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June 13, 2004

Nice Aim

Not surprisingly, James Lileks captures the essence of the Reagan haters extremely well. You'll have to read his piece to understand my title, but this part, addressing a point more succinctly made than many have done, brought back a memory from a few years ago:

He was heartless! He didn't talk about AIDS at first — as if the people at risk would have taken sex tips from a 72-year-old they didn't like. As if a presidential order clearing Needle Park and shutting down the bathhouses would have met huzzahs.

In summer and fall 1999, working in Massachusetts, I periodically had lunch with a gay coworker. After one lunch, he bought a newspaper on the way back to the office and was perturbed by a story about a police raid on a Boston bathhouse. Having never had such places described to me in terms that went much beyond "creepy gay hangouts," I asked for details.

Upon hearing his explanation, I gave a little laugh and said that hatred of homosexuals mightn't be the first rational motivation to infer on the part of the officers. His facial expression suggested that he'd never heard such an opinion, but he let it go, and we went back to work. No, I don't think many huzzahs would have been forthcoming for President Reagan had he taken that approach. The erroneous view that would whipped back at him is still with us.

On other aspects of Reagan's presidency, some media types have suggested that they missed much of what went on during his administration, and it seems likely that he'll be remembered well by history. On that count, however, Lileks suggests that Reagan — the first president for whom "open contempt for a sitting president was no longer sole property of the intelligentsia" — might have been the last to benefit from the leaven of years:

No doubt George W. Bush also waits content for the judgment of history; if he wins a second term and secures the peace, he may think he'll go down in the books like Reagan.

But history isn't written by the victors anymore. History is written by the historians. By the people who write masters' theses with titles like "Janet Jackson and Abu Ghraib: The Inappropriate Breast and Postmodern Paradigms of Oligarchical Media Meta-themes." Such bright minds are more likely to bury Reagan than to praise him, and drape the headstone with garlic just in case.

Note that I'm not sure whether there's a typo or an imperfectly honed point in those two paragraphs. If even Reagan is going to be "buried" by historians, then President Bush is most definitely going to "go down in the books like" him, but not in a way that admirers of either would like.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 13, 2004 3:39 PM