Posted on June 30, 2004


Monumental Mistakes

Leave "Weeeeellll" enough alone


Daniel Clark


Since Ronald Reagan's death, and for a number of months preceding it, lots of ideas have been suggested to memorialize him. Tragically, they have been almost uniformly ill-conceived.

Weeeeeeell, let's not get carried away

One suggestion that's been made is that Reagan's likeness should be carved into Mount Rushmore. This is a bad idea for at least a few reasons. For one, that would make three Republicans on the monument to only one Democrat. If a vote is taken on the proposal in Congress, you know that the usual "moderate" Republican senators will agree to let the Democrats add, say, Woodrow Wilson and LBJ, for the sake of bipartisanship.

Secondly, if the sculpture should crumble in the process, Reagan would be vilified as the man who destroyed Mount Rushmore. He'd probably even be likened to terrorists who target American landmarks. Just imagine the "documentary" some boob could make out of that.

Besides, the four presidents now on the mountain were all chiseled there by the same sculptor. A fifth image added after the fact would not be likely to blend in. This is especially true now that we're in the artistically-challenged NEA era. Look at some of the more recently sculpted "tributes" -- like the FDR-Mr. Potatohead display in Washington, and the Arthur Ashe "American Werewolf in London" statue in Flushing Meadow -- and the flaw in this plan should make itself evident.

Another idea is to rename the Pentagon after the former president. While this sounds like a fitting tribute, anyone can see that the new name would never stick. The Pentagon has been so named since it was built in 1943. Trying to change its title now would be like selling the naming rights to an old baseball stadium. Candlestick Park was always Candlestick Park, and The Pentagon will always be The Pentagon.

There have been repeated calls for Congress to put Reagan's face on either the dime or the ten-dollar bill. One slight problem: they're already occupied. Reagan himself would probably be alarmed by the thought of removing Alexander Hamilton from the ten. How would future generations of educationally-impaired citizens know to become curious about who Hamilton was, if they didn't see his face on their money?

A Republican-controlled Congress cannot remove FDR from the dime in favor of Reagan, because of the precedent that would set. Every time political power changed hands, those in the majority would kick the opposing party's heroes off the currency in favor of their own. Next time the Democrats won control, they might remove Reagan, along with his fellow Republicans Lincoln and Grant, to make room for Democrat icons like Alger Hiss, Whoopi Goldberg and Mikhail Gorbachev. Let's not set those gears in motion.

Hamilton, we hardly know ye

Reagan would be the most obvious choice to put on any newly-minted currency, but those never last. The Kennedy half-dollar, the Jefferson two-dollar bill and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin are now answers to trivia questions. Half-baked suggestions that the mint begin producing $25 or $40 bills just for the sake of having a place to stamp Reagan's portrait would be more likely to ridicule his memory than honor it.

The only good idea that the federal government has yet proposed is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, which was christened in 2001. Naming an air craft carrier after the president who rebuilt the American military and won the cold war makes sense. Our armed forces were one facet of government that President Reagan thought needed to be bigger. He did not hold that same belief about the rest of the federal government.

Nevertheless, Congress voted in 1995 on the naming of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, a massive new government building that is home to, among other tenants, the Environmental Protection Agency. Reagan had famously tangled with this extra-constitutional, unaccountable, hyper-regulatory agency throughout his presidency. Naming the EPA's new home after him is a mockery. What's next, the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Internal Revenue Service?

If America is going to pay its respects to Ronald Reagan, the most appropriate thing for the federal government to do is nothing. It should get out of the way, and let all those people who attended the president's memorial services return home with ideas of their own. Pretty soon, Reagan's name will be appearing on street signs, schools and parks everywhere. Which do you suppose would make the Gipper happier, to see his name on a high school football stadium in rural Illinois, or on an ostentatious government building housing bureaucracies he'd like to have gotten rid of decades ago?

Unlike a certain other former president who's been in the news a lot lately, Ronald Reagan never absorbed himself in concern about his "legacy." When asked about it directly, he would not even single himself out for recognition, but would instead modestly predict, "I'm confident that history will judge us fairly."

waving goodbye

So far, he appears to have been correct. Reagan's recently discovered letters and radio scripts have caused many surprised liberal academics to concede that past depictions of him as a simpleton were mere caricatures. The consistency of his writings with the positions he would hold as president years later shatters the once popularly held perception that he was little more than a charismatic puppet for some mysterious cabal of conservative policy wonks.

Only the most recalcitrant leftists now persist in denying him credit for imploding the Soviet Union. Acknowledgments of this at his funeral sent a dazed Gorbachev off sputtering that "we all lost the Cold War." More than a decade after his government was felled, he now offers to call it a draw. Nice try, Gorby, but nobody's buying it.

Remember that it was Gorbachev, and not Reagan, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the great conflict between their two nations. But who, outside of Norway, cares? No sensible person thanks the loser of a war for being a failure. More and more people are coming to acknowledge that it was Reagan, Thatcher, and their allies in the free world who won the war, and that it is they who deserve the world's thanks. Gorbachev's medal -- an honor not unlike those that people are so eager to give the late president -- is now as worthless as a $40 bill.

Reagan's heroism has never been recognized by the committee in Oslo, but it can be seen by anyone who's willing to pull his nose down out of the air long enough to look at a map. The fact that one would find no Soviet Union and only one Germany is more than just a geographic curiosity; it is a representation of the hundreds of millions of people that were freed through the defeat of the Evil Empire. That makes every modern-day globe in the world a miniature monument to Ronald Reagan, and there's no tribute on the drawing board in Washington that can compare to that.



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