Right Hook

Steyn and Noonan celebrate Reagan as a man who saw the world more clearly than the political elite; Coulter trashes Gore as a fat white guy with no political rhythm. Plus: Bradbury rips Michael Moore.


Mark Follman
June 10, 2004 4:10AM (UTC)

Conservative valentines to Ronald Reagan have been pouring in this week. Syndicated columnist Mark Steyn dubbed Reagan "one of the two most significant presidents of the American century," giving him sweeping credit for liberating half the globe.

"Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. That's what counts. He brought down the 'evil empire', and all the rest is fine print."

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Steyn then ripped into the anti-Reagan "establishment" for failing to grasp the wisdom in the 40th president's plain talk.

"Everything you need to know about the establishment's view of Ronald Reagan can be found on page 624 of 'Dutch,' Edmund Morris' weird post-modern biography. The place is Berlin, the time June 12, 1987:

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" declaims Dutch, trying hard to look infuriated, but succeeding only in an expression of mild petulance ... One braces for a flash of prompt lights to either side of him: APPLAUSE.

What a rhetorical opportunity missed. He could have read Robert Frost's poem on the subject, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," to simple and shattering effect. Or even Edna St. Vincent Millay's lines, which he surely holds in memory ...

"Only now for the first time I see
This wall is actually a wall, a thing
Come up between us, shutting me away
From you ... I do not know you any more."

"Poor old Morris, the plodding, conventional, scholarly writer driven mad by 14 years spent trying to get a grip on Ronald Reagan."

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In Steyn's view, Reagan's knack for simple langauge drew from a lucid moral vision: "Reagan looked at the Berlin Wall and saw not a poem-quoting opportunity but prison bars." And Steyn's encomium reached a passionate climax when he compared Reagan to a deep and pure wellspring. "Edmund Morris has described his subject as an 'airhead' and concluded that it's 'like dropping a pebble in a well and hearing no splash.' Morris may not have heard the splash, but he's still all wet: The elites were stupid about Reagan in a way that only clever people can be. Take that cheap crack: If you drop a pebble in a well and you don't hear a splash, it may be because the well is dry but it's just as likely it's because the well is of surprising depth. I went out to my own well and dropped a pebble: I heard no splash, yet the well supplies exquisite translucent water to my home."

For Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, the legend of Ronald Reagan is a tale of heroic fiction and starry-eyed destiny.

"Ronald, nicknamed Dutch, read fiction. He liked stories of young men battling for the good and true. A story he wrote in college had a hero arriving home from the war and first thing calling his girl. Someone else answered. Who is calling? 'Tell her it's the president,' he said. He wrote that when he was 20 years old.

"Many years later, in middle age, he was visited by a dream in which he was looking for a house. He was taken to a mansion with white walls and high sparkling windows. It was majestic. 'This is a house that is available at a price I can afford,' he would think to himself. And then he'd come awake. From the day he entered the White House for the first time as president he never had the dream again."

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Incredibly, Noonan later argues that Reagan didn't align himself with the anti-communist witch hunt that blanketed Hollywood with fear during the 1940s.

"As president of the Screen Actors Guild he led the resistance to a growing communist presence in the unions and, with allies such as William Holden, out-argued the boutique leftism of the Hollywood salons. But when a small army of congressional gasbags came to town, Ronald Reagan told the House Un-American Activities Committee that Hollywood could police itself, thank you. By the time it was over, even his harshest foes admitted he'd been fair."

Apparently Noonan is unaware that Reagan, according to an FBI file later released, named names in secret for the House Un-American Activities Committee. (See the New York Times' Reagan obit.)

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Noonan also breezes straight past Reagan's complicity in the illegal Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal. As the Times obit has it: "When the secret operation was first reported, Mr. Reagan denied that it existed. On Nov. 13, 1986, he said, 'In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories about arms for hostages, we did not, repeat, did not trade arms or anything else for hostages.' But almost four months later, he ruefully referred to that remark in a speech to the nation. 'My heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true,' he said, 'but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.'" But Noonan prefers to remember Reagan as a leader who, like Washington, could not tell a lie and who always saw the big truth.

"Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union 'evil,' because it was, and an 'empire,' because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course it didn't fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid."

It's all about the timing
On the eve of Ronald Reagan's passing, syndicated columnist Ann Coulter was busy declaring the "hysterical" antiwar movement 6 feet under and penning an epitaph for former Vice President Al Gore.

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"Liberals' anti-war hysteria seems to have run its course. I base this conclusion on Al Gore's lunatic anti-war speech last week. Gore always comes out swinging just as an issue is about to go south. He's the stereotypical white guy always clapping on the wrong beat. Gore switched from being a pro-defense Democrat to a lefty peacenik -- just before the 9-11 attack. He grew a beard -- just in time for an attack on the nation by fundamentalist Muslims. He endorsed Howard Dean -- just as the orange-capped Deaniacs were punching themselves out. Gore even went out and got really fat -- just before America officially gave up carbs. This guy is always leaping into the mosh pit at the precise moment the crowd parts. Mark my words: Now that good old Al has come lunging in, the anti-war movement is dead."

Coulter's own timing is a tad ripe -- the "he's totally nuts" right-wing smear campaign launched against Gore had already reached its climax days before Coulter weighed in with the fruits of her analysis.

Ethics violation on the pages of National Review?
The coordinated right-wing assault against Gore included the writings of Dr. Henry I. Miller, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a former FDA official who very publicly diagnosed Gore in the National Review Online with "Narcissistic Personality Disorder." Miller offered a detailed list of unflattering symptoms he believed to be plaguing the former vice president. The article was titled "Head Case: Al Gore Is a Sick Man."

An observant Salon reader wrote in wondering if Al Gore was an actual patient of Dr. Miller's, or if Miller's professional evaluation -- which ended with him declaring, "Gore's Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one good reason that I wouldn't want him to be president, or to live next door to me" -- wasn't otherwise a violation of medical ethics. Indeed, the American Medical Association, and perhaps Stanford University, might be quite interested in knowing about Dr. Miller's recent article. According to the American Medical Association ethics manual, Section 5.04, with regard to disclosing medical information "the physician may assist the representatives of the media in every way possible," but "inasmuch as a diagnosis may be made only by a physician and may depend upon X-ray and laboratory studies, no statement regarding diagnosis should be made except by or on behalf of the attending physician. For the same reason, prognosis will be given only by the attending physician or at the attending physician's direction."

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And while Miller is not a psychiatrist (though apparently he plays one on the pages of National Review, where his bio states that he is in fact a "physician"), the 2001 edition of the American Psychiatrist Association ethics manual provides further clarity regarding his pronouncements about Gore's state of mind: "On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention ... it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he/she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement."

Perhaps ethics regulators in Washington might also take interest; Miller is currently licensed to practice medicine there, according to the District of Columbia Department of Health, Board of Medicine.

Lost in translation
Michael Moore's new movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which casts President Bush in an unfriendly light, appears to have some conservatives worried ahead of the November election. War hawk and columnist Christopher Hitchens trashed Moore on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" recently, and now the editors of World Net Daily are getting in on the act. The right-wing Web tabloid reports that famed author Ray Bradbury called Moore a "horrible human!" in a recent interview -- in Swedish. Bradbury's purported attack comes courtesy of "an English translation" of a story called "Moore dr en skitstvvel" (roughly translating to: "Moore is a bastard").

"Author Ray Bradbury has ripped into filmmaker Michael Moore for using the title 'Fahrenheit 9/11' for his new Bush-bashing movie, an obvious takeoff on the 84-year-old's science-fiction classic 'Fahrenheit 451.'

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"Judging by an interview with the author conducted by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Bradbury is steamed.

"'Michael Moore is a screwed a--hole, that is what I think about that case,' Bradbury said, according to an English translation of the story. 'He stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission.' Continued the author: '[Moore] is a horrible human being -- horrible human!'

"When asked if he agrees with Moore's political positions, Bradbury replied, 'That has nothing to do with it. He copied my title; that is what happened. That has nothing to do with my political opinions.'"

As for the recent stamp of approval given to Moore's film by the French, Bradbury allegedly claimed there was an ulterior motive at work.

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"Bradbury dismissed any chance of the title being changed at this point: 'Who cares? Nobody will see his movie. It is almost dead already. Never mind, nobody cares.'

"Moore's film won the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival last month and is scheduled to hit theaters on June 25.

"Of the Cannes award, Bradbury told the paper: 'I have won prizes in different places and they are mostly meaningless. The people there hate us, which is why they gave him the d'Or. It's a meaningless prize.'"

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Mark Follman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2004 Elections Ann Coulter Michael Moore National Review Ronald Reagan

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