National: Never Before Published--Ideas for Reagan Memorials
(This piece was originally scheduled for publication in July of 2004, shortly after President Reagan's death. It has never appeared in print before.)
I have in fact spent weeks weighing different proposals for monuments to Mr. Reagan’s unparalleled career and achievements. Here are some of my thoughts on commemorating "the Great Man:”
1) Put Reagan’s Face On American Currency. I think this is a good idea, but I would not replace Alexander Hamilton’s face on the ten-dollar bill with Reagan’s, as has been suggested. Hamilton, though never president, was a founder of undoubted genius who stabilized and secured the new nation by insisting that it make good on the debts it incurred during the Revolutionary War. I think it would send the wrong message to replace his image with that of a man of doubtful intelligence who put the nation into almost three trillion dollars worth of debt before leaving office.
The money that Reagan borrowed for pork barrel spending was eventually paid back, but this was no doing of Reagan’s. It took round after round of Republican and Democratic tax hikes to do it; investors’ dividends and capital gains and working people’s paychecks were docked for more than a decade after Reagan left office. The budget was eventually balanced, but it was a liberal Democrat who finally did it and it took twelve years of taxation to do it.
So I suggest we leave Hamilton where he is; he understood money and investment in his country’s future, and the necessity of paying back what we owe. Reagan and his rank-and-file supporters never did.
The Reagan memorial currency that I propose would be in a new denomination entirely, and only one such bill would ever be issued. The Gipper’s smiling face would appear on the brand-new, one-time only “Almost-Three-Trillion-Dollar Bill.” What better way to honor his economic legacy—his massive deficit spending and irresponsible borrowing against the future, his refusal to pay back any significant part of it while he was still in office.
In his deficit spending, as in many things, Reagan was emulating one of his early heroes—Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But there was one important difference: FDR borrowed money against the future to help the American poor become the American middle class. RR borrowed trillions against the future to avoid raising the taxes of his wealthy core supporters, and the middle class and poor Americans be damned--they, not the wealthy, would bear the brunt of paying it back.
The Reagan “Almost-Three-Trillion-Dollar Bill” would not see much circulation, of course. But its existence would remind us all of what Reagan really thought of his pre-election promises of fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.
2) Statue Commemorating Reagan’s Triumph over Communism. This would actually be a pair of animated statues that would depict Reagan taking the laurels from the head of Mikhail Gorbachev and placing them on his own head; over and over again, endlessly. It was after all, Mikhail Gorbachev and not Ronald Reagan who put an end to Communist domination of Russia and Eastern Europe. It was Gorbachev who put his own life and liberty in jeopardy to end the Communist monopoly on power in that state; Reagan risked nothing but took credit for everything—typical of him, really. I would be curious to know what Gorbachev really thinks of all the recent headlines attributing his achievement to Ronald Reagan—who for decades had been telling Americans and the world that Communists would never give up power or democratize their form of government peacefully and voluntarily.
3) The Ronald Reagan Wall of Glory. This would take the form of a long wall in front of the Capitol, bearing the names of all the people who became homeless during the 1980s. But it would differ from the famous Viet Nam memorial in that this wall would be punctuated by little round holes at approximately waist level, which would appear at regular intervals.
Why? Well, the through line that I perceive in all the Reagan tributes is that, whatever his shortcomings, Ronald Reagan made people “feel good.” (The people who say this are usually, for whatever reason, Republican and white.) I can’t recall any other case where “making people feel good” constituted the stuff of great leadership. I do remember a guy who attended my high school who sold stuff that made people feel very good indeed, but he was not considered a great leader. In fact, I think he was eventually arrested.
Still, Reagan’s millions of fans apparently set a high value on someone who can make them “feel good” and so: the “Reagan Wall of Glory” Memorial. The idea is that some visitors to the Glory Wall will enjoy favors given to them by other visitors on the other side of the wall through the little round holes in the wall. By giving and receiving in this way, and doing so anonymously, visiting Reagan fans could pay tribute to Reagan’s greatest skill—making them “feel good.” The Reagan Wall of Glory would give them the opportunity to make other Americans feel good--on a volunteer basis, without any big federal government program or bureaucratic regulations.
In light of her alleged extensive experience, Nancy Reagan should be invited to officially open the memorial and man the first hole.
4) Carve Reagan’s Face Into Mount Rushmore. This is a proposition that’s been trotted out for years by many different people; many Reagan fans suggested it long before he died. I would support this, too--but only on one condition: that the other four faces be removed first. Reagan’s millions of fans wish to honor their hero, and I understand that. But I see no reason to dishonor the great men who earned their place on Mount Rushmore by putting the smiling face of a stupid, narcissistic, hypocritical, heartless and brainless “plutocrat’s whore” in their company.