by Ralph Brauer | 1/24/2008 10:55:00 PM
reagan with two faces

Ronald Reagan's paradoxes drove Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edmund Morris to the unorthodox solution of using his own biography to explain Reagan's. Handpicked to write the "authorized" Reagan biography, Morris found that even unprecedented access to Reagan materials left him scratching his head.

Damned if I can figure him out. Is he a political genius or a bore? [p. 5]
For many Americans, Morris' comment expresses the challenge Ronald Reagan's life presents, for like prospectors seeking a mother lode it seems the entire country has an obsession to understand our fortieth President. It will be interesting to see whether a century from now he will continue to attract those seeking some magic formula for leadership. The recent controversy over Barack Obama's comments about Reagan, again brought home how much this President still remains a cipher. I hope the following essay will also stimulate some debate.

The paradox of Ronald Reagan inserts itself early into his First Inaugural where he makes the statement most associated with him:
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.

What is virtually never quoted is the final sentence of this paragraph:

The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.
The current Republican Counterrevolution loudly broadcasts that they represent the true heirs of Ronald Reagan, but this sentence runs totally counter to the Counterrevolution's core belief that inequality is the prime mover of America. Democrats and Liberals, including me, have long seen Ronald Reagan as ushering in the end of the New Deal, yet here is Reagan sounding like FDR or Woodrow Wilson.

These two perspectives capture the paradox of Ronald Reagan: he is the President we associate with anti-big government rhetoric and yet on the other hand in the above quotation he seemingly advocates equitable solutions that resonate with the New Deal. In that paradox lies the political differences that have split this country since Reagan delivered those words looking out towards the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the white stone obelisk of the Washington Monument.

As you might expect, some commentators have resolved the paradox by viewing the speech as an example of Reagan's desire to please all Americans.

In a paper, "Ronald Reagan and the New Conservative Populism," historian Terri Bimes writes:
The striking feature of Reagan’s First Inaugural Address is the extent to which he toned down the more antagonistic themes from his earlier rhetoric and instead quickly moved toward consensual, unifying rhetoric.
Others have acknowledged the ambiguity. William Safire wrote a New York Times op-ed piece that sees Reagan's Inaugural as part FDR and part Barry Goldwater:
An FDR-style warning of economic peril, coupled with an attack on big Government as the source of our problem...[and more consensual themes] evoking memories of patriotic fervor, national will, and individual sacrifice.
The remainder of the speech only heightens the paradox. Reagan immediately follows his remark about equity with a paragraph about special interest groups, which he turns into a tribute to:
Men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we're sick--professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, "we the people," this breed called Americans.
This has been standard political rhetoric since the earliest days of the Republic--only the list of jobs has changed. In the context of the times, however, the "working Americans" line echoes those on the right who used it as a code word for an anti-poor, anti-welfare and sometimes even racist agenda.

On the other hand, Reagan's next paragraph revives the equity theme, restating it by repeatedly using the phrase "all Americans."
This administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans, with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs. All must share in the productive work of this "new beginning," and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy. With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world.
For those of you doing word counts, the word "all" appears five times. Contrary to the image of Ronald Reagan as a rabid ideologue in the mode of many Goldwaterites, this is inclusive rhetoric. There is nothing in these words of the divisive, name-calling rants of self-proclaimed Reagan heirs such as Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. This is not the divide-and-conquer language of a Karl Rove or Grover Norquist.

Yet no sooner has he finished exalting equity, than Reagan then returns to his anti-government rhetoric. The next six paragraphs reiterate this theme over and over, with sentences that must have warmed the hearts of conservatives who had longed to put an end to the New Deal. He even manages to work in the old states' rights doctrine dear to the heart of former Dixiecrats now turned Republican.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people.

It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.
Then comes the paragraph I not only consider the most remarkable in Reagan's Inaugural, but the most memorable.
How can we love our country and not love our countrymen; and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they're sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
It is amazing that these words have neither been widely-noted nor widely quoted. There is virtually no mention of them in any of the literature I have reviewed. Perhaps it is because they do not fit any of the conventional portraits that have been drawn of this President, but instead only add to the paradox.

The wording of this paragraph fascinates me. The key word is "we," which Reagan seems to be using in the collective sense of all Americans. "We" are to "reach out a hand when" our "countrymen" fall and "heal the sick." In other words, "we" have an obligation to help those in need.

The final words of the paragraph represent as clear and eloquent a statement of the level playing field as any spoken during the last century. Note especially that Reagan goes beyond the usual platitudes to state the equity must be something tangible "in fact, not just in theory." Curiously the president whose words these phrases most resemble is Woodrow Wilson.
Nor have we studied and perfected the means by which government may be put at the service of humanity, in safeguarding the health of the Nation, the health of its men and its women and its children, as well as their rights in the struggle for existence. This is no sentimental duty. The firm basis of government is justice, not pity. These are matters of justice.
But where Wilson specifically mentions government, Reagan does not. So we are left to ponder how will this "we" Reagan evokes provide for the imperatives he cites? Given this speech embraces the level playing field in one paragraph and then reverts to the ideology of the Republican Counterrevolution in the next, the critical question about Ronald Reagan relates to his own youth as a lifeguard. Did the man whose role was to save those who got in over their heads believe in helping them, even if it was their own fault, or did he believe in sink or swim, as William Graham Sumner would have it?

This question lies at the heart of understanding Ronald Reagan and his connection to the Counterrevolution. William Graham Sumner was a turn-of-the-century Yale professor and prominent Social Darwinist who believed in sink or swim. If someone was in over the head financially or other wise, Sumner thought that charity only served to perpetuate these weaker people. In Sumner's view those who struggled to overcome their near-drowning became stronger. The problem with Sumner lies in the truth we all acknowledge, which is that sometimes people accidentally step into a hole that puts them in over their heads and if no one is there to rescue them, they drown.

Perhaps the best answer to where Reagan stands on this issue comes in a speech Garry Wills alerted me to—Reagan’s 1981 address at Notre Dame, a speech he predictably wove around the story of Knute Rockne's famous "win one for the Gipper" pep talk and his own movie role as George Gipp. At Notre Dame, Reagan gave his own interpretation of the movie most associated with him. In a large sense he was analyzing his own life:

It was to his team that Rockne told the story and so inspired them that they rose above personal animosities. For someone they had never known they joined together in a common cause and attained the unattainable.

Later in the speech he would say:

Is there anything wrong with young people having an experience, feeling something so deeply, thinking of someone else to the point that they can give completely of themselves? (Quoted in Wills, pp. 146-147).

Now these are not words one would associate with either of the Presidents Bush or even with the Goldwaterites. Something far more interesting is going on here that leads me to offer a radical reinterpretation of the man people nicknamed "the Gipper." Far from being a rigid break with the New Deal and its idea of the level playing field, Ronald Reagan is a transitional figure whose life was guided by what I term the teamwork myth.

Ronald Reagan believed in a collective group functioning as one around a clear goal, which is why athletics weaves through so much of his life. But it is also the moral of his famous story about the bomber pilot and the wounded gunner. In Reagan’s telling, the gunner is trapped at his post unable to escape the crippled aircraft so the pilot, who is unable to extricate him, says, “We’ll ride this down together.” As several writers would point out, the story has to be false because if both went down with the plane, neither would have lived to tell the tale. When Reagan told the story to Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton during their visit to the White House, both of them found it ridiculous.

This is no William Graham Sumner story. Sumner would have found it as absurd as Keaton and Beatty. With his cold "survival of the fittest" logic, Sumner would have said, if the gunner managed to get himself trapped that was his problem. He also would have pointed out that the pilot's act made no sense, since if the pilot had chosen to rescue himself he would have lived to fly more missions.

But Reagan's twist to the level playing field consisted in believing that everyone on the “team” had a responsibility for everyone else. That is the moral of the doomed gunner story as well his citing the “win one for the Gipper” speech of Knute Rockne. Even in death, George Gipp asked that his dying somehow benefit the team. In the old tradition of the "captain goes down with the ship," the pilot could not leave the gunner.

Reagan himself remained the consummate team player throughout his life. Wills writes:
He functions best as part of a production team. (p. 371)
Even when General Electric fired him, he took one for the team, refusing to criticize the decision which clearly was made on political grounds. Where government fits into this philosophy, lies in Reagan’s view of America as a team. As a student at Eureka College, Reagan had taken part in a strike against an administration which his memory fashioned into a team-centered morality tale. The college president had proposed a reorganization plan with drastic cuts that in Reagan's words:
Was equivalent to cutting the heart out of the college. (Wills, p. 54)
The students responded by demanding the president's resignation and when the trustees refused, they went on strike. In a sense the Eureka strike mirrored his quarrel with the Democrats over what had happened to government. To Reagan, the federal government, like the Eureka administration, had grown too out of touch.

Curiously Reagan’s teamwork philosophy makes him closest to Dwight Eisenhower, his fellow Midwesterner whose military view of reality paralleled Reagan’s athletic mental model. Wills notes Reagan's governing strategies resembled Eisenhower's, but he does not mention this other, more crucial philosophical parallel.

However, Reagan never became an Eisenhower. The story of his administration in the numerous biographies or the telling oral histories of those who worked with him is one of turmoil. In an oral history interview conducted by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, longtime Reagan aide Lynn Nofziger captured the mood:
There were too many people in that White House, I think, who thought that Reagan should do what they wanted done instead of doing what Reagan wanted done.
There was a saying, most associated with Nancy Reagan, of “let Reagan be Reagan,” but those warring over his soul never really allowed that to happen. Nancy Reagan, often stereotyped as the Lady Macbeth of his administration, fought for her husband with mixed results. Nofziger believes Nancy Reagan made a huge mistake in overruling the choice of long-time Reagan aide Ed Meese for the position of Chief of Staff in favor of James Baker, whose main loyalty has always been to the Bush clan.

The war within the Reagan administration also was complicated by the assassination attempt, which left him incapacitated at a crucial time (Nofziger's interview reveals how close Reagan came to death) and the still unanswered question about when his Alzheimers first manifested itself. Reagan's hands-off leadership style and his well-known reluctance to fire people (which stems from his team philosophy) also played a role. The story of the Reagan Administration could be summed up with the observation that the paradox of Ronald Reagan became America's paradox, splitting the country in two.

The unreconstructed Sumnerites in his administration constantly sought to bend Reagan to their will, but were never completely successful. Reagan, for example, went totally against them by agreeing to a tax increase—for the team. Meanwhile Social Conservatives never won him over either. Their causes—abortion, school prayer—never became make-or-break issues for Reagan. The editors of his collected works point out that in all his speeches and other writings, Reagan only mentioned abortion once.

The heart of Ronald Reagan, as opposed to those who claim to be the keepers of Reaganism, lies in his belief that government, like the Eureka administration had lost touch with the “team.” In fairness to Reagan, any objective observer has to acknowledge that there is some merit in Reagan's criticism of big government, as anyone who has dealt with a government agency can testify.

Ronald Reagan never read Max Weber, but his critique of government has an eerie parallel with Weber's. A German who wrote in the early years of the twentieth century before "bureaucracy" had become a dirty word, Weber believed that organizations made up of professional civil servants were essential for modern society. He wrote:
The purest type of exercise of legal authority is that which employs a bureaucratic administrative staff. (Parsons, p. 333)
While historians, sociologists and political scientists have generated a considerable literature modifying, improving upon and discounting Weber, he still is recognized today as one of more important early voices attempting to understand the bureaucratic society that would characterize modern institutions from business to education.

Yet Weber also saw bureaucracy's dark side. He predicted that bureaucrats themselves might zealously guard their positions and their turf to the detriment of society. He also worried increasing specialization could hamstring bureaucracies. But most of all, he feared bureaucracies could become rigid and inhuman. Weber often uses the metaphor of the machine to describe efficient bureaucracies, but he recognized that people were not machines:
The individual bureaucrat cannot squirm out of the apparatus in which he is harnessed...In the great majority of cases he is only a single cog in an ever-moving mechanism which prescribes to him an essentially fixed route of march. (Gerth and Mills, p. 228)
Weber believed that bureaucracies could become immovable, impersonal and intractable. This led him to speculate about the relationship between bureaucracies and democracy. In a passage that anticipates Ronald Reagan he wrote:
'Democracy' as such is opposed to the 'rule' of bureaucracy..Under certain conditions democracy creates obvious ruptures and blockages to bureaucratic organization. (Gerth and Mills, p. 231)
When Weber foresaw that the qualities of individualism and equity that come with democracy will at some point lead people to resist specialization and becoming a "cog in an ever-moving mechanism," he could have been writing about Ronald Reagan.

In a curious way, our oldest president, a man in whose mind mingled the small town Midwest, Hollywood glitz and Knute Rockne myths, reframed the crucial question Weber raised, a question that has become perhaps the most crucial issue of this new millennium: how do we remake government so it is more responsive to the people?

In the years after the First Inaugural, Reagan himself would lean more and more to the anti-government side, as his administration began the rollback of many New Deal reforms. Interviews with Nofziger and some of the other members of the Reagan inner circle suggest a much more complex image of the man and his presidency, than either liberals of conservatives have been willing to acknowledge. Perhaps the major irony of Ronald Reagan's life is that the man who worshiped teamwork, never really had a team.

Two decades later neither Republican nor Democratic Presidents have provided a satisfactory answer. The Bushes, father and son, with much prodding from Karl Rove and others tried to take America back to the era of William Graham Sumner. Meanwhile in the uncertain winds that have become the Reagan legacy, Bill Clinton could only triangulate, like a sailboat captain whose only concern is to weather the storm.

So Ronald Reagan’s challenge remains unanswered. It still awaits someone who will get beyond Sumnerism and triangulation. Whether Reagan’s teamwork philosophy with its echoes of Franklin Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln fosters a “new birth of freedom," in Lincoln’s words, represents a curious anachronism or ends up a footnote that echoes the feelings Beatty and Keaton had about the bomber pilot story remains an open question.




Blogger Unknown on 1/26/2008 12:58 PM:

You're taking a unique and controversial position here on Reagan, that he was really better than his defenders have made him out to be. I don't know whether I agree with you, but I do think this deserves wider dissemination. Accordingly, I'm nominating it for this month's History Carnival.


Blogger eOz on 1/26/2008 1:17 PM:

Reading your diary, I wonder if in Reagan we can see a natural paradox: a man who envisioned a goal and then had it come to pass. In envisioning, a mythos grew which brought him confidence and a sense of peace with himself. In enacting, he contended against events and circumstance, pulling him away from his center.

In the inaguration address, the mythos of the team was in the forefront, but the reality of his new position was that he was leader of a party which only four years before had believed itself dead. He was coming to power along with a hungry generation of people in Congress and all with a sense of renewal and indefinite possibility.

But in ruling, Reagan found it hard to be interested in the details. He moved from high point -- thematic moments of movielike reality in which he could immerse himself in the mythos and find renewal -- to high point, slogging through the time between by allowing his team members to do as they pleased as long as he got to set the bounds they could not exceed.

He prayed for the game gods to grant his team the victory in each round, each legislative battle and each crisis. When wounded, he joked. His instincts were pitch perfect at moments when he could see the movie. But most of the time, he had to ride herd on a "revolution" and a whole herd of young bucks chomping to prove a theory of governance to which he had to bend and try to channel.

Many of those young bucks, now older, remember Reagan as a symbol of their chance to be a part of that revolution. But Reagan himself was only really satisfied in the next speech at Normandy; the next meeting with Gorbachev; the next moment standing before the Berlin wall and calling for it to come down. In those moments, movie moments, imbued with the sweet synchrony of posing for history and living in history, Reagan found his greatest joy.

Our nation suffers still in the wake of that revolution and now must move beyond it. Reagan is now myth -- the myth that the Republican party did not die in 1976, but transformed into a ruling coalition which can lead the nation into the future. It has taken thirty years for the party to truly die.

John Dean, in Conservatives Without Conscience, candidly points out how the conservative movement itself is a counter poise to the liberalism of the Enlightenment; a rearguard action which ebbs and flows as the liberal expression falters and finds its footing again. In the end, the Constitution, faithfully and fairly followed, will expand with the liberal movement and contract with the conservative one.

Reagan himself loved the language of liberalism because he loved being in the moment of history unfolding. He savored the words which put him in the spotlight of that moment whenever possible. But he emerged as party (e.g., team) leader when those he led were fired up to rip apart the faltering liberal movement. When we get to Rove, the ultimate geek, we get to the "permanent Republican majority" in which liberalism itself could finally be stopped and diminished.

But for all the power of Reagan's rhetoric and depth of his passion for the liberal unfolding, he ultimately failed to "lead" his admirers. His myth puts the intent of his words into a box and belies the reality of his Administration's policies.

The People were afraid and tired in 1980. They gave in to their own weakness. They assumed the Constitution would take care of itself and went for short-term goals thinking themselves safe from the consequences of that behavior. Now we are older, and those consequences are back with a vengence. As Reagan-the-myth recedes into soft focus and the patriotic music swells, the theater is empty except for those who cannot leave to face the real world outside.

The People are turning to task. They sense a great work remains undone. They gave the Republicans one last chance in the 2004 election and their first warning in 2006. To the extent the party continues to cling to their determination to destroy the liberal expression, they are now facing their own death as a political presence for a generation. The ghost of 1976 has been held at bay while the People's attention was diverted, but only for a season.

That ghost now walks the nation. I have had so many discussions with people who "voted for Bush, but now regret it". The younger Bush's face now hangs before their eyes and Reagan's is an irrelevant anachronism. The moments of history are long gone. The Cold War is over. The War On Terrorism a pale and poor substitute.

The Sumnerites will not turn from their course. They can't. They have no way out of their box. Trickle-down economics, peace through strength and morning in America are ideas whose time has come and gone because reality requires problem solving, and thus is a well-known liberal conspiracy.

FDR had Henry Wallace to solve problems. Nixon had Kissenger. Reagan had Peggy Noonan, and all she could do was write great words for the great moments history provided. The problems remained unattended, and have grown. As the spell of words wears off, the "revolutionaries" are left with the raw import of their ideas, but still no solutions.

Opposing social security does not solve the problems it has grown to address. Opposing butter in favor of guns leaves no residue of good will among the People and weakens them. People are tired of being weak. People are tired of being ignored and berated. People are tired of being "lead" in circles.

The defeat of the Republicans and their generational death -- finally -- will leave Reagan a vague image hanging on the wall. His pretty words will be forgotten, without the power of those of FDR and Kennedy. FDR's New Deal and Kennedy's legacy (actually enacted by Johnson) solved problems, and those solutions still stand, assailed as they have been by the Sumnerites. Their words are attached to those living expressions of liberalism. Reagan's words hang in the air and fade into old photographs in a theater which will soon be empty altogether.


Blogger Unknown on 1/26/2008 1:26 PM:

eOz, it's so good to have you back.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 1/27/2008 2:34 AM:

Reagan's words hang in the air and fade into old photographs in a theater which will soon be empty altogether.

I love it.


Blogger Unknown on 1/27/2008 11:40 PM:

Of note: you've also been given top billing in Zenpundit's occasional Recommended Reading post. And he's a Republican!


Anonymous Anonymous on 1/28/2008 11:13 AM:

Give me a break Ronald Reagan brought the United States closer to the Eve of destruction then the Cuban missile crisis. In 1981 as the maiden vogue of the space shuttle landed I was deployed with Destroy Squadron 7 (DESRON 7) into the Sea of Okhotsk to test the Soviet Unions early warning defenses. DESRON 7 was in the Sea of O for a few days before the Soviets figured it out. Once they knew we had violated their borders they sent costal patrol boats to follow us south at the same time a Soviet Cruiser battle group left Vladivostok heading north and cut us off. I was on the frigate USS Bradley 1041 it was the smallest ship in DESRON 7. When the two battle groups meet head to head the Soviet’s choose the USS Bradley to incinerate first all of the Soviets fire control was locked on to the USS Bradley. I was the Combat Information Center supervisor at the time (pre drug testing day) remember and we left Hawaii before going north so I had a good stash. So let’s say I almost missed the significance of this mission until the Electronic Warfare supervisor started freaking out screaming this is a violation of NATO. The Soviets were in their final phase of their fire control sequence all that was left for them to do was press the button. The soviet aircraft had also surrounded us from the air.

DESRON 7 entered the Soviet Union waters with all its electronic gear in a passive mode that in its self is an act of aggression and the Soviets had all legal rights to defend it self. The Soviets had all legal rights to waste DESRON 7 yet the Soviet Union blinked and Reagan and Bush went on to bring down the great nemesis. So personally I know depths that Neocons will go to get all the oil.

I would not think twice to urinate on Ronald Reagan’s grave.


Blogger Unknown on 1/28/2008 11:34 AM:

Jesse, he doesn't like Ronald Reagan. He likes Ronald Reagan's style. It's possible to value that and still dislike the man, as most (all?) good liberals do.


Blogger Jesse Hemingway on 1/29/2008 12:36 AM:

This comment has been removed by the author.


Anonymous Anonymous on 1/29/2008 12:58 AM:

I am not a good liberal the neocons know exactly the way good liberals will react that is the reason they have gotten away with what they have. That is why the criminals in this executive branch will walk out of the white house; rather then being executed or sent to prison for the rest of their natural life because they know good liberals will let them get away.


Blogger Unknown on 1/29/2008 1:24 AM:

Jesse, I acknowledge your frustration, but my point still stands: even evil people can do good things. Hitler fixed the German economy. Stalin saved the Russians from takeover in World War II against enormous odds. They're not good people or good leaders, but there's nothing wrong with acknowledging their few good points while condemning them in toto.


Blogger Ralph Brauer on 2/01/2008 12:23 AM:

Sorry to have been out of the loop for awhile, but had a rather frightening experience with a dead battery and 50 below wind chill and then lost my hard drive.

First, thanks to Jeremy for the nomination.

Second, to have inspired the eloquence of eOz was worth the effort.

As for the issue of Ronald Reagan, I'm afraid not many people got it. First, you need to separate Reagan the man from what some have termed Reaganism--which frankly I don't think Reagan himself would own up to.

Second, it's sad, but liberals and Democrats still don't want to answer Reagan's question. Forget what your opinion is of Reagan--what ANSWERS do you have? I, for one am tired of hearing people wanting to piss on Reagan's grave. We have an old saying up north--don't piss in the wind or you get messy. The issue is what is your answer--how do we make government more responsive? Quit bitching and DO something--or offer some ideas.

Finally, I did not have space in this essay do go into a thesis I am working on, but as I read the oral history interviews with the likes of Nofziger, etc. it is clear Reagan was not the same person after the assassination attempt. My physician father believed there were signs of his Alzheimers in the debates with Mondale.

In many ways Reagan has become for Democrats like FDR was for Republicans: a symbol. I am no fan of Ronald Reagan as anyone who has read my book or my blog can testify. But I believe history is about trying to understand the whys of events.

As an activist--and a former basketball coach--I also believe you need to switch strategies if you are losing the game.

Finally, whining about the past gets us nowhere.

I was hoping this would inspire some constructive thought, that's why I threw Weber in.

Curiously, Weber believed the only way bureaucracies could be overcome was with charismatic leadership--which he was the first to try to understand. Hence Barack Obama.

Second, John McCain is winning the GOP race precisely because he is the most authentic heir to the Reagan legacy. He will be a formidable candidate.

So Weber and Reagan DID have it right: 2008 may well come down to charisma vs anti-bureaucracy.

It should make for one of the more seminal races in American political history. On the other hand if Hillary Clinton wins (see my new post)McCain will take her to the cleaners. Of course, McCain's future depends on whether he can continue his end run of the Religious Right. Expect Huckabee to stay in if there are any prospects of his being able to broker a deal.

Reagan's words DO hang in the air, which is evidence of the power, not their weakness. There is no one else in the last quarter century whose words hang anywhere. Words hang in the air for a reason and that reason lies in their connecting with feelings and beliefs held by many people. You may not like them but that does not diminish their power.

The theater is far from empty, instead people on both the left and right continue to stay in the theater far after the show has ended. The comments on this essay are testimony to that.

What we need is not clever metaphors but a new script.

Oh, and one more thing--Reagan's bio and personal correspondence make it clear to me he was no neo con. That's the Bush Dynasty.

As for DESRON 7, this is s history blog. Please show me what decisions Ronald Reagan personally made to take us "closer to the Eve of destruction." This is just a theory, but first his hands-off style suggests I doubt he played much of a role at all. Second, it is safe to say Reagan personally did not precipitate deliberate conflicts with the Soviets--that is one of the criticisms the neocons have with him--that he should have pressed harder. If anyone longed for WWIII it was Alexander Haag and not Reagan.

So let the fur fly. The Democrats truly need an answer to Reagan's question or they will lose 2008. I welcome a spirited discussion of possible answers.