Toast to a Freeman


I had just returned from picking up my wife's friend from the airport. The flags at Dulles were at half-staff, and though the sight disturbed me greatly, I had no time to stop and ask... I found out that Ronald Reagan was dead after we returned home.

My wife is Russian, born in Leningrad, once and again called St. Petersburg. Her friend is a Muscovite; she stopped by to see us after attending a G8 planning conference in Indiana. The two women met in the early 90s as participants in a high school exchange program between Russia and the United States.

Neither their original meeting, nor their reunion in the US, would not have been possible under the Soviet system that Mr. Reagan fought to destroy. My wife's generation was the last cohort of children to be fed through the Soviet grinder of dreary national service, but thankfully by the time they could join the Communist Party, it was no longer seen as advantageous to do so.

The downfall and transition of the Soviet polity was and still is chaotic, but out of that chaos has come the Russian flavor of freedom under an autocratic democracy. Russian freedom has many of the small things that make freedom worthwhile--like owning your home or business (though land is trickier), being free to travel abroad, being free to emigrate, and not being required to work when and where you're told.

Indeed my wife's friend insisted that Russians are now no less free than Americans, although she was nervous leaving our apartment without her documents! Still, Russia may not be a democracy, or a "normal country", but its people are incomparably freer--and far less threatening to us--than they were when I was born. And I believe that's Mr. Reagan's doing, although Russians will forever debate how and why their old system fell apart so quickly.

Many Russians hate what American freedoms have brought them--particular their WWII "greatest generation", who no longer have the country they honorably defended. Russians may fear US cultural and economic dominance, may be envious of US wealth and prosperity, may even hate the US--but now their government will never try to obliterate the US.

I believe it undeniable, that all his successes and failures accounted for, Mr. Reagan drove the world towards far greater economic and political freedom. For that, Mr. Reagan, I and my wife owe you more than we could ever repay.

Rest in Peace, Mr. President.

[Note: I understand that the short-term US economic record of Mr. Reagan is hotly debated; I'm concerned with his longer-term impact in the US and elsewhere.]

Update: I have to respond at length to David Matsen's comment below.

Or was Reagan simply leading us down a dangerous road by forever compromising;

In my book, Reagan was a lot more talk than action. Volcker brought the inflation under control and according to people who were there, it was Gorby not the Gipper who did the most to end the Cold War:


Your points about the economy are well taken.

I once read the Rothbard critique, and think that saying Reagan was a compromiser is entirely accurate, saying the economy could have been better is accurate (though I wouldn't have wanted that job), and the government got bigger was accurate. I think the economic path is no more dangerous than it was before... but I have low expectations of economic policy. But that's not really what I'm concerned about here.

RR's economic policies were neither laissez-faire nor even efficient--though the unemployment and inflation rates sure did plummet. I do think he acted on his cold war rhetoric far better than his laissez-faire rhetoric, and that his Cold War stance--summarized as "the ball's in your court, buddy, we'll take care of our own"--was a perfect compliment to Gorby's searching for Communist sustainable development.

Of course, it would be impossible for an American president to be in charge or be primarily responsible for reform in the Soviet Union, so RR must be a back seat driver in the story.

But let's clear one thing up. The evil empire speech was given on June 8, 1982, when the Soviet leader was none other than Brezhnev--not Gorby. So Gorbachev becomes Communist general secretary in 1985--following the unstable sequence of Breznev, Andropov, and Chernenko--after an entire term of Reagan, and hence as a (very) partial response to Reagan.

And, I think the last article you point to misses the point completely, and misunderstands the chronology. It was Yeltsin who had the lead role--not Gorby, and not Reagan. Reagan did not have to do a damn thing to defeat communism except bunker down, build up, and explicitly refuse to give an inch. Gorby responded by sufficiently weakening the Soviet system, and Yeltsin expropriated the entire mafia machine for personal gain. That's my, admittedly novice, view of the historical development of freedom in Russia.

The cold war was not ended by nuclear arms reduction treaties. It was not ended by the pullout from Afghanistan, or the release of some dissidents. It was not ended by sundry conferences and peace initiatives, or Glasnost and perestroika, or the lessening of control over the republics. The Cold War was ended by the defacto eviction of Gorby and the collapse of the Soviet government--after Gorby had done all these things to modify and reform.

Reagan had done little but spend on defense and make crucial speeches. Fine; I'll thank him for those speeches.

Also, I find unlikely the idea Gorby was responding to "sweeping democratic revolution" in Russia, since he could have easily killed those he revolutionaries if he had really wanted to.

Many of those who faced the Russian tanks in 1991 were not Russian! Just ask anybody who was there! Note that the usual treatment is silent on who actually was there:

The crucial reason the coup failed was that during the past six years of glasnost and perestroika the Soviet people had lost their fear of the Communist Party. When tanks moved to break up demonstrations the protestors unarmed started attacking the tanks.
And the notion that the Soviets wanted to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2000! Could they have convinced the Chinese to destroy their nuclear weapons? Come on!

Also, I hated history in high school. If there had been an internet then, I'd know a lot more of it...


Or was Reagan simply leading us down a dangerous road by forever compromising;

In my book, Reagan was a lot more talk than action. Volcker brought the inflation under control and according to people who were there, it was Gorby not the Gipper who did the most to end the Cold War:

Death to Reganists
disclaimer: all

That was silly, Mr. Hartington.
disclaimer: extremely


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on June 11, 2004 11:51 AM.

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