Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Reagan’s Mythical Toughness

If you want more evidence that some Americans strongly prefer myths over reality, witness how many times in the last week you’ve heard Republicans invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, as in “If only Obama would stand strong like Reagan did and declare that we will never negotiate with terrorists and rogue states like Iran,” with both the facts and irony of history an utter mystery to them.

Reagan was, first and foremost, an actor. And it was perhaps his best performance, summoning up his inner John Wayne, when he declared in 1985:

Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists — to do so would only invite more terrorism — nor will we ask nor pressure any other government to do so. Once we head down that path there would be no end to it, no end to the suffering of innocent people, no end to the bloody ransom all civilized nations must pay.


But history has shown that those pretty words, much like Obama’s claims about thinking the state secrets privilege should be narrower, were lies. Lies to cover up the inconvenient fact that the administration’s actions were entirely contradictory to their public declarations. Not only did Reagan negotiate with terrorists, he should, despite his tough guy rhetoric, be viewed as a virtual poster child for appeasing terrorists.

This is, after all, the president that sold 3,000 TOW anti-tank missiles in addition to Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to those very same Iranian mullahs we’re dealing with today, in exchange for help getting Hezbollah to release American hostages in Lebanon. And it’s the same president who turned tail and ran, withdrawing all the Marines from Lebanon after the barracks bombing in 1983.

The reality is that Reagan exhibited every sign of weakness in the face of attacks that conservatives like to accuse liberals of. He is the poster boy for the very thing they claim to despise, yet they constantly invoke him as an archetype of toughness and never-say-die mentality. It’s a joke, and not a terribly funny one.