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Sometimes, 'What Would Reagan Do?' is the wrong question

The right doesn't seem to remember what Reagan did after a Russian fighter jet shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983.
A statue of former President Ronald Reagan is seen February 6, 2014 at the entrance to Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.
A statue of former President Ronald Reagan is seen February 6, 2014 at the entrance to Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.
After the public learned last week that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 had been shot down, killing all 298 people on board, it wasn't long before an obvious comparison came to mind: in September 1983, a Russian fighter jet shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007. The attack left 269 passengers and crew dead, 62 of whom were American, including a member of Congress.
Olivia Kittel noted that for many Republicans, President Obama should not only follow Ronald Reagan's example from 31 years ago, but also that Obama is already falling short of the Reagan example.

In the wake of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner crash, Fox News has rushed to conveniently rewrite history to disparage President Obama by drawing false comparisons to former President Ronald Reagan's response to a 1983 attack on a Korean airliner. 

After Fox News said Obama wasn't Reagan-esque enough, plenty of other conservatives soon followed.
Let's take a brief stroll down memory lane in case some have forgotten what actually happened in 1983.
After the Soviet pilot killed 269 people on a civilian airliner, Reagan's aides didn't bother to wake him up to tell him what happened. When the president was eventually briefed on developments, Reagan, who was on vacation in California at the time, announced he did not intend to cut his trip short. (Reagan's aides later convinced him to return to the White House.)
Last week, Obama delivered a public address on the Malaysia Airlines plane about 24 hours after it was shot down, calling the incident an "outrage of unspeakable proportions." Reagan also delivered stern words, but in contrast, he waited four days to deliver public remarks.
So what is Fox talking about?
More from Kittel's report:

On the July 17 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly connected the July 17 tragedy to the 1983 Korean airliner crash, highlighting Reagan's speech in response and noting in comparison that Obama has "been accused of 'leading from behind.' " Fox contributor Chris Stirewalt compared Reagan's response to Obama's, saying Reagan's response made Americans feel "reassured and resolute," and Kelly echoed that Obama's response "makes him look unconnected and makes a lot of Americans feel unrepresented." [...] Such comparisons applauding Reagan's 1983 response to attack Obama have reverberated throughout Fox News. Andrew Napolitano invoked Reagan's response to insist Obama should "get on national television and call Vladimir Putin a killer." Fox correspondent Peter Johnson Jr. said of Obama, "I think the president needs to take a page out of Ronald Reagan," while Fox strategic analyst Ralph Peters suggested Obama's strategy should reflect "clear speech, a la Ronald Reagan, backed up by firm action and with follow-through."

This over-the-top Reagan worship isn't just wrong; it's ironic. In 1983, some of the prominent conservative media voices of the day actually complained bitterly that Reagan's response was wholly inadequate.
George Will -- yes, that George Will -- called the Reagan White House's arguments "pathetic" at the time, insisting, "It's time for [Reagan] to act."
The president responded publicly with rhetoric that made the president sound rather helpless. "Short of going to war, what would they have us do?" Reagan said. "I know that some of our critics have sounded off that somehow we haven't exacted enough vengeance. Well, vengeance isn't the name of the game in this."
One wonders what the reaction would have been from the right and the Beltway media if Obama responded with similar rhetoric to a comparable situation.