Friday, June 11, 2004
There's been all this debate apparently about how to appropriately honor Ronald Reagan's memory. I admit, I'm a bit perplexed by some of it.
Would Reagan really have wanted to eclipse Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt on our currency? Reagan was a big fan of FDR, so I can't imagine he'd want to shove him off the dime. And Reagan represented a synthesis of Hamilton and Jackson, though in quite the opposite of the way that FDR did. (There was a line - I forget who said it - that FDR's Democratic Party sought to achieve Jeffersonian ends by Hamiltonian means. That is to say: the party stood for equality, the great Jeffersonian ideal, and sought to achieve it by the Hamiltonian means of centralizing power in the national government. David Frum, I believe, quipped a number of years ago that Reaganite conservatism sought to achieve the opposite: Hamiltonian ends by Jeffersonian means. That is to say: the modern Republican Party aims for economic growth and dynamism through free markets, and seeks to achieve this by devolving power to the states and to the people.) I can't imagine Reagan would want to erase the faces of the founder of American capitalism, nor Old Hickory, the first President to come up as a real man of the people, and the symbol of American stiff-necked defiance of Old World authority. If we've got to put Reagan on a piece of paper, let it be some high denomination that expresses the aspirational side of Reaganism. How about replacing Cleveland on the $1000? If the denomination grew popular enough, maybe we could even get gangsters to talk about how "it's all about the Ronnies" instead of the Benjamins.
Would Reagan really want a big public edifice named after him? It's not like there haven't been Republican Presidents devoted to public works and internal improvements; Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower spring immediately to mind, for instance. But Reagan was not a builder. So there's a big Reagan office building and a Reagan National Airport in Washington. Is that really what best expresses the man, his ideals, or his achievement? An aircraft carrier is good, and he's got that (though who knows how long they'll be in service; war is changing). But these sorts of memorials don't really get at what the man was about.
Would Reagan really want his face hewn into the rock of Mount Rushmore or, perish the thought, Half-Dome in Yosemite? I can't imagine it. He was not so vain; moreover, he stood, all his life, for the antithesis of the cult of personality that epitomized the totalitarian regimes he saw rise and fall. One of the reasons he was such a popular President is that it was never about him. Should we, then, commemorate him by erecting a huge bust to dominate the landscape? Besides, there is something embalming about such memorials, and I don't think Reagan would want to become part of history in that way. He would want to be memorialized by something living.
Ronald Reagan stood for free enterprise and the pioneering spirit, for a collective devotion to the cause of individual freedom, and, above all, for aspiration, individual and collective. What would best express this spirit, this set of ideals?
One day, human beings - hopefully Americans - will establish sites of permanent residence outside of Earth's atmosphere. (The International Space Station does not count.) I cannot think of a more fitting monument to the President who denied any limit to our proper aspirations than to name the first such site after him. My own suspicion is that this first location will be a space station in Earth orbit. (You might get easily up and down from Earth by means of space elevators, but we'll need someone up there to service the things, and to serve as a base from which to construct star-faring ships, or engines to mine the asteroids, or, conceivably though I doubt it, colonies for the Moon or Mars.) So let us name *that* first station Reagan One. *This* memorial, I cannot doubt, would please him. And the fact that we cannot dedicate it today should only spur those who revere Reagan's memory to greater efforts to achieve that goal.
Hey: if we don't start this bandwagon now, they'll name it Kennedy One.