While it is fitting to honor the man who was President, it is important to remember, that this was also not Camelot.
The environment took a back seat to corporate wealth. Energy conservation was not a priority. Trees were accused of causing global warming. We might have used this time to prepare for a future when fossil fuels would be in greater demand, by developing cleaner renewable options. Instead, we reverted to gas guzzling vehicles.
We called them the evil empire, and applauded this "feel good" rhetoric, when good intelligence might have suggested the trend toward the fall of totalitarianism and communism. A quieter, friendlier approach might have resulted in a similar end, without as great a weapons build up.
Taxes were decreased, then later raised. The national debt tripled. Wild speculation in investing led to the Savings & Loans scandal, addressed by the first Bush Administration with a bail out through a tax increases, that contributed to his demise.
Then came the Clinton Administration with it's hope for change, including an environmentally friendly Vice-President. But pandering to the right, put the brakes on change. Then came a key part of the economic policy Clinton had promised, fair share tax paying including the wealthy. The result was his Administration being targeted by many investigations, including an independent prosecutor who had an unlimited scope of investigative territory, starting with a 20 year old land deal, and culminating with the President's not coming forward about a personal indiscretion. Ken Starr's appointment lasted longer than most Clinton appointees. The result was a wasted focus on an unnecessary impeachment trial, where an acquittal was assured. Censure would have sufficed, and would have saved our government 6 months of distraction, that may have contributed to us being less prepared for 9-11.
The Reagan - Bush I Supreme Court appointees, appointed a President in 2000, based on questionable interpretation of the law, leaving the real election outcome to be forever in doubt. Not so coincidental, is the President - Appointee's similarity to the Presidents who appointed these Justices to the Supreme Court.
Similar in harsh rhetoric, tax cuts for the wealthy, unbridled defense spending (even before 9-11), retrenching from long established treaties and recently made agreements, and a back sliding of environmental and safety concerns, skyrocketing debt and deficits, loss of higher paying jobs, to be replaced by less secure and lower paying employment, all are reminiscent of the dark side of the Reagan era.
We honor the man we know as Ronald Reagan, and support his family at this time of loss. We can be thankful for the return to a more confident and optimistic era. But many of the policies of that time and his Administration remain suspect.
Many say his leadership changed America and the world. One could argue, not all for the good. We may have needed to re-define the role of government in society. Government, in itself, was never the problem, as President Reagan had said. Government had problems, in fulfilling its role. If, for instance, attempts to solve social ills, like poverty, were not successful, it was not because of government, it was because government and society did not seize this as a worthy enough priority to fix.
If we could send people to the moon in 10 years, why can't we successfully address the our needs on earth, with the same determination. If we could hasten the end of a cold war, why can't we produce quality healthcare and education for all? Can't we help to lift people out of poverty and chronic unemployment, rather than just knock them off the welfare roles. Can't we help substance abusers achieve sobriety, rather than just throw them in prison. Can't we develop renewable, earth friendly, energy and transportation, rather than befoul the earth by mining and drilling for polluting fossil fuels? Can't we grow our middle class, with better job opportunities that lift the working poor out of poverty, rather than offer multiple part time jobs without benefits. Can't we join the family of law abiding nations, working together for our mutual security, rather than alienate both friends and enemies alike, with tough talk and lone ranger policies, supported by selective information.
Which of any of these noble goals would not provide for our ultimate national security? Which of these are any less important than going to the moon, or building star wars?
Consider this, as we honor those from the past. The shining city on the hill is not just a place for wealthy entrepreneurs. It is a community in which our nation can fulfill its promise to truly be a land of opportunity for all, and not just a growing schism between haves and have nots.