June 09, 2004


US-based Australian journalist Roger Franklin keeps a small bronze bust of Ronald Reagan next to his keyboard. But Franklin wasnít always a fan, particularly during Reaganís first term:

That Reagan was a twit went without saying, but I said it anyway, and with some vitriol. For example, there was the moron's blunder at the Detroit convention, where he said trees were worse polluters than cars. What a dolt not to know the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. How stupid would Americans be to elect him? But of course they did, and for the next eight years, most of what I wrote, including a whole book on corruption and fraud in the Reagan-era Pentagon, chronicled how the sunny fool in the White House was getting it all wrong.

Read the entire, utterly charming piece to learn why Franklin changed his mind. On a similar theme, James Lileks:

"The people have spoken, the idiots," I wrote in my journal after he was elected in 1980. I was living in a boarding house a block from the Valli, an English major at the U, a college paper columnist taking all the usual brave stances: Republicans are repressed hypocrites, Playboy insults women, etc ... 1984. We all believe that Mondale will win, because Reaganís stupidity and inadequacies are manifest to us. We are thrilled when Mondale announces he will raise taxes. Stern medicine, America! But Reagan wins. I repeat: Reagan wins in 1984. Somewhere Orwell is smiling, man. You can smell the karma curdling.

Again, read on to learn of Lileks' reason for change. Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky recalls the exact moment he became a Reagan convert:

In 1983, I was confined to [a 2.5m x 3m] prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of president Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire".

And from Spartacus:

Like most of my contemporaries growing up in liberal NYC, I voted against Reagan in 1980. By then I was already a disillusioned former lefty, whose attraction to socialist ideals had not withstood my first in-depth exposure to socialist realities, but as a heredity Democrat, I had yet to cross the line and actually vote for a Republican. I also felt somewhat personally invested in Jimmy Carter, since I had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of his, and admired his deeply felt morality, honesty and committment to human rights. Of course, I was not delusional enough to believe that he had been a good President and I may have even been slightly relieved when Reagan won.

Then thereís The Guardianís Peter Preston, whose opinion has never shifted: "Did Reagan, piling cruise missiles into Europe, dreaming star satellite dreams of zapping bad guys, truly win anything? Didn't he just watch the Soviet Union self-destruct on his watch?"

Watching on his watch? Great writing, Peter. By the way, while you dream of zapping Reagan, your own newspaper is self-destructing. On your watch!

Posted by Tim Blair at June 9, 2004 05:58 AM

Of course, when Reagan began to aggressively undermine the Soviet Union, the consensus was that the Soviets were plenty strong and stable, and not going anywhere. Lefties like Preston believed it was the wave of the future.

At least, they believed that until it meant that someone like Ronald Reagan made a difference.

Posted by: R C Dean at June 9, 2004 at 06:36 AM

Maybe Reagan was watching it on his watch, like one of those Dick Tracy ones.

Posted by: dorkafork at June 9, 2004 at 06:39 AM

Yeah, the Soviet Union just sorta fell apart while Reagan happened to be there. Just like how in 20 years, we'll be told quite confidently that Islamic extremism just sorta petered out of its own accord while Bush was occupying the White House.

Posted by: Russell at June 9, 2004 at 06:42 AM

From Roger Franklin's column- I did like Ronald Reagan, even if I didn't know it at the time.

That's a perfect summation of my feelings.

Posted by: Polly at June 9, 2004 at 06:53 AM

You know, if someone makes an impossible pool shot, it could be luck. However, if someone calls the shot and then makes it, that is skill. Reagan said what he was going to do, and then set out to undermine the Soviets and oppose them at every turn. He did just what he said he would do!

Posted by: Ron at June 9, 2004 at 06:55 AM

I admire Reagan as well, but I don't he think he caused the downfall of the Soviet Union. I think he was smart enough to accelerate its downfall.

The former USSR had economic problems well before Reagan was President. As I recall, they were spending far more of their gross national product on the military and state funded programs than did the USA. Very little was in the private sector, what little private business they had. Eventually, the USSR began to spend it's capital. That's when factories barely operated, people went hungry, soldiers didn't have ammunition (or grew food instead of training), and so on. In effect, the USSR shot itself in the foot with socialism. I remember strategic intelligence articles on this topic in the early 1970's.

But no one capitalized (ahem, yes, that's a pun) on that weakness until Reagan. He was was smart and bold enough to institute a strategy that forced the USSR into even deeper economic woes. This was all the more ironic because socialism ignores economics. Or at least the Soviets did.

And that was his contribution to winning the Cold War: he found the fulcrum for Archimede's lever to move the world. And then he used it!

Posted by: The Real JeffS at June 9, 2004 at 07:01 AM

Although SDI gets a lot of credit for the demise of the soviet union, the impact of the stealth bomber / cruise missle should not be ignored. The B-2, began in 1981 and "unveiled" in 1988, rendered the soviet air defense network worthless. The in place network had enough coverage to have a chance of detecting B-52's as they entered soviet airspace. When the B-2 because a reality, the network was now full of holes through wich a B-2 could fly with ease. To bring the network up to its previous coverage would involve at least four fold increase in radar sites and operating personnell. Given the size of the soviet border this was an incredible added cost.

Don't let anyone tell you Reagan was just there at the right time. The quantum leap in weapons technology of the 80's, combined with the pressure on the soviet army in Afghanastan, combined with the poisoning of the stolen technology (see http://theage.com.au/articles/2004/02/27/1077676960916.html?from=storyrhs&oneclick=true) forced the soviets to realize that they were losing and would keep losing.

Posted by: Rick V. at June 9, 2004 at 07:02 AM

I was a "moderate Republican" in college who went to the '76 convention as a Ford supporter. Reagan delegates seemed rabid and reactionary to me back then, and I had been warned to pack pearls and skirts and not my usual wrinkled khaki pants for all of the events, including travel to and from! I was bummed, but packed khaki skirts--

After the debacle of the Carter presidency, though, it was thrilling to elect a sunny "simpleton" whose wing of the party may have preferred women in skirts. Who knew that, despite flaws and mistakes in some of his governance, Reagan would turn out to be a domestic visionary and a geo-political savant? Huge credit, of course, goes to Margaret Thatcher for her partnership with Reagan, much like Tony Blair's with Bush re the Middle East.

(And, it's only skirts for me, now, because they are so much easier. But I draw the line at daytime pearls).

Posted by: c at June 9, 2004 at 07:04 AM

Let's assume, for argument's sake, nothing Reagan did caused or even accelerated the fall of the USSR.

In that case, he was merely the world's most brilliant and foresightful analyst when he declared that the USSR was bankrupt and would collapse in short order. He was a genius who saw what others could not, and whose prophecies were born out by history.

Whichever is true -- Reagan as liberator or Reagan as prophetic genius -- neither makes his critics look good.

Posted by: Warmongering Lunatic at June 9, 2004 at 07:23 AM

I'm happy to say that Reagan was the first president I was old enough to vote for. I thought there was very little chance of actually seeing the Soviet Union fall in my lifetime, but I thought the next generation might see it happen.

Okay, I'm not an optimist.

Posted by: John Nowak at June 9, 2004 at 07:29 AM

"Whichever is true -- Reagan as liberator or Reagan as prophetic genius -- neither makes his critics look good."

Exactly, Warmongering Lunatic!

Posted by: The Real JeffS at June 9, 2004 at 07:38 AM

How come we never hear of a conservative whose ideas have matured so that he/she becomes a liberal? Well, except for David Brock, but that situation's just BIZARRE!!!)

Posted by: Richard Blaine at June 9, 2004 at 07:43 AM

True enough that SDI was not built in President Reagan's lifetime but as I heard yesterday on NPR, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shrevrenadze (sp?) said (paraphrased) that "SDI was the most successful weapons system never deployed!"

It's funny to hear these unreconstructed Reagan haters say/write one thing while the consensus among former Soviets, party members as well as dissidents, is that The Gipper was The Man! Gorbachev will be at the funeral.

(sarcasm\) Personally, I think it was Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympics that sent Communism into it's death spiral. Yes siree, good ol' Jimmuh! (/sarcasm).

Posted by: JDB at June 9, 2004 at 08:22 AM

"My father was a man - that's the difference between him and Bush. To paraphrase Jack Palance, my father crapped bigger ones than George Bush."
ó Ron Reagan Jnr

Posted by: fubar at June 9, 2004 at 08:38 AM

Ron Jr. would be one of the biggest ones the Gipper blew out his rear end. Did the little boy check to see if his tights were on straight before giving that quote.

Posted by: superboot at June 9, 2004 at 08:41 AM

...did the little boy check to see if his tights were on straight before giving that quote...

Who cares? The quote's accurate.

Posted by: Byron_the_Aussie at June 9, 2004 at 08:47 AM
I'm happy to say that Reagan was the first president I was old enough to vote for.
Me too. I haven't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since (Paul, nobody, Browne and Browne), but I'm planning to do so this year. Posted by: Zev Sero at June 9, 2004 at 08:50 AM

Ronnie was right about trees vs cars.

He was talking ozone.

Of course the nuanced opposition failed to note that what he said was true.

BTW re: RRjr. I hear that under RR's regime gay bashing was out. Under Bush it is in.

Bush - good as he is - will never be the man RR was. He truly was a big tent Republican. The party these days is run and lead by such small men in comparison. Bush may have faith and hope but he lacks charity. It is sad. In time it will lead to the demise of the party.

BTW I voted for Libs since the Paul run. Not this year. It is hold my nose and vote Bush.

Posted by: M. Simon at June 9, 2004 at 09:42 AM

As for Bush Sr. - he was no compassionate conservative. Funny it was Clinton - under the prodding of the Congress - who was the compassionate conservative.

Hillary couldn't get her medical plan passed. So Bush Jr. is doing the heavy lifting for her.

What a crock.

Ah, well. Despite all I have against Bush I have to measure it against Kerry.

If Bush is a pygmy compared to Reagan, Kerry is a dust mote. No contest.

Why don't the Libs still get my vote? The war. They are on the same side as the communists. Feh.

Posted by: M. Simon at June 9, 2004 at 09:49 AM

The torch of Ronald Reagan has been passed to President Bush. Y'all are misunderestimating GW, which is fine. He may not be as glib as RR, but GW is a giant, made larger because he is standing on the shoulders of a giant.

Posted by: Polly at June 9, 2004 at 10:00 AM

Trees emit isoprene (deciduous trees) and monoterpenes (evergreens). These are volatile organic compunds, VOCs, That contribute to ozone pollution.

Different trees emit wildly varying amounts of these VOCs so, if you are planting trees to save the environment, choose wisely.

Posted by: Fred Boness at June 9, 2004 at 10:16 AM

Roger Franklin, and so many others are convinced Reagan was stupid. Smart enough to know what mattered, but stupid nonetheless. It's a little condescending, in Franklin's case.

So many people are coming out of the left/liberal woodwork to acknowledge Reagan's accomplishments, and then, as if to atone for their sheepish admissions, they mention how they don't/won't support Bush because he's an idiot without compassion (or charity) or some other weak bullshitty reason. And they ignore the similarities of philosophy between the two leaders (foreign policy simplisme and solutions to economic problems to name two small examples)

But the weakkneed eulogizers with their begrudging admissions of Reagan's success still want to be part of the cool gang. So they point to Reagan as an one time exception, and promise that they will hold their noses and vote for Bush, or remind us that he's no Ronald Reagan, or reaffirm their support for Kerry due to his strong stance on what exactly... Which, of course, makes these people all come off as incurably thick.

Posted by: jaz at June 9, 2004 at 10:18 AM

I admit it. I never liked Ronald Reagan, especially back in the 80's when I was struggling and it looked to me like he was dispensing obliviously smiley Howdy-Doody good cheer while his cronies were looting the country and trying to shove women back into the kitchen. But, besides being young and dumb, I didn't have any real, hard and fast political issues then.

I've since learned a thing or two. I still find things about Ronnie and Nancy that I will never admire, but he was a better president than I thought, and I wish he'd had a better end. If his funeral cortege passed my town, you bet I'd be out there with a flag and my hand on my heart.

Posted by: Rebecca at June 9, 2004 at 10:42 AM

I see that Sharansky was confined to "[a 2.5m x 3m] prison cell on the border of Siberia."

According to the original article, that's an "eight-by-ten-foot prison cell."

What, is English measurement illegal in Australia? Thank God Sharansky escaped that, along with Communism.

Posted by: James at June 9, 2004 at 11:48 AM

Anatoly Sharansky got me and my family out of the Soviet Union, as he had done for many others. A couple of years later he was imprisoned. He was freed in a spy swap, during Reagan's second term. The US got the better end of that trade.

Posted by: grant at June 9, 2004 at 12:28 PM

Richard Blaine: "How come we never hear of a conservative whose ideas have matured so that he/she becomes a liberal?"
In Australian media we've got Robert Manne and Malcolm Fraser but all they deliver is rhetoric and abuse. Pissed off they missed out on all that 60s hetero free lovin which is now against the leftie law.

Posted by: slatts at June 9, 2004 at 01:20 PM

Never thought I'd see the Soviet Union collapse in my lifetime. Always figured if things got real bad for the Soviets they would just pour on the anti-Capitalist propaganda to keep their citizens distracted. I imagined the Soviets would be doing what we see the ME fanatics doing in terms of manufacturing horror stories about the West.

When Reagan was president many people prided themselves on being much more sophisticated in how they regarded the Soviets and Communism in general. Gone was the stark black and white of the 50's where Communism was considered BAD. We had advanced beyond such simple thinking that came to be associated with 'witch hunts' for Communists.

Reagan had a lot of balls speaking as plainly as he did about Communism. He was already regarded as a joke by most of our media. When he said what he did about the Soviets, he was regarded as a lunatic. There was no way, we were told, that the Soviets' system was *that* bad. It may not be what we'd like, but it was healthy and was sure to last a long, long time. In many ways, their system was much better than the ugly Capitalism we had. How dare we presume to think our system was better than the Soviets'!!

I don't know if the Soviet Union would have collapsed as it did anyway and Pres. Reagan just happened to be lucky it happened on his watch. I tend to doubt it. I believe Pres. Reagan reaped the benefits of past US (and allies) policy towards the Soviets and Communism in general. He was able to see the time was ripe and acted. His actions, at that time, did cause the collapse to occur as it did. I believe he was encouraged in his actions by PM Thatcher. She shares some of the credit for what happened.

Pres. Reagan was not an intellectual. He was simple and plain spoken, but also wise. He was a great leader. I've learned it's possible to have a great intellect but not be very wise nor be a great leader.

(It's also possible to dislike some of a president's policies yet still give him credit for being a great leader.)

Posted by: Chris Josephson at June 9, 2004 at 01:28 PM

--and hope but he lacks charity.--

Oh, I really wouldn't say that, charity?

Personally, check out his tax return v Kerry and faith-based initiatives.

--Hillary couldn't get her medical plan passed.-- Yah friggin' whoo!

So Bush Jr. is doing the heavy lifting for her.-- Don't be too sure, 2006-7 could be very, very interesting business-wise.

--Pres. Reagan was not an intellectual.-- Just because he might not have lots of initials after his name, doesn't mean he's not an intellectual. Have you read the book "In His Own Hand?"

I have it, but haven't yet.

Posted by: Sandy P at June 9, 2004 at 05:13 PM


Reagan did dot support the Religious Right's progroms and hate fests.

Cal Thomas has a nice piece on that aspect of Bush vs . Reagan.

So I'd say you are thick for not being able to see even a Republican viewpoint on the issue let alone an independents's.

Reagan was a Goldwater Republican. Bush is not. Simple as that.

Having been a Libertarian for the last 20+ years I must say the Goldwater Republicans appeal to me more than the current high level of support for the antics of the Religious Right. Goldwatere had no use for them. Reagan paid them lip service (the big tent). Bush is in their pocket.

It will lead to a break up of the Republican party once the Democrats self destruct. (Comong this November to a voting booth near you.

Posted by: M. Simon at June 10, 2004 at 08:58 AM

Sandy P,

And during the 2000 election Bush said medical marijuana was a states rights issue.

Then we get Ashcroft who is as rabid in his hatreds as Reno was in hers. We have the Christian AG actually tring to put sick people in jail for using medicine he does not approve of. Ya fookin hoo. Some AG. Some Christianity.

On top of that Meese (Reagan's AG) tried the anti-porno bit and got no where with it. Since then the country has become MORE liberal on the issue and yet Boosh is giving it another run.

I trust Bush with foreign policy issues - the responsibility of the Federal Gvmnt. I do not trust him with domestic issues - the responsibility of the states.

Well there is a war on. Bush gets my vote. I'm none too happy about it because I'm sure he will use that as a sign that I have converted to his particular religion.

Reagan had a very great advantage over Bush - he grew up as a Democrat. I'm not familiar with how Goldwater figured it out. Bush - effectively clueless. Domestically he has no love for his opposition. The country is poorer for it.

What we need is Democratic compassion coupled with Republican effectiveness. What many would call a RINO solution. Government from the center.

Which is why I liked Clinton as Pres. and a Republican Congress. It tended to force government to the center.

Posted by: M. Simon at June 10, 2004 at 09:20 AM

"...the Religious Right's progroms and hate fests."

What the fuck are you talking about, M. Simon?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 11, 2004 at 11:46 AM

"Then we get Ashcroft who is as rabid in his hatreds as Reno was in hers. We have the Christian AG actually tring to put sick people in jail for using medicine he does not approve of. Ya fookin hoo. Some AG. Some Christianity."

Oh what -- did A$$croft steal your ganja?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 11, 2004 at 11:47 AM