February 6, 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the birth Ronald Reagan. While the official Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission is planning its festivities, conservatives will try to turn it into a full-year of celebrating, honoring and capitalizing politically on the legacy of a decidedly mediocre president.
Earlier this year, the brothers Reagan (Michael, the older one, a conservative radio talk show host, Ron, the younger, a progressive radio talk show host), had a spirited, civil, and public disagreement. They weren't facing off at a University of Oxford Debate nor did they spend some time with Oprah; in fact, it wasn't even face-to-face (although a holiday dinner might be quite an event). Rather, through the magic of an assortment of media platforms, the two brothers discussed how their father, Ronald Reagan, might have responded to the Tea Party Movement.
Michael insisted that his dad "would say 'hear, hear' to those people who in fact [are] out there rattling their sabers if you will to wake up Washington, D.C.," he said in an early-February interview with the Business & Media Institute. In another venue, Michael said he believed that his father "would embrace the tea party movement if he were alive today."
During an appearance on the Joy Behar television talk show, Ron said his father "would be un-amused by the tea partiers, with their Hitler signs and all the rest of it. No, I don't think he'd be cottoning to that much at all."
Arguments about what Ronald Reagan might have thought about tea partiers and other contemporary issues, and over what he thought and did during his 8-year tenure as president will come into bold relief next year when the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of America's 40th president.
On June 5, 2004, after suffering for quite some time from Alzheimer's disease, Ronald Reagan died. Many in the nation mourned. Many did not. Now, with the 100th anniversary of his birth around the calendar's corner, it is likely that a fairly large chunk of the public will once again display what writer Gore Vidal has characterized as a unique American type of collective amnesia. Meanwhile, the Ronald Reagan legacy folks – a band made up mostly of of determined conservatives -- will be trying to take full advantage of that condition.
President Barack Obama – with Nancy Reagan at his side – on June 2, 2009, signed into law the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, which established an 11-member commission to plan activities that will be taking place throughout the year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project
Founded more than a decade ago, the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project (RRLP) was originally dedicated to a political deification of Reagan. The organization's stated "mission" was "to honor and memorialize the historic achievements of … Reagan…. by naming at least one notable public landmark in each state after the 40th president."
The main motivator of the RRLP is longtime conservative activist Grover Norquist, who in 1986 founded an organization called Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a conservative national taxpayer advocacy organization. (Norquist may be best known for his statement: "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.") The RRLP had ambitious goals which included the naming of at least one notable public landmark in each state, and all of America's counties, after Reagan, It also hoped that a monument to Reagan be erected on the National Mall. There were other goals as well, including replacing Alexander Hamilton's face with Reagan's on the $10 bill, and having half the dimes -- currently with FDR's likeness -- stamped with Reagan's visage. Thus far neither of these exalted goals has been achieved.
The Legacy Project was successful in getting the capital's National Airport renamed to honor Reagan. And, across the nation there are a number of roads, drives, turnpikes, parkways and freeways, elementary schools and high schools, community centers, and state office buildings bearing his name. Outside the U.S. there's the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on the Marshall Islands, a number of projects in Poland including Ronald Reagan Square (formerly Central Square), in Krakow, Ronald Reagan Park, in Gda?sk, and the Ronald Reagan Monument, in Wroc?aw. There is also the Ronald Reagan Scholarship Fund in the small country of Grenada.
Perhaps the tastiest tribute was the six-foot portrait of Reagan made from 14,000 jelly beans, called "Reagan's Sweet Legacy."
The Legacy Project's ultimate goal, however, has been more than merely a renaming effort. It is an attempt to rewrite history and have the American people believe that a decidedly mediocre president deserves to be in the company of such presidents as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.