EDITORIAL: Don't randomly evoke Reagan

Instead of using late President Ronald Reagan to advance an agenda, the GOP should truly honor his legacy by practicing civility

York Dispatch
FILE - In this Jan. 21, 1985 file photo, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan arrive at the inaugural ball in the Washington Hilton in Washington. Nancy Reagan died Sunday, March 6, 2016 at the age of 94. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz, File)

Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at the age of 94, once told the historian curating her husband’s journals that she had just one ground rule: He was not, under any circumstances, to assume what the late President Ronald Reagan might have done in any given situation.

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President Reagan, who died in 2004, was a conservative Republican who is often evoked by GOP candidates, political pundits and others attempting to use his legacy to advance their arguments. But it’s very difficult to take a historical figure and impose them into the modern day political climate and context.

Mrs. Reagan was a champion and protector of her late husband’s legacy – the two had a heartwarming and mutually loving and respectful relationship by all accounts – told historian and editor Douglas Brinkley that while Ronald Reagan was a Republican, he was also a pragmatist.

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Therefore, it was egregious to her that anyone would attempt to presume anything about him.

Brinkley told reporter Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio (NPR) that Mrs. Reagan was disheartened when pundits and others evoked President Reagan during a political argument.

“Oh my goodness,” Inskeep said, “she must have been hardly able to watch political television at all then.”

Truth is, today, Reagan would likely be too moderate to be a GOP standard bearer. And in his time – nearly four decades ago – of course, he was a true conservative.

Not only that, but the current state of the GOP political discourse, primarily exhibited during recent televised debates, inspires many from that era to long for a kinder, gentler GOP.

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served under President George W. Bush from 2001-05, recently remarked on his party’s current slate of potential presidential nominees and the lack of civility with which they have been comporting themselves.

“To sit there and do junior high school tricks on one another is belittling to the country and belittling of the office to which they are striving,” he told NPR.

Powell said that he hopes the death of Mrs. Reagan, which is a natural catalyst for the political world to reflect on the Reagan legacy, will “calm the temperature a bit in our public debate now.”

We are hopeful this is true.

It is easy to look back at history through rose-colored glasses, or to suppose that a president or other historical figure in another era would approve or condemn something they could never have imagined.

But it’s a terribly false and misguided impulse. Therefore, if those Republicans who admire Reagan really wish to honor his memory, they would do well to cease from assuming what he would have said, done and thought.

Instead of using the memory of Ronald Reagan to advance an agenda, the GOP should truly honor his legacy by practicing civility.