The Right Way to Honor Reagan’s 100th Birthday

November 22nd, 2010 at 12:54 pm David Frum | 28 Comments |

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We’re approaching the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Ronald Reagan: February 6, 2011. My latest column for makes the case for an appropriate national commemoration of this good man and great president.

To date, the main attempts to honor Reagan in the nation’s capital have gone askew. A government office building second in size only to the Pentagon? An airport from which Washingtonians cannot fly to California? These do not seem very appropriate monuments to a president who fought bureaucracy and yearned for home.

The other ideas that sometimes circulate in Congress seem equally misplaced: Placing Reagan on the currency or building a giant statue somewhere in Washington. More than most presidents, Reagan would have wanted to be remembered for his ideas, not his image. The right commemoration would honor those.

Let me suggest something: A museum in Washington dedicated to the victims of communism.

The struggle against communism impelled American foreign policy for almost half a century. That struggle was also the central concern of Ronald Reagan’s political life. As much as Reagan cared about the geopolitics of the struggle, he cared even more about the human victims of communism’s brutal totalitarian ideology.

The countries of Eastern Europe are now memorializing their terrible experiences under communism.

A particularly impressive museum has opened in Budapest, Hungary. But Eastern Europe did not suffer alone. Cambodia, China, Cuba, Ethiopia and Afghanistan also have their stories to tell.

A “Ronald Reagan Museum of the Victims of Communism” in Washington would ensure that these stories were kept alive and made vivid for future generations.

Click here to read the rest.

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    Firstly, A museum of vicitms? Bleah.
    Secondly, you really want to credit Reagan with ending communism? That would be like declaring May 8 “Harry Truman V-E Day”.

    How about we erect a giant deficit scoreboard and name it after him. He started it, you know….

  • TerryF98

    How about the Iran/Contra variety theatre and killing field.

  • easton

    watusie, that is right. Reagan didn’t defeat Communism, if he were so great then why didn’t he end it in China and Vietnam.

    You want a memorial, put it in his hometown, but lets dispense with the nonsense he was the equal to Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, or FDR (who had to contend with a great depression and a World War). Reagan was a minor President who had a few FP successes and who happened to be there when the Soviet Union up and began the policy of self destruction, but since China and Vietnam remain Communist lets not pretend that victory is final. (although they are not in fact Communist but authoritarian, the victory is of Market based Capitalism and though Reagan was really old I am pretty certain he didn’t invent those)

  • JimBob

    Easton, China is hardly communist. They probably have a freer economy than we do. And yes, Reagan did bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Frum, there are a number of appropriate ways in which Reagan could be honored on his centennial, but none of them are likely– even remotely likely– to happen. Today’s right totally misunderstands Reagan and his conservatism. His modesty and restraint, his equanimity and intellectual curiosity are totally foreign to the Mark Levins and Sarah Palins, the Glenn Becks and Erick Ericksons of the ‘Conservative Movement.’ They’ve thrown aside the facts of his life and presidency and have instead mythologized him as some angry white yokel, replete with pitchfork and hatred of the other. He’s become the figurehead of a posthumous– and sickeningly libelous– personality cult.

    To wit: just look at Reagan’s interpretation by that loathesome quasi-fascist, Joe Miller. Miller, purportedly a Reagan Conservative, advocated an imitation of the Berlin Wall on the U.S.’s southern border to stop illegal immigration. That the Berlin Wall was built primarily for keeping people WITHIN East Germany’s bounds is a fact I’ve always assumed was lost only on lefties. So much for “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

  • JimBob

    What’s wrong with stopping illegal immigration?? Mass immigration legal and illegal with such a generous welfare state is not fair to the taxpayers. Educating illegal aliens in California cost the state billions every years.

  • tommybones

    Don’t forget the slaughters in Central America. And Reagan’s glorious economic record, which set the tone for the destruction of the middle class!

    Yeah, Reagan was great!

  • larry

    For a truly great book on the fall of the Soviet Union, see David Remnick, Lenin”s Tomb. He was there, knew the leading personalities and the political dynamics. The fall begins, only partly symbolically, when Yeltsin agreed, after considerable prompting, to the opening of the graves of the Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. Their murder could no longer be attributed to the Nazis, and the delegitimation of the regime accelerated. Reagan never figures in the discussions.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    JimBob: there’s nothing “wrong” with stopping illegal immigration, but invoking a ghastly historical artifact like the Berlin Wall as an example of effective immigration policy is, well, DISGUSTING. And doing so in the name of Reagan is unbelievably ignorant and calumnious.

    Surely you can come up with a more reasonable and effective immigration reform programme than a reconstruction of the Berlin Wall?

  • easton

    Easton, China is hardly communist. They probably have a freer economy than we do.
    Oh my God, go to China for 10 minutes and you will be disabused of that right quick. I lived there for 7 years, it is not even close to being as remotely free as ours. You have no idea of the amount of bribes, paperwork, etc. to start a business, and if you are too successful will end up in jail.

    And yes, Reagan did bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    That is just simpleminded. Do you really imagine if Gorbachev gave the East German Stasi under Honecker the right to kill anyone who tried to go to Hungary, and if the Russians had disposed of the reformist Hungarian regime that allowed East Germans free passage, that Reagan could possibly have done a single damn thing to stop it? Especially since he wasn’t even President when it was happening? Please, study your history. If Russia had pulled a China (liberalizing the economy while maintaining an iron fist politically) that there was a damn thing we could have done to stop it?

    Look, I like Reagan, I think he was brilliant in working with Gorbachev but had their been no Gorby none of it would have happened like it did. And we should also thank Yeltsin for dissolving the Soviet Union, or was Yeltsin Reagan in a mask? Give some damn credit where it is due. Yeltsin stood down the Soviet tanks, not Reagan.

  • Watusie

    larry, sounds like an interesting book, I’ll add it to my list. What significance does Remnick assign to Lech Walesa?

  • larry

    Its been a while, but I’m sure Lech Walesa is mentioned. Certainly, the Politburo, including Gorbachev and Yeltsin, were concerned about developments on their western borders.

  • jdipeso

    One of the achievements for which President Reagan is not well known … but should be … is protection of America’s wilderness. President Reagan signed into law more than three dozen bills that protected nearly 11 million acres of federal lands as wilderness, the most protective status available.

    The next wilderness bill for Reagan’s beloved California should include a wilderness area named for Reagan.

  • JimBob

    Lech Walesa, the founder of the Solidarity movement that brought down Communism in Poland and prepared the way for the end of Communism throughout Eastern and Central Europe, put his feelings about Reagan simply: “We in Poland…owe him our liberty.”

  • JimBob

    I’ve been to Hong Kong and it has a freer economy than the United States.

  • pampl

    Well I’ve been to Puerto Rico and it has a freer economy than China.

  • JimBob

    WaStateUrbanGOPer, fences make good neighbors. “A nation without borders is no nation at all”—Ronald Reagan. Calling Miller a fascist because he supports a border fence is over the top.

  • armstp

    “You’d be surprised how much being a good actor pays off.” Ronald Reagan, 1984

    A couple of Reagan facts:

    > economic growth was only really for 4 years out of the 8 years.
    > average GDP growth under Reagan was 3.4% versus Carter 3.25% versus Clinton 3.88%
    > the 80s was very good for some people, particularly if you were white and rich, but it was absolutely terrible economically from many others.
    > the large deficits and debt we have today was largely started during the Reagan years; he ran the biggest deficit and debt since WWII; this is where the conservatives got “deficits don’t matter”.
    > there was no smaller government under Reagan as federal expenditures almost double and as a share of GDP, the federal government shrank from 22.2 percent to 21.2 percent—a whopping one percentage point. The federal civilian work force increased from 2.8 million to 3 million. (Yes, it increased even if you exclude Defense Department employees).
    > Reagan signed into law the Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981 which dramatically cut taxes, but the following year Reagan realized he had cut too much revenue and he signed into law the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act in 1982 which repealed much of the 1981 tax cuts and raised some new taxes, including cigarette taxes.
    > 1982 to 1990 tax revenues increased from $356.0 billion to $598 billion. This is an overall increase of 67%. Even after factoring out inflation tax revenues from individuals increased 34%, which was only slightly lower than Carter and higher than Clinton.
    > cities like Cincinnati and many others became almost third world.
    > incomes for the richest 1% sky rocket and the poverty rate went high and stayed high; Reagan’s 80s was really the start of the decline of middle class incomes
    > the fall of the Soviet Union had more to do with the price of wheat and oil, at least according to the CIA; the Soviet Union had been in decline for years
    > star wars was a waste of money and no strategic significance.
    > his meddling in central america was shameful and criminal; if only we had the Internet back in those days.
    > Iran-Contra is truly unbelievable; Clinton or Obama would have been impeached for that; ABC News/Washington Post poll taken at the time, 62% of the public said that Reagan had lied about Iran-contra. If only we had the Internet back in those days.
    > By the summer of 1992 (two years after Reagan left office), a USA Today/Gallup poll found that just 24 percent of Americans said their country was better off because of the Reagan years, with 40 percent saying it was worse off. Reagan’s own favorable rating had fallen to 46 percent — making him significantly less popular than Jimmy Carter, whose favorable score was at 63 percent at the time.

    “But a look at Gallup polling data brings a different perspective. Through most of his presidency, Reagan did not rate much higher than other post-World War II presidents. And during his first two years, Reagan’s approval ratings were quite low. His 52 percent average approval rating for his presidency places him sixth out of the past ten presidents, behind Kennedy (70 percent), Eisenhower (66 percent), George H.W. Bush (61 percent), Clinton (55 percent), and Johnson (55 percent). His popularity frequently dipped below 50 percent during his first term, plummeted to 46 percent during the Iran-Contra scandal, and never exceeded 68 percent. (By contrast, Clinton’s maximum approval rating hit 71 percent.)”

    blah, blah, blah… the myth lives on…

  • sunroof

    I think an airport and an aircraft carrier are enough.

  • SkepticalIdealist

    While we’re at it, why don’t we put slick willy on the 3 dollar bill?

  • jg bennet

    “It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.

    So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.”

    Ronald Reagan

    I say we create an import tax on China, collect billions and put those billions into grants not loans for OUR entrepreneurs and OUR innovators.

    So far this year we have imported about $265 billion from China. If we tax them 20% that is 53 billion dollars of our money returned and invested in American innovation.

    Call it The Ronald Reagan American Renewal Fund

    At the beginning of the 80′s Harley-davidson was in financial distress with about 4% of the market it dominated in the 70′s. In 1981, Harley was in 5th position for market share behind Honda (38%), Yamaha (25%), Kawasaki (16%), and Suzuki (14%). At the request of Harley-Davidson (the same request was denied a few years before) and to protect the last remaining US motorcycle manufacturer against Japanese imports, the Ronald Reagan administration accepted to impose “Safeguards” by which imported motorcycles were “tariffed” and heavily taxed for the years 1983 to 1988 (starting at 49.4% the 1st year to 14.4% the last year).

    You gotta know Reagan would love taxing communists :)

  • larry

    jg — you forgot. China is our banker.

  • jg bennet


    I think Reagan would like the idea of a tax and as far as them being our banker that is “Trumped” by the fact we are their biggest buyer. We hold the cards! If we tax China others will follow and if the idea of a Reagan Renewal fund takes off our small businesses will boom.

    Imagine what $30 to 50 billion in entrepreneur grants a year will do for America!

    A five to seven year tax on China will put us back in the drivers seat, show the world who is boss and unite us as a country. We need a leader with balls like Reagan who stands up to thugs & cheaters like the Chinese.

    China is the new evil empire and if Reagan were here today he would turn the tables on them.

    Bankers smankers we need to grow a pair and what better way to get a pair than go back to Reagan’s playbook.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead


  • larry

    jg — you’re arguing for mercantalism. Its been tried before. It was Napoleon’s Continental System (preventing British goods from entering Europe) that, some historians maintain, led to the invasion of Russia in 1812. The Emperor left East Prussia with the largest army ever assembled, 660,000 troops, and returned to Paris the next year with no more than 20,000. That was it; Waterloo was a side-bar. The British Empire pursued a mercantile policy as well, with the American Revolution and the Opium War among the results. It was Adam Smith who explained in 1776 the true wealth of nations. Retuning to his principles would be a superior policy.

  • trk113

    JimBob // Nov 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Easton, China is hardly communist. They probably have a freer economy than we do. And yes, Reagan did bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    I won’t argue the merits of how free China’s economy is today, but Reagan isn’t president today. 30 years ago, it was not a free economy. And no, he didn’t end communism there.

    The citizens of the USSR were standing on lines for food for hours way prior to 1981. Does that not suggest some fundamental problems with the Soviet system? The system was failing and everyone knew it. The President who took the hardest stance against them wasn’t Reagan, if anyone it was Truman or Kennedy. The Berlin Airlift and the Cuban Blockade were much more toe to toe than anything Reagan did, or had to do. So, what did Reagan do to bring them down that was so much more forceful and effective than either of those two examples? Reagan played his part, but that’s all he did.

  • hart_wms

    Mr. Frum? Seriously? You decided to post THIS on November 22?

    I mean, the 47th Anniversary of the assassination of JFK in Dallas doesn’t seem like the most appropriate date to chirp up about how to best honor the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan.

    If only as a matter of good manners, sir.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    JimBob: just because Reagan (like any reasonable policy maker) supported secure borders do you seriously suppose he would’ve favored recreating the Berlin Wall along the U.S./Mexico border? You seriously don’t think Reagan wouldn’t be the first person in American public life to point out that the Berlin Wall was a structure built (primarily) to keep people within a country and not out of it? If yor’re answer is yes to the first question and no to the second then you’re totally batshit.

    As for Joe Miller: he invited a group of para-military thugs equipped with automatic rifles to march with him in a Fourth of July parade; had his (active duty military!) security guards illegally arrest and detain a journalist; and, yes, he advocated a recreation of the Berlin Wall for the purposes of securing the U.S. southern border: and you don’t think he’s even mildly fascistic? As Ben Stein pointed out, he’s really an updated (and poor man’s) version of Robert Penn Warren’s Willie Stark.