A Further Perspective

A Tale of Two (Reagan) Cities

Dixon, Illinois is Reagan's America. Chicago, Illinois is not.

By 12.17.12

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Kudos to Peter Hannaford, longtime Reagan aide and friend, for calling attention to the University of Chicago's plans to demolish one of Ronald Reagan's earliest childhood homes. The home was a rented flat in a four-story apartment building at 832 East 57th Street in a Hyde Park neighborhood. As Hannaford notes, Reagan "had his first memories in that flat." In fact, the young Reagan came perilously close to dying from pneumonia while in that apartment.

In short, history took place in that building. The University of Chicago, however, has other plans: it hopes to bulldoze Reagan's home and replace it with a strip of grass bordering a new parking lot. 

Some concerned citizens think that would be a shame, and are trying to stop the wrecking ball, but to no avail. As Hannaford reports:

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks turned down an appeal to give the building landmark status on the grounds that it "does not have sufficient architectural significance" and "is not associated with Mr. Reagan during his active and productive years." As to the first reason, the building is a good example of vernacular architecture of the era. As to the second, this site, along with all the other places the 40th president lived in as a boy, figured in the development of his character … and thus is important to understanding this very significant president. 

Hannaford is right, but what's right often doesn't matter much anymore, especially to the university community, where so many rights and wrongs are deemed merely relative. The prevailing academic zeitgeist proclaims "diversity" and "tolerance," but those empty slogans are applied only selectively, namely to things the left wants us to accept. The tolerance stops short of welcoming conservatives. And here, too, apparently, it will stop short of welcoming this historic Reagan landmark. And so, the bulldozers stand ready for action.

It is fitting that this action would take place at the hands of the university community, and in the city of Chicago. Among Chicago's many dubious political distinctions, the American Communist Party was founded there in September 1919 -- just down the street, at 1219 Blue Island Avenue. Once upon a time, Communist Party USA was virtually destroyed by Ronald Reagan; now it is confident and resurgent, inspired and glorying in Barack Obama's reelection (click here).

As Chicago's communists literally reported their achievement to the Soviet Comintern -- "Hail to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat!" they crowed, "Long live the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic! Long live the World Revolution!" -- Ronald Reagan and his family got out of dodge, en route to Dixon, Illinois. And it was in Dixon (not Chicago) where the young Reagan was molded into the man he became, and where he is duly appreciated today.

In Dixon, Reagan encountered not brooding American Bolsheviks but good patriotic Americans like the Cleaver family, the Waggoners, Lloyd "Brownie" Emmert, and the folks who ran the local YMCA and the First Christian Church on S. Hennepin Avenue. He would later refer to his time in Dixon as his "inheritance." The people there created in him "a kind of inheritance without which I'd be lost and helpless," said Reagan years later.

Reagan claimed Dixon and its people claimed him, happily and proudly to this day. Today in Dixon, there is no shortage of Reagan preservation projects by the locals. There's the school he attended. There's the basketball court where he played. There's the Rock River at Lowell Park, where he lifeguarded. There's the church where he was baptized, which even includes the original baptismal tank where he was dunked (by total immersion) in June 1922. There's the Reagan trail. And, of course, there's the Boyhood Home -- eagerly, enthusiastically preserved.

Dixon, Illinois is Reagan's America. Chicago, Illinois is not.

To the contrary, Chicago is really Obama's America. From Hyde Park to David Axelrod, from Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn to Rahm Emanuel, to its unions and Democratic machine, Chicago gave us Barack Obama. And it seems in no hurry to give us Reagan's home.

The different receptions for Ronald Reagan in Dixon vs. Chicago are as different as, well, red and blue. Dixon is symbolic of that sea of red that, since Reagan's first presidential victory in 1980, goes Republican every four years. Chicago is representative of those tiny, isolated blue spots so packed with liberals and Democrats that they turn entire states Democrat every four years.

We should expect Dixon to defend Reagan, and Chicago to disregard him.

Of course, defenders of the University of Chicago's move against Reagan's early home will claim a glaring flaw in my parallel, namely: Reagan was raised in Dixon, but not in Chicago.

Sure, but does anyone doubt that the lack of appreciation for Reagan in Chicago is not at least somewhat a reflection of political interests, in contrast to Dixon?

Besides, Barack Obama wasn't born in Chicago, but does anyone doubt that someday Chicago's "progressives" won't hesitate to erect a monument stretching to the moon -- surely with taxpayer funding -- where The One once bestrode and sanctified the paths of the Windy City? Obama's home will become a political shrine to the secular left. The very lane to the Obama household will look like a leftist version of the Stations of the Cross, each juncture pointing the way to the Boy Wonder's onetime majestic dwellings. The university community in particular will hail and make straight the ways to the Obama abode.

In fact, as Peter Hannaford notes, "Meanwhile, while the university is more-or-less ignoring the Reagan home preservation effort, it is actively lobbying for an Obama Presidential Library. President Obama's own home is in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Chicago politics being what they are, the betting is on that project and not saving the cold-water flat apartment building in which the only U.S. president born and bred in Illinois lived during his boyhood."

Yep, that's about right. No surprise there at all.

The demolition of Ronald Reagan's Chicago home is scheduled for the end of this year -- i.e., very soon. That would be quite sad, and would also be quite instructive.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.