May Ronald Reagan rest in peace--and may Americans recognize all the harm that his presidency caused

The comedian Flip Wilson used to tell the story of a guy who was in a horrible car crash and awoke to find his arm badly mangled and precariously hanging by just a thin shred of tissue. The man frantically went from one specialist to the next, but they all said that the arm couldn't be saved. Finally, he got an appointment with the greatest doctor in the world, who looked at the arm and announced that the arm would not have to be amputated.

The man said, "Really, doctor?"

And the doc said, "Yes, because in about 10 minutes, it's going to fall off all by itself."

If I ever make good on my threat to become a teacher, that's the way I'm going to teach the story of the fall of the Soviet Union. It may run contrary to the flood of revisionist crapola to which we've been subjected this past week since the death of former President Ronald Reagan, but (small consolation) at least it will be the truth.

Americans older than 30 tend to fall into two categories: those who consider Ronald Reagan to have been the best president of their lifetime and those who consider him to be the worst. I am definitely in the latter column, although the current resident of the White House is coming up fast. (Speaking of Bush, did you hear the thing he ad-libbed after Reagan's passing? He said something about how Reagan was now "going to the Shiny City." At least I hope he ad-libbed it. If some speechwriter got paid for writing that, he's stealing from the American people.)

Reagan sent this country careening wildly off course and, like a little baby in a runaway carriage, most Americans just sorta smiled and went along for the ride. Like most presidents, he lied. Clinton lied and Bush lies; Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were two of the great liars of all time. But those guys would get called on their lies, at least occasionally. Reagan would lie about things great and small, on whether he dyed his hair and why his administration was in bed with international drug dealers.

He betrayed his own "conservative" principles by preaching fiscal restraint and then running up more deficits than all of the other presidents in history combined. And he touted himself as a common man made good, and then set in motion forces that are, to this day, working to destroy forever the American middle class.

He wasted untold billions on "Star Wars," ascribed to crackpot economic theories and took credit for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, even though, at best, he was simply the guy sitting behind the desk when the USSR ground to a halt and then collapsed under the crushing weight of its own absurd and unworkable system. Plus, he unleashed on us an army of Reaganistas, the Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs of the world who mistook Reagan's personal charisma for cogent thought.

I saw Ronald Reagan when he dedicated the Holmes Tuttle Boys & Girls Club here in Tucson; it would turn out to be one of the last public appearances of his life. My friend Dave, who is on the board of the B&G Club, had an extra ticket and thought it would be a hoot to invite me, knowing of my open disdain for the man's politics but also of my near-obsessive adherence to the rules of etiquette. Dave thought it would be fun to watch me sit quietly and applaud politely.

The club kids who were seated behind him as he spoke also displayed the proper decorum, although I'm pretty sure that they (and I) would have been more impressed had the speaker been Ronald McDonald. It was not long after his Tucson appearance that Reagan would retreat from public life and begin his decade-long slide into the hellish mists of Alzheimer's.

When Reagan was in the White House, he was known as the Teflon president, because none of the mud of his bankrupt policies or law-breaking enterprises seemed to stick to him. His generally amiable way and his actor-honed timing and delivery of a line got him one free pass after another with the American people.

Bill Clinton was impeached for accepting oral sex from a groupie (which he certainly shouldn't have done). Meanwhile, Reagan (and those who worked for him) made illegal deals with terrorist nations, openly subverted the Constitution, were involved in criminal drug- and gun-running and nearly spent us into oblivion.

After he left office, the illness kept him from being openly criticized as, one by one, his failed policies came into the focus afforded by time and distance. Some would say that, in death, he likewise should not be criticized, but that's bunk.

I sincerely hope he rests in peace. He had a good life, more full that most people's. I'm sorry that he died. I'm more sorry that he had to spend the last 10 years of his life like that. But I'm most sorry that he was ever president.

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