Politically, it's fair to say that I am a child of the Ronald Reagan era. In the late 1970s, I was just old enough and perceptive enough to understand that things were really sucking donkey balls in America. I kept hearing about "inflation" and "recession" on TV. The Russians had invaded some place called Afghanistan. There was an "energy crisis." There were some 50-odd American "hostages" in "Iran" and the evening news would keep count of the days they had been held. "Day 73," this Ted Koppel guy would intone. "America Held Hostage."
In the midst of this mess, every once in a while, this fellow in a suit and tie would come on TVusually interrupting one of my favorite showsto talk about one or more of these problems. This was The President. "Jimmy Carter" was his name, and he struck even meyes, me, a bookwormish 94-pound 8-year-old with a tragic bowl cutas a colossal wuss. Even I could figure out that this guy would have trouble running a Cub Scout meeting, much less an entire country.
Then, in 1981, Ronald Reagan took office, and from my admittedly provincial viewpointi.e., fourth gradethings started slowly but surely getting better. We got our people back from Iran. The economy, after tanking miserably in the short term, recovered with a vengeance. And Americans started feeling good about themselves again. I would listen to Reagan's speeches and find myself in agreement with most of them.
By the time 1984 rolled around, I was a staunch conservative Reaganite, subscribing to the National Review and slapping a "Reagan-Bush '84" bumper sticker on my eighth-grade locker. I really and truly admired Ronald Reagan. He wasn't perfect, certainly. But he got the big things rightjust like FDR, Abraham Lincoln, and others before him.
I have voted for Democrats when circumstances have warranted. But largely because of Reagan's influence during my formative years, I tend to vote Republican and have worked for Republicans in the past. I don't have anything against "The Guv'mint" per se, but I do think it sticks its nose in too many places it doesn't belong and tends to grow in inverse proportion to its effectiveness. I dislike paying taxes for things that the private sector can take care of as well or better, and I especially dislike paying taxes for no other reason than to allow elected officials to buy off special interest groups to perpetuate their own political power. I have always been a fan of an H.L. Mencken aphorism, which I paraphrase: "Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel." That pretty much sums up my view of government spending and taxation.
But in recent years, I've found myself all over the map politicallyand for that, believe it or not, I have Ronald Reagan to thank. Let me explain. On so-called "social issues," I guess I'm kind of a mish-mash. Take homosexuality, the big social issue of this year. I am, I suppose, an apostate to the traditional conservative set. My belief is that homosexuality is more or less a congenital trait that, in practice, does not affect anyone else in any substantive way. Therefore, discrimination against homosexuals should not be tolerated in the public sector.
However, I am generally against any effort to impose nondiscrimination policies in the private sector. For one thing, unlike some other forms of discrimination, I believe the market is taking care of this one on its own. In this day and age, with the homosexual demographic as affluent as it is and with the work ethic it has, a businessperson who wants to discriminate against homosexuals is dumb indeed. Let's face it: When Wal-Marta "red state" company if there ever was onehas a sexual orientation anti-discrimination policy, we've turned a real corner. Give Earth a few more revolutions around the sun and this problem will take care of itself.
Abortion? I would prefer to avoid the issue like the plague, but if I have to pick a side, I guess I am in the pro-life camp. But I have a "pox-on-both-their-houses" attitude toward the folks on both sides of this issue, who seem to operate on the theory that time stopped in 1973 after Roe came down. The war in Iraq? I am a supporter, but not one with rose-colored glasses. Immigration? Bring it on. I love America and want to share its possibilities with as many people as possibleas opposed to bilingualism, which, I hasten to add, is a bad educational policy. Not to denigrate any particular foreign language, but English is the language of this country and should be taught to non-English speaking people in America so that they will maximize their economic and social opportunities here.
So where does all of this put me on the political spectrum? When pressed on the matter, I label myself "center-right," which seems as good a description as anything else. I would like to come up with some sort of clever political label for myself, but I can't really think of one, although I am partial to UT law professor's (www.instapundit.com) apt description of himself as "Anti-Idiotarian." I'm just me, on a bit of a political odyssey, much as a few of my political heroesReagan (switched from Democrat to Republican), Winston Churchill (switched political parties not once but twice) and Benjamin Franklin (went from being pro-British to virulently anti-British radical)did. Of course, just because I'm on an "odyssey" doesn't necessarily mean I'm shifting significantly. I may well end up pretty much where I started. Who knows?
Which brings us back to Ronald Reagan. As I write these words, I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel south of Baltimore. Last night I barely slept a wink. I spent most of the night in line for the public viewing of Reagan's flag-draped casket. It was a six-hour wait, but the time went fairly quickly because of the terrific people also waiting patiently in line.
It was a nice mixture of folkswhites, blacks, Hispanics, youngsters, oldsters, Northerners, Southerners, military men and women in dress uniform (quite impressive given the heat), and so on. All there in high temperatures and high humidity, for no other reason than to spend one last moment with the former president. We're talking about maybe 60 seconds or so maximum in the Rotunda. (They pushed us through with a cold efficiency reminiscent of thee teenagers who used to run Opryland's Skyride.)
The conversations we shared were mostly about Reagan himselfwhat people remembered, why he touched them, why they cried when he revealed his bout with Alzheimer's in 1994, why they cried again when they heard that he had finally died. It was all rather celebratory, in the spirit of an Irish wakewhich, given Reagan's heritage, is quite fitting.
If all of this sounds cheesy to you, that's fine. I understand that. It is sort of cheesy, I guess. If you don't feel the same connection to Reagan that I do, that others do, hey, different strokes for different folks.
I mention Reagan in this piece not because it's just a current event but also because I realized around this morning that he is much of the reason I have grown politically ambivalent. Frankly, the man spoiled me.
I keep looking for someone else like him. Someone who can speak to people where they are, who is quite comfortable in his or her own skin, and who has a set of firm beliefs grounded in experience and common sense. I can't find that person anywhere. All I see in the Republican Party are people claiming the Reagan mantle but paling in comparison. They don't have his communication skills. Or they don't understand why he believed the things he did. Or they don't have the fundamental affection for people that he did.
The Republicans of today are sort of like the Democrats in the 1960s and '70s, claiming to do things in the name of a great leader but often falling short. For Democrats, in the recent past, it would be FDR. So many politicians today are just understudies. I want the star. I'll just keep on looking.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to honor President Ronald Reagan on the day set aside for his memory, in a way he would have appreciated. I am going to take a long nap.