The liberal intelligentsia has never understood him.
On the other hand, the liberal intelligentsia has never understood American conservatism, either. Both have been rudely attacked over the years by the Left, unwilling to engage in straightforward debate.
They called him a wild man and irresponsible and a lightweight. They called him a racist. They questioned his understanding of Washington and of domestic policy. They mocked him when he had the courage to call out the enemies of America. Didn’t he know our enemies just wanted jobs and a better environment, and they’d give up their evil ways?
They even mocked his hair. He had a beautiful wife, but the liberal elites loathed her as just some fashion maven, and not a true feminist.
He challenged the status quo, and they hated him for it. He spoke of the future, and they despised him for it. The commentariat must control all things including the bureaucracy and the story line. To take it away is a threat and any threat must be eliminated.
Of the harsh and personal attacks, one could be referring to Donald Trump, but in fact it is former President Ronald Reagan of which I speak (although it hardly matters). Even in death, a neocon with the American Enterprise Institute said harshly that Reagan was “caught in a sort of amber.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
The New York Times wrote in 1980 that the Republican Party’s platform of the era looked as if it has “been written by a Klansman.” This is the way liberals often work. It is right out of Saul Alinsky’s playbook. Don’t engage. Instead, attack and mock. Don’t ever grant legitimacy to the opposing viewpoint. The Post’s token Republican, Michael Gerson, who never met a Tea Party member he liked, has written that conservatives should stop being so negative. Huh?
If you constantly point out the need for ever more government to fix the imagined ills of society, then is not the Establishment Chicken Littles’ who are negative? To celebrate freedom and reject collectivism is positive. One might even say “enlightened.”
Reagan, of course, was not alone. Other conservatives were also derided and scorned. During the 1964 campaign, a group of psychiatrists signed full-page newspaper ads claiming Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was mentally unstable. In the 1950s, liberal writer Lionel Trilling mocked the conservative philosophy as just a “rash of irritable metal gestures.”
Even in death, the Left brutally attacked Reagan. The Washington Post set the tone and others followed. During the week of his funeral, everything from his economic policy, to his college football career to his marriage were questioned and criticized. Even the day he left office in January 1989, the Post editorially admitted they were “emphatically among” his worst critics.
They brutally attacked his movie career, and Post columnist Harold Meyerson said Reagan had “revived” class warfare, but it was Reagan himself who went out of his way to oppose the notion of class or economic warfare. He said, “Since when do we in America accept this alien and discredited theory of social and class warfare. Since when do we in America endorse the politics of envy and division?”
Still, the Post and the Times had to sometimes take a backseat to the three television networks’ ceaseless pounding of Reagan.
“Another favorite NBC theme in reporting on Reagan relies on his actor’s past. Thus Chris Wallace reported of Reagan’s campaigning, ‘It was a day filled with stagecraft,’ as if Reagan were the first candidate to practice that particular art. A month later, Wallace reported that Reagan ‘put on a Hollywood production today,’ and, near the end of his report, took a shot at the candidate’s age by saying he ‘finally got a friendly reception — at a retirement village.'”
This was written by Tom Shales, a columnist for the Washington Post. It was a pretty low bar to be defended by the Post, and attacked by the Post. But Shales was unique among Post writers, never joining the liberal Establishment, a courageous columnist.
More typically, reliable and applauded Post liberal writer E.J. Dionne recently made derisive references to “The Rush Limbaugh-Ted Cruz Permanent Revolution Complex …” as if it was a bad thing. The Post wrote approvingly of how former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2008 was pushing the GOP away from Reaganism to, what, Bushism?
On this, both Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz can depend: The liberal elites will always attack, mostly unjustly. The radical chic will always personalize politics — and will always make personal remarks about politics.
A prominent liberal writer recently penned that conservatism was dead, but maybe it is corrupt Republicanism, corrupt liberalism, and corrupt Establishmentarianism that are dead. American conservatism — based on personal freedom, personal ethics — is doing just fine.
Trump is learning conservatism as he goes along. Cruz is marinated in conservatism. As one Reaganite said, “The church ain’t just for the saints; sinners are welcomed, too.”
And so, too, are converts.
Craig Shirley is the author of several Reagan biographies. His latest book is “Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan.”