In all likelihood, it’s probably too late to think the political world will remember any of the details of Ronald Reagan’s actual presidency. Indeed, the mythologizing will almost certainly get worse – I half-expect “Reagan” to become a verb, to mean “to stop all foes through force of will and stern looks.”
But the Republican preoccupation with doing whatever they think Reagan might have done in any given situation occasionally gets a little silly.
A proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine’s fledgling pro-Western government stalled Thursday amid festering Republican Party feuds over foreign policy.Tensions erupted on the Senate floor late in the day after the chamber did not advance the measure, with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) berating the dozen or so of his Republican colleagues who, for various reasons, objected to the legislation.“You can call yourself Republicans. That’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Ronald Reagan would never – would never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to by the American people.”
Look, the 1980s were a while ago and the political world has a notoriously short memory, but Reagan wasn’t a comic-book character. He was a president whose record is readily available to anyone who bothers to look.
And the notion that Reagan “never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to” is wholly at odds with how the Republican icon actually governed.
Kevin Drum flagged some helpful tweets from Dan Drezner, himself a center-right scholar on international affairs, who offered a quick history lesson for those who don’t remember the Reagan era quite as well as they should.
* When Soviet-backed Polish leaders cracked down on Solidarity activists, Reagan didn’t do much of anything.
* When the Soviets shot down KAL 007, killing 269 people – including a member of the U.S. Congress – Reagan went to the United Nations, but not much else.
* When terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847, the Reagan administration had no qualms about negotiating with them.
* When terrorists killed 241 Americans in Beirut in 1983, Reagan didn’t do much of anything except run away.
I’d just add that this terrific chart from Adam Serwer shows the number of attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts abroad soared during Reagan’s presidency.
How is this possible? Didn’t these people realize that the U.S. president at the time could Reagan them with his Reaganness?
Russia’s moves in and around Ukraine represent a crisis, but let’s not assume Reagan had some magical leadership powers that could stop these provocative acts or prevent these kinds of developments from happening in the first place.