Yesterday I linked to some of the more interesting articles that have been written in the wake of Ronald Reagan's death, but I somehow missed the best article of the lot: a Rick Perlstein piece on the late president that appeared yesterday in Salon. Perlstein's tone is exactly right: he's critical of the dead without sounding nasty or disrespectful, and he begins with a nice point that had never occurred to me. ("I feel bound to respect Ronald Reagan, as every American should -- not least because he chose a career of public service when he could have made a lot more money doing something else, and not least because he took genuine risks for peace.") Here's one key passage:
It is a quirk of American culture that each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater.
Nowadays, as we grapple with the malevolence of President Bush, it's Reagan we remember as the sensible one. At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, let memory at least acknowledge that there was much about Reagan that was not so sensible.