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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Sadly, former President Ronald Reagan died today at the age of 93. It’s not at all surprising, given his long bout with Alzheimer’s, but it’s still a good time to reflect on the man, the myth, and his legacy.

Reagan, as a man, was versatile, energetic, and principled. I read his recently published book of letters and I was impressed at his frequency of correspondence and the level of erudition displayed.

Reagan, as a politician, was fiscally conservative (which is good), socially conservative (which is bad), and hawkish (which is generally good when your biggest foe is the Soviet Union). Unfortunately, he frequently tempered his fiscal conservatism with compromises to accomplish the other two goals. This led to massive, profligate spending on the military and Social Security. Typical politician stuff, but it detracts from his record.

Reagan’s legacy is, unfortunately, our current president George W. Bush and the presidential runs of Steve Forbes. The former is a bastardization of everything Reagan stood for, a vacuous optimism with heightened religiosity. The latter is the true successor to President Reagan, but with his Goldwateresque views on several other fronts, he’s practically unelectable and epitomizes the dark horse candidate.

In sum, Reagan was a good man, a mixed politician, and an inspiration for the Republican Party decades after his withdrawal from public life.