Reagan Reborn: Nostalgic Republicans Make a Myth out of the Gipper

By Dejevsky, Mary | The Independent (London, England), December 11, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Reagan Reborn: Nostalgic Republicans Make a Myth out of the Gipper


Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)


Almost a decade after he slew the `evil empire' and rode off into the Californian sunset, Ronald Reagan is making a comeback. His politics may have been superseded or discredited, his faculties may be fading, but the man Americans called `the Gipper' is fast becoming a legend in his lifetime. Mary Dejevsky explains why.

It is practically like old times. The doyen of right-wing Washington think-tanks is celebrating. The speaker is Margaret Thatcher, on "courage". The award-winner is her golf-buggy partner in world affairs and vanquisher of communism, Ronald Reagan.

But last night's festive dinner was to celebrate the Heritage Foundation's 25th anniversary. Baroness Thatcher is out of power, and Ronald Reagan sent his apologies: he is living out his days in California in a gathering haze of Alzheimer's confusion. The award was accepted on his behalf by his one-time Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger. If the real Ronald Reagan is otherwise engaged, though, the Reagan myth is building with a vengeance. Bolstered by popular affection for "the great communicator", it is being assiduously cultivated by a political right in search of a hero. Consider the last two Republican presidential candidates - and it is understandable why Republicans are harking back to Reagan. George Bush, Reagan's faithful vice-president, could make it through only one term before his faltering presentation lost him the job. Robert Dole, last year's failed presidential candidate, just never got into his stride. Decent men both, they had neither the presence nor the ideas to garner the votes. With his gift for communication and his sure popular touch, it was the Democrat, Bill Clinton, who inherited Reagan's populist mantle. Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who tried to snatch it back with a bombastic speaking style and unashamedly right-wing policies, never quite lived up to expectations. He helped the Republicans win both Houses of Congress three years ago with his Project for America and legislated with gusto, only to be comprehensively outmanoeuvred by Clinton and left to languish in uncertainty. The Republicans are now contemplating next year's mid-term elections with some trepidation. They expect to keep control of Congress. But with the economy booming (for the time being), and Mr Clinton still hugely popular, their position may not be as secure as it seems. The preliminary scrapping between would-be presidential candidates for 2000 is already gathering pace - a son of George Bush, the wife of Bob Dole, the mayor of New York and the millionaire Steve Forbes among them - but the right still lacks a discernible identity, and charisma. By happy chance - for them - their search for a guiding idea coincides with a wave of national nostalgia for Ronald Reagan, his politics and his person. The nostalgia is less for the specifics of Reaganism - the "evil empire" is gone, "Reagonomics" has been banished by Clinton's "balanced budget" - than for the generalities and above all the certainty: belief in God, America and self-improvement.

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