Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Selection: "The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan"


I read of both Newt “Real Change” Gingrich and Mitt “insurance mandates” Romney recently saying we need to “get beyond” idolizing Reagan and thinking he holds the answers for today’s problems.  David “Comeback!” Frum has written much the same thing, with unforgivably greater length and detail that shows more forethought (and even greater deference to the preferences of focus groups).

Should this not disqualify them from getting near the reins of conservative power ever again?

I just read the fine book of Reagan quotes The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan edited by James C. Hume, and here’s one quote (many in the book are taken from Reagan’s offhand comments and letters, not crafted by speechwriters) that reminds me how much clearer — and better — he was than any subsequent politician: “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: we win; they lose.”

Two months ago, I quoted this passage, reprinted in the book, from Reagan’s final speech in office, but it’s worth repeating, since it’s a great reminder of how something akin to the utopian impulse — but without the totalitarian mania for planning — can inspire in a way that transcends right/left distinctions:

I’ve spoken of the shining city [on a hill that is, America] all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.

Like a lot of my favorite things — and people — that passage is simultaneously old-fashioned and dynamic, sort of like…

…steampunk, the Victoriana-using subgenre of sci-fi in which I’m currently scrambling to complete writing a little something (more on that later, I hope) — and which you sort of get if you scramble together all my major interests (conservatism, science, punk, sci-fi).  Today marks the start in Seattle of the three-day Steamcon celebrating that aesthetic mode (and subculture).  So if you’re on the West Coast and old-fashioned, go to that this weekend, and if you’re on the East Coast, go to the Old Time Radio convention in Newark, described in yesterday’s entry.

At Steamcon, you might well hear about the fictional Victorian-era robot named Boilerplate — whose story and images are sufficiently convincing that, notoriously, former David Letterman writer Chris Elliott was taken in, thought Boilerplate was real, and used him in a historical novel, leading to a lawsuit.  (What would his fellow former Letterman writer, ethicist Randy Cohen, think?  And has Cohen written about Letterman’s scandals yet?  I don’t really care.)

We inherit the whole of civilization, not just its right or left half, not just its old or new parts, and it’s nice to see that important fact celebrated, whether by presidents or robots.

1 comment:

Xine said...

It’s worth recalling that the well-known source of Reagan’s “shining city on a hill,” John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” (issued on board the Arbella in 1630, en route to that utopian experiment known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony) itself attempted to negotiate God’s providential creation of social and economic difference (“don’t think we’re all gonna be equal when we get there”) with the kind of charitable cooperation that could productively lead the colony to flourish (a fond interdependence that God wished to encourage by creating that difference).