Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pining for Reagan

There was an op-ed in the HoustonChronicle Sunday which unfortunately I cannot link to but still want to comment on.
It was written by a recent high school graduate from Houston who is currently a freshman at Ohio University. It is essentially an ode to Ronald Reagan entitled “Reagan: We love the man we didn’t know; Why ex-president is an inspiration to young conservatives”.

I find the article interesting because it gives one a glimpse of the mindset of a young conservative today. The girl is obviously enamored with Reagan the same way I was when I was a freshman in college 20 years ago. The only difference is that Reagan was still president when I was in college and she wasn’t even born yet.

She begins the article by using some weak anecdotal evidence to try and establish that conservatives are slowly gaining ground on liberals, who she believes are still the dominant political force in the country. She attended a taping of CNN’s Crossfire - probably as part of a group of College Republicans - and notes that when asked who was their favorite president the audience cheered most loudly for Reagan. She also describes how Bush-Cheney campaign posters adorn “several bedroom doors” at her sorority house and how “one room was nearly wallpapered with them.”

Then she makes the following observation:
“When our parents were in college, students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Today, you won’t see many armbands, but you will see plenty of cars and backpacks adorned with yellow ribbons - a symbol of support for the troops.”

The only reason we aren’t seeing daily mass protests against the war is because we have an all-volunteer military doing the fighting. If we still had a draft that was forcibly sending young people from all walks of life to face the roadside bombings and snipers in Iraq you would see more than just black arm bands at this point.
But aside from that, one should not assume that yellow ribbon stickers equal unqualified support for Bush’s war. I have a yellow ribbon sticker on my truck (next to my Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker) because I too support the troops. But my idea of supporting the troops is to bring them home as soon as possible, not leave them hanging out to dry in some never-ending quagmire.

Next, she tries to explain why there has been this “generational turn to the right” by linking it to 9-11.
”In a post-9/11 nation, 1960s feel-good liberalism is no longer practical. As young people, my generation witnessed the most devastating attack ever to occur on American soil. It traumatized us. The peacnik vision of ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and disarming the enemy with love and kindness is a nice dream, but most of us reject it as not only foolish, but potentially deadly. We can’t deny the very real threat of terrorism.”

Wow. I guess I missed that plank in the Democratic Party platform about disarming the terrorists with love and kindness. I wonder too, what she would think if liberals had actually been in charge of things when 9/11 happened, instead of a Republican Congress and a Republican president who had repeatedly ignored the warnings of the top terrorism expert in the government.
But even though the Democrats in the last election nominated a Vietnam era war hero to go up against a guy who went AWOL from the National Guard, they are still viewed by young conservatives as the party of Flower Power Hippies handing out beads and chanting anti-war slogans at every opportunity.

Then we get into the favorite meme of today’s young conservatives - the everybody’s out to get us victimization syndrome. Conservatives were becoming dominant on college campuses back when I was in school. Republicans have controlled the White House for 24 of the last 36 years and currently control both Houses of Congress and have appointed 7 of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court. And yet we get treated to the argument in this essay that young conservatives are under attack and are having to buck the system in order to get their views heard:

”It’s no secret that liberal thought dominates almost every aspect of the university - from the administration to the student newspapers. Like the campus leftists of the previous generation, conservative students are eager to ‘Question Authority.’ We argue with professors, write passionate letters to the local papers and join the College Republicans to meet other like-minded students. Our lack of representation fuels the fire. Talk to any conservative student and you’ll find that we often view ourselves as an oppressed minority constantly fighting to make our voices heard.”

Lack of representation?? An oppressed minority fighting to make our voices heard??? What planet is this girl living on?!?
It absolutely amazes me that in spite of controlling every aspect of our government for the past five years, Republicans can still persuade their impressionable youth that they are an oppressed minority fighting against a liberal establishment. What will it take for them to finally admit that they are in power and to start taking responsibility rather than blaming it all on “liberals” or whatever the current bogeyman of the day is?

Capping off her essay, the young conservative explains why her generation would rather embrace the late-Ronald Reagan than current President George W. Bush.

”Unlike George W. Bush - criticized even by conservatives for being too divisive - Reagan was the Great Communicator, speaking of America as the ‘shining city upon a hill’ and restoring hope to an entire nation. He led us out of the darkness of the late 1970s and into a decade of peace and prosperity...”

In Bush’s defense, Reagan was considered divisive during his tenure too. The difference perhaps is that Reagan actually had to work with a Democratic Congress to get things done, something that Bush has not been constrained to do. So Reagan came across as more amicable in some areas where Bush has been seen as very one-sided and partisan. But there was also a dark side to the Reagan administration that this young conservative has probably never been exposed to - such as the way they opted to use illegal channels to pursue their foreign policy goals when they could not get what they wanted through the Congress. With Iran-Contra, Reagan authorized the sale of weapons to the Ayatollahs in Iran and then funneled the profits down to Nicaragua to finance the anti-government insurgency there. When Reagan went on national television shortly after the scandal was exposed and lied about it I began to lose my faith in his presidency.
As for prosperity during the Reagan years, that was mostly financed with massive deficit spending on military programs that led to a tripling of the national debt. It was the next decade - the 1990s - where the country actually experienced what I would call ‘peace and prosperity’ under a Democratic president who balanced the budget for the first time in years and helped guide the country during an unprecedented boom time that far exceeded what we saw during the Reagan years. But that all came to an end when Bush the Younger came to power. Since then we have been mired in a never-ending economic stagnation, record deficits and a war in Iraq that was launched under false pretenses and now threatens to bog us down for years to come both militarily and financially.

It’s no wonder young conservatives today would rather pine for Ronald Reagan than laud George W. Bush.

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