During the early Reagan presidential years, I must admit that I was less interested in politics, cold war strategies and international philosophies than other more pressing issues such as football practice after school, Bruce Springsteen concerts and trying to impress a certain girl (for the record, it took me until well into Clinton’s second term to close that deal).
As I entered college at Berkeley and began to assistant teach at a local primary school, my world view opened up a bit (ending up as the roommate of the president of the Berkeley Young Republicans probably had something to do with my newfound political leanings).
We each remember these years when we first became passionate about issues (and in my case, that I needed a new roommate). I remember those feelings fondly.
But I don’t remember hating Ronald Reagan. While I was already a Democrat, I viewed presidential elections largely as personality and popularity contests. I still think that’s one of the better ways to look at executive level politics. You really need a president during those moments of resolve or mourning that you couldn’t necessarily have imagined when you went to the polls. It is at these moments when leadership and, yes, personality are paramount.
Today, I’m not sure I could imagine myself voting for a Republican for President. That’s really sad. But our political dialogue has been so soiled by personal attacks and bitter rivalries that it is difficult for most people to consider reaching a hand out to those who, after all, are merely part of another segment of the same team.
When news of Reagan’s death first broke, there were a few familiar pundits who chose to use the moment to remind viewers of the terrible liberals who never gave Reagan his due. But during the course of the weekend, that tone quickly gave way to a tone more, well, Reaganian.
On Meet the Press, John McCain reminded viewers of what that tone was all about and lamented that, but for this weekend, it is all but lost in modern political dialogue:
“I do think that Ronald Reagan had a kindness and a gentleness about him that not only worked in Europe, but here in the Congress, which brings up an important point. Ronald Reagan did some very controversial things. The partisanship that existed in the 1980s was as strong, and — the Contras, the Persian cruise missiles, tax cuts, all of those things. But after 6:00, he and Tip O’Neill would get together and tell stories and enjoy each other’s company, and that was true in other parts of Capitol Hill.
“Now, we have such bitter partisanship and such personalization of politics that I know Ronald Reagan is very disappointed, very disappointed that–look, it’s fine to fight all day long, but we don’t have to dislike each other personally, nor do we have to attack each other, nor do we have to polarize the nation. I think if there is a legacy of Ronald Reagan, let’s stop this and let’s start working together for the good of the country.”
Man, I’d really like to have a beer with John McCain.