It may be disturbing to some of my fellow progressives that I would consider conveying positive thoughts on a political opponent who was not only vexing as the central character in the hard right turn the Republican Party ultimately swung to, but who oversaw policy changes that were so diametrically opposed to what all progressives believe in and fight for.
However, if all of us were honest we would have to respect the man on some levels even though he held views contrary to our own. It may be unsettling to those on the right and left to reflect on the possibility that we all share similar views equal to, if not greater than those that we diverge on. But to illustrate this point is anathema to those who constantly seek to manifest discord amongst us all.
In this time with a political atmosphere where vile words are spoken not only among citizens but equally as well with on-air personalities and politicians themselves, an aspect of Reagan’s character tends to reflect a calm and inviting approach to hammer out details of issues that split political adversaries. Having differences and being passionate about them doesn’t have to entail mannerisms and speech that exaggerate any reality and inure people’s stance to the point of threatening obstruction and chaos.
This awareness of Reagan that progressives tend to ignore (which I consider myself among) was brought to light recently in a Parade Magazine (PM) article written by Reagan’s son and youngest child, Ron, in a piece entitled “Remembering My Father”. I have always had a certain amount of respect for the younger Reagan because unlike many other popular political progeny, young Ron was not a copy and paste imitation of his father.
When progressives were railing against the Reagan administration policies back in the 80’s, Ron Reagan was voicing like-minded opinions, to the dismay of many conservatives. It was so obvious as Joe Scarborough pointed out on his MSNBC show back in 2004 saying that “Ron Reagan and his sister, Patti David, even in the 1980s, during their father‘s administration, were way to the left. I mean, they were very liberal, and everybody knew it.”
But even overtime as Ron’s views mellowed out as he became involved in journalism he never belittled his father nor did he revert to an antagonistic conservative. His comments in his PM article reflect the images that distinguished his father from the politics of his day even though then there were animosities among political rivalries. One telling scene on this in Ron’s account of his father was when he was preparing to go into surgery to remove the bullet that the mentally disturbed John Hinckley, Jr fired into him back in March of 1981. Reagan jokingly inquired of the doctors “Please tell me you’re all Republicans”.
Even then there was a sense that political bitterness had brewed over to a level where thoughts of violence or cruelty were remarked on by the President of the United States. What stuck out in this exchange between the President and those surgeons fixing to put him under the knife was the calming retort of the lead trauma surgeon Dr. Joseph Giordano — a liberal Democrat — who told him, “Today, Mr. President, we’re all Republicans.”
Reagan could have been embittered himself following this incident from listening to those on the right who reflected a hate for their political adversaries. Some of the reactions from those on the left were no less acerbic. David Brock noted in his 1993 best seller “Blinded by the Right” that he converted to conservatism in the 80‘s because he “became disillusioned with some of my experiences with the left on the campus” at Berkley. One instance was when Reagan’s Ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, was jeered by the students and not allowed to finish her speech she had prepared for her appearance there. But as young Ron points out about his father, “he was so naturally sunny, so devoid of cynicism or pettiness”.
Hate the man all you want who suggested that nutritional meals in school lunch programs could supplant ketchup for solid vegetables and who distorted the threat of abundant CO2’s in the atmosphere when he naively declared that “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do”, but I honestly can’t recall my view of him would ever encourage his supporters to use “second amendment remedies” to alter the outcome of a legitimate election, accuse the leader of the free world of being a racist or publicly say “you lie” to him, or incite citizens to defy the constitutional mandate regarding the census.
For all the hoopla that many on the far right invoke regarding Reagan, little is commented on the “naturally sunny” nature of the man who was “so devoid of cynicism or pettiness”. He may have had his perceptions about the political opposition that stretched the imagery beyond reality as when he stated that “fascism was really the basis for the New Deal” following his failed 1976 campaign for the Republican nomination, but such erroneous claims were not the invectives we hear from the far right fringes today.
Following the tragedy at Tucson that took six lives while attempting to kill Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, we all need to reflect back on Dr Giordano’s words to Reagan. We may not all be Republicans or Democrats or even Independents but we are all Americans. We are and always have been a diverse lot and our success has been built upon our ability to coexist in a manner attributed to Voltaire nearly three centuries past: “I [may] disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
It’ s an easier journey when we find the common ground between us than the hate that threatens our great democratic experiment started some 250 years ago.