Political Hay

Liberalizing His Legacy

Do liberals not understand why Ronald Reagan opposed life-destroying Communism?

By 6.10.04

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The sustained adulation for Ronald Reagan leaves liberals in a state of stupor and perplexity. Scrambling for the proper spin, some liberals reduce Reagan to a mere personality, a Santa Claus who voiced bipartisan platitudes. Other liberals, figuring they can't beat Reagan but don't want to join him as a conservative, solve their populist problem by reinventing Reagan as a liberal like them. With increasing frequency they cast him as an enlightened "divorcee" who deep down agreed with them but for political reasons had to throw a few bones to his primitive conservative followers.

Phase one of the campaign to liberalize Reagan is their attempt to turn him into a posthumous supporter of embryonic stem-cell research. "Reagan's Next Victory," says the New York Times. Ellen Goodman, who never had any use for Reagan before, says, "This is the final one to win for the Gipper."

A campaign that treats human embryos as spare parts for research is the antithesis of Reagan's legacy. He did not defeat godless humanism in the Soviet Union so that it could spread in the United States. Reagan reviled the Communists for denying the dignity and value of human life in the pursuit of utilitarian dreams, and he deplored the same crass utilitarianism when it appeared in America.

"We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life -- the unborn -- without diminishing the value of all human life," Reagan wrote as president (which the media ignore when making their case that he was an indifferent pro-lifer). "We will never recognize the true value of our own lives until we affirm the value in the life of others, a value of which Malcolm Muggeridge says, 'however low it flickers or fiercely burns, it is still a Divine flame which no man dare presume to put out, be his motives ever so humane and enlightened.'"

Reagan was aware of the utilitarian arguments now in vogue in the stem cell debate for destroying unborn human life. He never found them persuasive. Good motives could never make an evil act good, he said. He would regard the casual view of human embryos as guinea pigs for research as abhorrent and un-American. Atheistic communists, not Americans, treat unwanted humans as mere statistics and fodder for science.

Michael Kinsley says human embryos are no more valuable than insects (except in the research he advocates, then they suddenly have human value again). "The week-old embryos used for stem cell research are microscopic clumps of cells, unthinking and unknowing, with fewer physical human qualities than a mosquito," he writes. Ellen Goodman refrains from comparing human embryos to mosquitoes but she does like the word "microscopic" as a consoling and justifying adjective for embryos soon to be killed.

Reagan had heard these fashionable phrases for murder and considered them not progress but barbarism. "Obviously, some influential people want to deny that every human life has intrinsic, sacred worth. They insist that a member of the human race must have certain qualities before they accord him or her status as a 'human being,'" he said. "They want to pick and choose which individuals have value. Some have said that only those individuals with 'consciousness of self' are human beings. One such writer has followed this deadly logic and concluded that 'shocking as it may seem, a newly born infant is not a human being.'"

Reagan's optimism was not the hollow Hallmark humanism of the Left, which calls barbarism progress and treats some lives as more equal than others even as it babbles about equality. It was more like the theological virtue of hope, the optimism of a Christian who believes that God gave him moral and intellectual powers to lead a good life on earth and a perfect life in heaven. Consigning thousands and thousands of forgotten human embryos to death for an experiment is not optimism but despair -- the godless pessimism which sees no life save this earthly one, a pessimism Reagan hoped to bury with the Soviet Union.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.