Thursday, June 24, 2004

I keep missing US presidents

At various stages in the last two or three months I've had posts planned on Reagan, Clinton and Bush and never finished any of them. All three are beguiling, frightening and amusing in their way; certainly it would have been possible for me to have posted two very different messages on each of them; the public rehabilitation of Reagan and (to a lesser extent) Clinton has been fascinating to say the least. Nightmarish thoughts abound as to how Thatcher will be remembered when she dies. Amongst the many stories I've read about Reagan recently (most of which have concurred with the new reading of him - that his methods and his diplomatic skill were gravely misjudged by his critics) the story I liked best was how he would alarm the Russians by earnestly explaining that, in the event of an alien attack, he saw them working together against the common enemy.

Most interesting about the nostalgic re-evaluation of his career is the implication that America (and the Western World) is suddenly hugely nostalgic for the days where American identity and security was - comparatively - a more straightforward matter. Communism was an enemy which may have galvanised America's collective aggression and fear but it elicited, especially under Reagan, a bold decisiveness, even if, in supporting the hotchpotch of dictators and bandits who resisted Russia ("my enemy's enemy is my friend"), the short and long term effects were catastrophic (although I concede, because it is in vogue, that the cold war was ultimately ended under Reagan). Under Reagan America seemed to have a common purpose (apart from get richer if you were rich or get poorer if you were poor). Bush may have gone after Saddam with the same eagerness to identify and destroy an 'enemy', but the people of America are gradually realising that the world is emphatically not a safer place for it. 270 injured in car bombs today.

Writing in yesterday's Guardian David Aaronovitch wrote, of Bill Clinton - who sought solace during the Monica Lewinsky scandal by reading the writings of Marcus Aurelius (a Roman emperor who shared Clinton's fondness for both affection and talking): "There is no grandeur to be had now. These days Reagan is a great president, because these are not great days. They are messy and difficult and bloody, full of awful choices. It is no good blaming Bill because, as Marcus Aurelius himself said, real life is more like wrestling than dancing."

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