Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rewrote history. He said my father, Ronald Reagan, "cherished a famously close friendship with Tip O'Neill . . . . Ronald Reagan knew politics has always been and always will be about compromise. . . . That's why he was more beholden to simple pragmatism than stubborn principles."
Reid would have us believe that Ronald Reagan was the Great Compromiser. My father did, in fact, practice the art of compromise -- but he never elevated "pragmatism" over principle.
Four years before my father was elected president, he told me how he planned to negotiate with Soviet leaders. He'd let the Soviets "choose the place, the room, and the shape of the table." Dad was willing to compromise on nonessentials. But if the Soviets demanded he compromise his principles, he'd tell them, "Nyet!"
That's exactly what Ronald Reagan did in Reykjavík when Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that he give up the Strategic Defense Initiative. Throughout his eight years as president, my father made many compromises -- but he never compromised his principles.
And what about Ronald Reagan's "famously close friendship" with Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill? Simply not true. Dad wrote about his repeated attempts to reach out to House Speaker Tip O'Neill in his autobiography.
Dad once invited O’Neill to the White House for dinner. They shared a pleasant evening and Dad thought he'd made a friend. He was wrong. "I picked up a newspaper," he wrote, "and read a story in which Tip really laid into me personally. . . . Some of his remarks were pretty nasty. I was not only surprised, but disappointed and also a little hurt."
Dad called O'Neill and said, "I thought we had a pretty fine relationship going."
"That's politics," the Speaker replied, "After 6 o'clock we can be friends; but before 6, it’s politics."
People interpret that to mean that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were great friends after 6 o'clock. But Dad wanted a good working relationship with O'Neill during business hours. The Speaker wouldn't have it. Dad recalled that O'Neill "could turn off his charm and friendship like a light switch and become as bloodthirsty as a piranha."
In the end, Ronald Reagan could not work with Tip O'Neill. He had to go over the heads of the Democrat Party leadership to get his agenda passed. So much for the "famously close friendship" of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.
Harry Reid's rewrite of history is part of a concerted Democratic effort to recast Ronald Reagan as a liberal icon. That's right, a liberal icon.
My first inkling of this strategy was when I heard that Barack Obama was studying a biography of my father. A few weeks later, I was surprised to hear a gaggle of network commentators (including CBS' Jeff Greenfield, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, and ABC's Christiane Amanpour) remarking on Barack Obama's "Reaganesque" State of the Union address.
Then I saw Time magazine's "Obama ♥ Reagan" cover (February 7, 2011) which depicts Ronald Reagan with his arm around Obama. Clearly, someone had put out the memo: "Obama's the new Reagan! Pass it on!"
A far more insidious rewrite of history is Eugene Jarecki's new HBO propagandamentary “Reagan.” Disguised as a "biography" of my father, the film is a clever attempt to hijack my father's legacy.
Jarecki buries the truth about Reaganomics under deceptive images of unemployment lines. In fact, Ronald Reagan accomplished an economic miracle. He cut the misery index (the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate) from a Carter-era high of 21.98 to a 1986 low of 7.7.
Ronald Reagan's policies produced 96 consecutive months of continuous economic growth, from 1983 to 1990. Reaganomics produced 16 million jobs and cut African-American unemployment from 19.5 percent in 1983 to 11.4 percent in 1989. The Reagan tax cuts fueled an economic boom that nearly doubled federal revenue.
There's not a word of that in Jarecki's film. Instead, he repeats the tired canard that Reaganomics transferred wealth from the poor to the rich. He also makes the ridiculous claim that the Reagan tax cuts caused today's deficits. Think about it: If the Reagan tax cuts increased revenue, how could they increase deficits? Jarecki is equally deceptive about Iran-Contra, AIDS, Afghanistan, Middle East oil, and the end of the Cold War.
In an interview with the far-left website Mediaite, Jarecki reveals his motives behind the HBO film. "America really needed the kind of tough love that Jimmy Carter, however clumsily, tried to show. . . . Reagan, instead, came along and said 'Have another drink, and forget.' . . . Reagan, by making us forget, caused us to be unprepared, and then with his policies, deepened the problems."
Jarecki goes on to suggest that Barack Obama, "a far better communicator" than Carter, should revive Carter's "message about sacrifice." In short, Jarecki wants Obama to use Reagan's communication style to sell Jimmy Carter's vision of a post-prosperity America.
That's Jarecki's hidden agenda. He hijacks Republican icons to promote his Carterite agenda. He calls himself a "Republican" for the same reason the wolf wore sheep's clothing -- then he laughs behind his sleeve.
Eugene Jarecki is rummaging through the tomb of Ronald Reagan, looking for a legacy to steal. Thank God, we caught him red-handed.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant. He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his website at www.reagan.com. Portions of this column are adapted from his book “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin's Press).