Ronald Reagan and the Liberal Left


This is not the Ronald Reagan I thought I knew.

In this memorial week, an unfamiliar picture of Reagan has emerged. Reagan read the economist Hayek. Reagan took his holidays with journalist William F. Buckley. Reagan was an essayist with wide interests and deep knowledge.

When Reagan was in office, we were encouraged to think of him as an “amiable dunce,” the hand puppet of corporate interest, the entirely teleprompted president.

As a devotee of the liberal left, I bought it. This is not the place for a recantation of the ideological indiscretions of my youth (though I recant, I recant). It is the place to wonder how and why the Liberal left could have made an error of this order.

I believe the Liberal left continues to treat “we’re smarter than you” as their trump card. It is the fount of their scorn. It is proof of their political qualification. It is the argument that “proves” that they are right and ‘those bastards” are wrong. It was their charge against Reagan. It is their charge against Bush. This is one of the mightiest planks of their platform.

There are two problems here.

First, the charge of intellectual inadequacy absolves the Liberal Left from having to take the ideas of the Right seriously. It is indeed a way of arguing that the Right does not have ideas, that it is merely the mouth piece of vested interests. Ironically, the claim to intellectual superiority serves as warrant for an anti-intellectual act.

Second, there is a vicious circle at work here. When the Liberal left supposes that they are smarter, they underestimate the opponent. When they underestimate the opponent, they lose when they might have won. By insisting they are smarter, they give up a chance for victory.

How bright is that?


Reagan, Ronald. 2001. Reagan, In his own hand. New York: The Free Press.

3 thoughts on “Ronald Reagan and the Liberal Left

  1. Puck


    I think it’s arrogance of the bleeding heart variety.

    I returned to the US Sunday night and watched the news wondering if in fact I had landed in the US I had grown up in. My recollections of the liberal left’s position on Reagan seemed to have been replaced and a new character had emerged.

    I can in some way (optimistically?) attribute this phenomenon to human nature and the way in which time often has its way of adding a patina to our past, or, similarly, hands us a pair of rose-colored glasses that we willingly lift to our faces.

    Time is the great neutralizer, the one thing in life we can count on to provide us with perspective and the chance to allow our experiences to find their meaning. Only time allows us to look back on an ordinary day and see it as extraordinary – it can dim the memory of pain and add luster to any object or experience. How else can a day at the beach as a ten-year-old be the best day ever spent, or Bordeaux tasted fourteen years ago forever be unsurpassed?

    We subscribe meaning to contextualize our lives and remind ourselves that we can live vividly and fully.

    Either that, or all the left wing libs finally wised up. I wonder what crow tastes like.

  2. george raft

    It’s “We’re smarter than you” not “Were smarter than you” and Reagan was never painted as not knowing exactly what he was doing, with the exception of SNL skits.

    There are lots of things that Reagan could have done better, but nobody called him an amiable dunce. In fact he knew when he said “We will not negotiate with terrorists”, that it was only for public show and that he didn’t really mean it.

    The other thing about having movie stars run for office is that they are already heroes of one generation or another, so they can do no wrong. I could never stop myself from voting for Arnold for instance. That wouldn’t make him fit for office. (Please don’t modify the constitution to allow him to run for president). 🙂

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