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2006-05-16 11:13

  Ronald Reagan, who died on Saturday after his long battle with Alzheimer's disease, projected an aura (气氛)of optimism so radiant that it seemed almost a force of nature. Many people who disagreed with his ideology still liked him for his personality, and that was a source of frustration for his political opponents who knew how much the ideology mattered. Looking back now, we can trace some of the flaws of the current Washington mindset —the tax-cut-driven deficits, the slogan-driven foreign policy — to Mr. Reagan's example. But after more than a decade of political mean-spiritedness, we have to admit that collegiality (共同掌权)and good manners are beginning to look pretty attractive.

  President Reagan was, of course, far more than some kind of chief executive turned national greeter. He will almost certainly be ranked among the most important presidents of the 20th century, forever linked with the triumph over Communism abroad and the restoration of faith in free markets at home.

  He profited from good timing and good luck, coming along when the country was tired of the dour pedantry of the Carter administration, wounded by the Iranian hostage crisis, frustrated by rising unemployment and unyielding inflation. Mr. Reagan's stubborn refusal to accept the permanence of Communism helped end the cold war. He was fortunate to have as his counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev, a Soviet leader ready to acknowledge his society's failings and interested in reducing international tensions.

  Mr. Reagan's decision to send marines to Lebanon was disastrous, however, and his invasion of Grenada pure melodrama. His most reckless episode involved the scheme to supply weapons to Iran as ransom (赎回)for Americans who were being held hostage in Lebanon, and to use the proceeds to illegally finance contra insurgents in Nicaragua.

  Mr. Reagan showed little appetite for power, even less for the messy detail of politics. He joked about his work habits. "It's true hard work never killed anybody," he said in 1987. "But I figure, why take the chance?" His detachment from the day-to-day business of government was seductive for a nation that had tired of watching Mr. Carter micromanage the White House. The nation's 40th president was absent from the public eye for a long time before his death, but his complicated legacy endures. Although Mr. Reagan did reverse course and approve some tax increases in the face of mounting deficits — in stark contrast to President Bush nowadays — he was still responsible for turning the Republican Party away from its fiscally conservative roots. The flawed theory behind the Reagan tax cuts, that the ensuing jolt to the economy would bring in enough money to balance the budget, is still espoused by many of the Republican faithful, including President Bush.

  One of Mr. Reagan's advisers, David Stockman, later wrote that the real aim of fiscal policy was to create a "strategic deficit" that would slam the door and reduce the size of the federal government. Such thinking is far too prevalent in Washington to this day, and helps explain why plenty of conservatives don't seem all that bothered by the government's inability to balance its books.

  When Ronald Reagan was elected, the institution of the presidency and the nation itself seemed to be laboring under a large dark cloud. Into the middle of this malaise came a most improbable chief executive — a former baseball announcer, pitchman for General Electric, Hollywood bon vivant and two-term California governor with one uncomplicated message: There was no problem that could not be solved if Americans would only believe in themselves. At the time, it was something the nation needed to hear. Today, we live in an era defined by that particular kind of simplicity, which expresses itself in semi-detached leadership and a black-and-white view of the world. Gray is beginning to look a lot more attractive.

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