TCS Daily


Europe Ponders the Reagan Legacy

By Craig Winneker - June 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Ronald Reagan always had perfect political pitch and a great sense of the defining moment. Even his death on Saturday at the age of 93 seemed timed precisely to reinforce the already moving images and stirring messages coming from Normandy on the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

As Europeans paused to remember the sacrifices made by Americans and the Allies to win their liberty in 1944, the news of Reagan's passing underlined the debt Europeans will forever owe him for securing their freedom and ensuring their prosperity even as they wrote him off as a joke.

Some of the press coverage has managed to acknowledge that debt, even as it pointed out the many areas in which they had been critical of his policies or underestimated his abilities. Europeans, in reconsidering the meaning of the post-war transatlantic relationship, managed to put Reagan to a new context. To take him seriously, in other words. Let's see if the appreciation continues after the rhetorical truce that obtained during the D-Day commemorations is lifted, and whether it is extended to the White House's current occupant.

To be sure, some of the coverage of Reagan's death fails to surprise. Le Monde, for example, damns the former president with faint praise. Its obituary begins: "Often scoffed at by the press and by his adversaries, who saw him as a cowboy, a film star on the rebound, or as an uneducated president, Ronald Reagan at the very least succeeded, during his two presidential terms, in fulfilling the essence of his contract with Americans: to give them back confidence in the 'spirit' of their country."

It adds politely that his political and economic agendas were "not without their critics." No kidding.

The Paris left-wing daily Libération sometimes forgets the phenomenon for which it is named, but almost always reflects the sensibilities of its founder, Jean-Paul Sartre. To mark Reagan's death, it splashes a front-page photo of the Gipper throwing a football from the Air Force One gangway. Not exactly the Berlin Wall speech. You can almost see the editors giggling over their Gauloises.

The paper's headline, "Reagan, à la droite de l'Amérique," has a double meaning, courtesy of the beautiful and endlessly malleable French language: not just that Reagan was to the right of America, but also that he was straight from the heart of America. I'll give them points for that one.

Inside, the paper connects the deceased former president to the current one, who "models himself, not on his father but on Reagan". It points to the parallel between George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" and Ronald Reagan's description of the former Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire".

Spain's El Mundo, meanwhile, also plays with words in its front-page headline, calling Reagan "un ferviente defensor del liberalismo", a fervent defender of "liberalism". My Spanish isn't very strong, but I know enough to think they should have used the word "libertad" instead.

And Germany's Die Welt also has a smirking headline: "His patriotism was contagious".

But for the most part the coverage is appropriately respectful and even laudatory. Writing in Russia's Izvestiya, Mikhail Gorbachev calls Reagan "a statesman who, despite all the differences between our countries, showed foresight and the will to stop the nuclear race, to embark on the destruction of nuclear weapons and to establish good relations between our countries."

Lithuania's Respublika thanks him, in typically more blunt fashion, for "having beaten the Soviets".

The Czech Republic's Mlada Fronta Dnes is even bolder than that. "He defeated the Soviet Union, won the Cold War and helped restore freedom in Central Europe," its editors write. "Although he was a controversial president in many respects, the Czechs should not forget that Ronald Reagan is one reason that they are enjoying their present freedom."

Austria's Die Presse sums up the tenor of much of the coverage in oh-so-sophisticated Europe by declaring that "Ronald Reagan was not an intellectual, [but] he was a great president."

However, Germany's Die Tageszeitung is not shy about using the death of America's 40th president to score some political points against its 43rd. "Bush's missionary zeal, his morally driven Middle East policy, his mantra of tax reductions and deregulation," the paper says, "look like a direct extension of the Reagan era."

I never thought I would say this, but maybe they should start reading Libération.


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