Jewish World Review June 7, 2004 / 18 Sivan, 5764
Respect is his due
One of the reasons I fought so hard a few months ago against that sleazy TV Reagan movie was that the former President simply didn't deserve that kind of display. CBS, I believe, came to the same conclusion when programming boss Les Moonves finally began paying attention to the project and decided to dump it. Although the film ultimately aired on a cable station, few Americans saw it.
The left-wing ideologues screamed censorship but the real issue was respect. Ronald Reagan deserved the respect of Americans even if they disagreed with his political point of view. The truth is that Reagan was a decent man, a patriot who did not deserve to be mocked in his final days by some Hollywood pinheads with agendas.
Generally speaking, Americans responded to Ronald Reagan because he seemed accessible to them. He came across as a nice guy who loved his country and respected its traditions. No question, his acting ability helped him foster that public image, but everybody I've spoken with who knew the man said the same thing: There was no malice in him. He had strong beliefs but was not ruthless in imposing them.
There are some Americans who believe that Reagan was one of our finest leaders. Certainly, his strong stand against the Soviet Union changed the world for the better. He also put forth a good moral example, and America's image throughout the world was greatly enhanced during his tenure.
The biggest deficit I saw in Reagan was his failure to capitalize on his enormous popularity to initiate social change. Here's an example. Reagan was firmly against abortion on moral and historical grounds. I have a handwritten letter by him dated Jan. 14, 1980, when he was trying to capture momentum in the presidential primaries. The letter says this: "I have a very strong belief that interrupting a pregnancy means the taking of a human life. In our Judeo-Christian tradition this can only be justified as a matter of self-defense."
A simple statement but one that could have engendered worthwhile debate. But Reagan did not want to market his personal beliefs to the nation and to the world. I saw that reluctance as an opportunity lost.
It has only been 16 years since Reagan left the presidency, but things have changed a bit, haven't they? President Bill Clinton was a polarizing figure and so is President Bush. Today we have bitter ideologues on both sides that see politics as blood sport and any dissent as a threat. The age of Reagan was notable for its lack of viciousness, at least in public. Because of his Alzheimer's, the former President missed the degeneration of the political debate over the past decade. I believe it would have saddened him.
History will be kind to Reagan because he himself was kind to so many people, and what goes around definitely comes around. We Americans should be proud we elected this man to the presidency and should remember what he stood for: freedom, self-reliance and pride in the land of his birth. You can't go wrong with a legacy like that.
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