Gurney's Inn
January 03, 2007

Jerry's Ink


There is a Yiddish word — I don't know if I've spelled it right, but it's pronounced "chutzpa." It means having nerve or gall or balls.

The New York Times has chutzpa. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon The New York Times went nuts. They screamed, yelled, rolled around on the floor crying like a two-year-old that didn't get his or her way.

They wanted Nixon in jail —it paved the way for that loser Jimmy Carter to muck up our lives for the next four years.

Now, 32 years later, upon the death of Gerald Ford, they have the chutzpa to write FORD'S PARDON OF NIXON: A DEFINING MOMENT.

Then they write: Over the last three decades as emotions have cooled, many who were initially critical of the pardon have come to share Ford's judgment that it was the best way to staunch the open wound of Watergate.

This, of course, brings to mind a column I wrote when Ronald Reagan died.

Death: a small price to pay for your survivors to finally read the truth about yourself in The New York Times.

There's nothing like dying to remind people how much they loved you.

From the moment he died, I have been shocked by how many of my really close Liberal Democrat friends have revealed that they always loved Ronald Reagan.

He defeated communism without firing a shot, they say.

He cut taxes and brought back the economy, they say.

He took over the presidency at the time when this country was in terrible trouble, they say.

He helped free the hostages in Iran, they say.

He ended those gas lines that went around the block, they say.

He took over a depressed nation that was suffering under a weak president whose solution to our problems was to advise us to wear sweaters in case we didn't have enough fuel oil to warm our kids.

OK, so they remember all that. But, do they expect me to forget that there was a time when East Hampton and New York City Limousine Liberals could not mention the name Ronald Reagan without frothing at the mouth?

The first thing I heard from my close friends when I told them I was voting for Reagan was that he was dumb . . . too dumb to run the country.

I work in advertising, and I spend my weekends in the Hamptons, which means I spend an inordinate amount of time with Liberal Democrats. What drives me mad is that they refuse to believe I'm a Republican. They do the old "Come on now, you must be kidding. You're too smart and you have too good a sense of humor to be a Republican."

"Ho, ho, that's really funny. Agnes, come over here. Jerry's saying he's a Republican and he's saying that his wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, is a Republican too. How quaint."

My answer is always the same: "I'm a Republican and I've always been a Republican. No, I don't agree with George W. and didn't agree with Reagan on many social issues but, I believe that in the long run, they had and have the determination and toughness to keep both me and my loved ones alive in these troubled times and so they win my vote."

My friends laugh at my simplistic attitude. "Ho. Ho. Ho — imagine in this day and age — a South-of-the-Highway Republican. What a card."

Well, last week was an eye opener. Not one, not a handful, but each and every one of my Democrat friends told me that they really liked Reagan.

Once, not that many years ago, each and every one of these people said the same things about Reagan that they say today about George W. I guess the Vote Mondale bumper stickers on their cars were just their way of proclaiming their love for Reagan. I guess, in time, their Kerry for President buttons and bumper stickers are their way of telling me they love George W. Bush.

I must pause now for a second and quote from a recent column by my friend Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who writes a great weekly column for the Los Angeles Times.

The Last Laugh? Wait For The History Books

By Max Boot

Listening to the endless encomiums to Ronald Reagan, many from people who once derided him, I couldn't help wonder whether some day George W. Bush would receive similar tributes from his current enemies. It seems unlikely, even to me, but then it seemed pretty unlikely 20 years ago that the Gipper would ever win widespread acclaim as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history.

It is bracing to open a book such as Dinesh D'Souza's Reagan biography and be reminded of what was actually said about him during his presidency. The man now eulogized as a giant was famously derided as an "amiable dunce" by Democratic elder Clark Clifford.

Robert Wright of the New Republic said he was "virtually brain-dead"; Nicholas von Hoffman called him an "unlettered, self-assured bumpkin" in Harper's Magazine; and Kevin Phillips complained he was trying to govern "based on maxims out of McGuffey's Reader and Calvin Coolidge."

Barbara Ehrenreich titled her book about the 1980s The Worst Years of Our Lives. Reagan was also accused of being a "reckless cowboy" and a "simple-minded ideologue" (Mark Hertsgaard) who was leading the nation toward nuclear annihilation.

These accusations were not particularly controversial among the chattering classes in the 1980s; they were (and in some quarters remain) received wisdom. The only wonder among the sophisticates was how Reagan fooled so many people into supporting him. Then-Rep. Patricia Schroeder provided the explanation when she said he was the "Teflon president" to whom no charge ever stuck. Garry Wills wrote that Reagan "cast a spell" that drew Americans into a "vast communal exercise in make-believe."

What was the source of all this animus? Part of it was personal: Reagan, a C student at Eureka College and a B-movie actor, couldn't win the respect of A-list intellectuals. They thought he wasn't up to running the country. But mostly it was ideological. Reagan's ideas flouted the intellectual fashions of his day.

When he came to office in 1981, the consensus was that the nation was suffering from "malaise." The best that could be hoped for, the smart set believed, was to strike an accommodation with the Soviet Union and to lower our economic expectations. Reagan scoffed at such pessimism. He set about reviving the economy with tax cuts and consigning the "Evil Empire" to the ash heap of history by raising defense spending and supporting anti-communist rebels abroad. He was not content to manage problems. He wanted to transcend them. And he did.

The similarities with George W. Bush are uncanny. As Reagan was, he is thought to be an intellectual lightweight too stupid to understand how ruinous his policies are. He is getting as much grief as Reagan did for not bowing to the logic of "deterrence" and "containment." Reagan's alternative was the Strategic Defense Initiative, Bush's, the doctrine of preemption. Reagan was derided for his stark depiction of the Cold War as a "struggle between right and wrong, good and evil." Bush uses similar language in the war on terrorism and earns similar derision . . . Also, some of the similarities do not cast either man in a flattering light. Both were hands-off managers who were hurt by the feuding between their secretaries of Defense and State. Presidential inattention helped produce scandals such as Iran-Contra and Abu Ghraib . . .

[Mr. Boot closed by saying:]

Yet, by and large, Bush is achieving impressive results with his Reagan-esque approach: The economy is booming, and terrorists are on the run in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is unlikely that Bush will win the immediate vindication that Reagan achieved when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. He is closer to the beginning than the end of a long struggle. But Bush still has a good chance of winning unexpected cheers in a few years' time — as long as he doesn't heed the jeers directed his way at the moment.

As I read Boot's great column I thought about Bush and Reagan and Jimmy Carter and, I must admit, even Bill Clinton.

Carter was a dreadful President. I hope he lives for a 100 years and fixes a million poor people's roofs, but following the lead of my Liberal Democrat friends and their gracious treatment of Reagan, I must prepare for when Carter passes and respond in kind. Let me rehearse.

Jimmy Carter was a great President. He never, never got us into war with Iran. He let them take our hostages and he let them all believe that as Islamic fundamentalists they could push us around whenever they wanted to and we wouldn't fight back. During the fuel crisis he spoke out for and helped the sweater industry so I own a few nifty sweaters thanks to him. He taught me patience by having me stand on long lines waiting for gas. He kept us out of war. And, in the time he was in office, if you believed the front and editorial pages of The New York Times, Carter was 10 times the President that Reagan or George W. Bush would ever be.

Carter didn't have a sense of humor, but then again there was little to laugh about during his administration. What a guy!

To all my Liberal Democrat friends, I say I liked Carter almost as much as you loved Reagan.

As for Bill Clinton when he passes,  (I hope he lives forever, too) I say, what a guy! He kept us out of war in Afghanistan even when Osama bin Laden was killing our sailors, bombing our embassies and plotting 9/11. And, what else did I like about Clinton? Er . . . er . . . he gave us the Internet bubble and eight years of incredible prosperity and er . . . er . . . I will always be grateful that he made the world safe for oral sex.

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