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 “were 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.