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The Uses and Abuses of Reagan

Michael Gerson makes a silly claim:

Over the past few years, Reagan’s internationalism, moralism and strategic aggressiveness have been out of favor in much of the GOP.

The first thing we must understand is that Gerson is abusing Reagan’s reputation to vindicate the shabby and discredited record of George W. Bush. Reagan’s “internationalism, moralism and strategic aggressiveness” have not been out of favor. Bush’s disastrous abuse of American power, his ignorance about the rest of the world, his contempt for allies that refused to participate in his foolish and ruinous plans, and his reckless and self-destructive behavior are out of favor. The two really have nothing in common, but it is useful for Bush’s flunkeys to claim that they are one and the same. Wrapping their errors in Reagan’s mantle makes them seem a little less egregious and harmful, but it can’t erase their huge and costly errors.

One of Bush’s flaws is that he governed as more of a hard-line ideologue than Reagan ever pretended to be, and another is that he claimed to be an internationalist while making a mockery of America’s reputation in the world. Republicans should not be deluded into thinking that they are obliged to follow Bush’s example in order to honor Reagan, but neither should they feel compelled to respond to contemporary events as if nothing had changed in the last thirty years. It would also serve them well to remember that Reagan did not govern as the combative ideologue that sometimes came across in his speeches. It is far from certain that Reagan would sympathize with the knee-jerk hawkish views that Gerson is trumpeting, but the world is so different from the Cold War era that it isn’t all that relevant. In the end, that is what hawks have to offer right now: a distorted, reductionist idea of “what Reagan would do” and a dangerous, confrontational approach to relations with other major powers that Reagan didn’t always follow when he was in office.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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