Would America Have Been Better Off Without a Reagan Presidency?

February 5, 2011

His simple-mindedness had a touch of genius to it.

By Christopher Hitchens

"The centennial memoir of his famous parent by Ron Reagan (My Father at 100), which at first sight looks as slight as its author, is better than many press reports might suggest."

 Read More (Slate)


HJ said...

So, he's now a qualified admirer of Reagan. Hmmmm....

HJ said...

I say because it is strange of him to say this, "His simple-mindedness had a touch of genius to it" when in a fairly recent Slate article he wrote:

"The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn't like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon."

And then he goes on to repeat the same story about the Glasnost Cafe in which he simply wonders whether or not Reagan was a better choice for the end-of-the-Cold-War moment.


It seems embarrassing to have two articles essentially saying the same thing with two subtitles saying very opposite things:

"The stupidity of Ronald Reagan"

Anonymous said...

to HJ: Not really, no contradiction.

Despite Reagan's redeeming qualities, he was still as dumb as a stump.

Anonymous said...


Just break down the sentence.

"His simple-mindedness had a touch of genius to it."

The "touch of genius" is a quality of "his simple-mindedness," not of Regan himself.

Hitchens is basically saying that Regan was so stupendously dumb that he just sort of worked out.

HJ said...

The "touch of genius" is a quality of "his simple-mindedness," not of Regan himself.

It doesn't do it for me I'm afraid.

It would be like reading, "Falwell's hucksterism had a touch of nobility to it."

Some people would view that as a climbdown and indeed if you read the recent article on Reagan you won't read him saying anything close to this:

I only saw him once up close, which happened to be when he got a question he didn't like. Was it true that his staff in the 1980 debates had stolen President Carter's briefing book? (They had.) The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard.

Although even that article might be watered down compared with what he used to say about Reagan. (Anyone been into the archives?)

HJ said...

Anyway, my point was that he is now a qualified admirer of Reagan. That is to say that once he despised him and all his works but has gradually arrived at an appreciation for at least his end-of-the-Cold-War moment. I think that is even more clear when looking at the two articles again.

Allow me:

First article:

However, there came a day when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Washington and when the Marriott Hotel—host of the summit press conferences—turned its restaurant into the "Glasnost Cafe." On the sidewalk, LaRouche supporters wearing Reagan masks paraded with umbrellas, in mimicry of Neville Chamberlain. I huddled from dawn to dusk with friends, wondering if it could be real. Many of those friends had twice my IQ, or let's say six times that of the then-chief executive. These friends had all deeply wanted either Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale to be, presumably successively, the president instead of Reagan. They would go on to put Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen bumper stickers on their vehicles. No doubt they wish that Mondale had been in the White House when the U.S.S.R. threw in the towel, just as they presumably yearn to have had Dukakis on watch when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I have been wondering ever since not just about the stupidity of American politics, but about the need of so many American intellectuals to prove themselves clever by showing that they are smarter than the latest idiot in power, or the latest Republican at any rate.

I think this was partly a dig at those who were mocking Hitchens's current comrade, Gerog W. Bush. But then:

It was extraordinary that, in Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan was dealing with a man who knew that the Soviet Union could not sustain the arms race and a man who was out of patience with the satraps of East Germany. To Gorbachev goes an enormous share of the credit. But if I run the thought experiment and ask myself whether Walter Mondale would have made a better interlocutor in 1987, I cannot make myself believe it. This does not involve un-saying any of the things about Reagan that his admirers would prefer us to forget. But it does acknowledge the distinction between a historic presidency and an average one. Reagan's friend Margaret Thatcher once said that the real test of her success was the way that she had changed the politics of the Labour Party. By that standard, the legacy of Reagan in permanently altering the political landscape is with us still.

So, Hitchens seems to have finally made up his mind that Reagan was the man for the moment even though he held off from quite saying that in 2004.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Republicans still idolize Reagan is proof of his powerful legacy. Some Democrats also praise "the great communicator". One need not be an admirer to recognize this.

He was the man of the moment, like it or not, whether he deserves the credit or not.

To say "Mussolini had the trains running on time" does not necessarily make one a "qualified admirer" of fascism.

Let us not blinker our observations in order to cling to an ideological path.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir