ronald Reagan? Only God and Nancy Reagan know.

That diatribe was typical of Mr. Ayers's writings about President Reagan over the past two decades: belittling, spiteful, and completely out of touch with reality. It shows why I've never cared much for Mr. Ayers's opinions nor for his publication. But, it also makes it oh-so-sweet to note that Mr. Ayers has recently had a change of heart about President Reagan.

In his latest column, Mr. Ayers admits that it was his own stubborn ideology, not President Reagan's, that prevented him from seeing the light sooner.
REAGAN RE-EVALUATED: One scientific test of how hardened a person is in his or her ideology is this: Are they bothered by the facts? I’m happy to report I haven’t reached ideological rigor mortis because trustworthy facts have improved my opinion of Reagan’s foreign policy.

Jack Matlock’s book, “Reagan And Gorbachev, How the Cold War Ended,” is to blame for my rising opinion of Reagan. I’ve known and respected Jack since 1975 when he was the No. 2 man in our Moscow embassy.

Subsequently, he was the Soviet specialist on the White House National Security Council, executive secretary to the Saturday breakfast meetings of Vice President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and CIA director William Casey, and, finally, he was President Reagan’s choice as ambassador to the U.S.S.R. in its last years.

For those of us whose judgment was clouded by distance, the president’s unfortunate “Evil Empire” speech and his reputation as an uninformed, right-wing noodle will be surprised, as I was, by Jack’s book.

The man was serious, hard-working and sincere in wanting better relations with the Soviet Union. Reagan’s work habits differ from those of George W. Bush, who favors one-page, double-spaced abstracts. Jack writes of Reagan taking, reading and making marginal notes on every page of a six-page, single-spaced policy memorandum during a Camp David weekend.

Jack’s ultimate insider view is of a man who didn’t want to gun up the arms race to do the Soviet Union in. He wanted better relations to end the arms race and might have achieved that aim sooner if three Soviet leaders hadn’t died on him.

His book is an intimate CAT Scan of the men who together pushed on a crucial hinge of history and opened a door to better, though not perfect, relations.
Welcome to the real world, Mr. Ayers. Perhaps we should get you up to speed with a brief course on supply-side economics.