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Looking at Reagan from a little to the left - Clay Wilson

I guess I haven't moved as far left as I thought.

Over the past few years I've perceived myself becoming more "liberal" politically. The shift corresponds with both my college education and my career as a reporter.

I realize, of course, that admitting this fact seems to confirm conservatives' charges that the majority of both the nation's media outlets and colleges are hotbeds of liberal ideology.

Nevertheless, I have no problem classifying myself as liberal when it comes to issues of socioeconomic justice, such as welfare and civil rights. I'm still fairly conservative on many social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

I guess I'd classify myself as a conservative Democrat, or a liberal Republican, or a moderate Independent.

But whatever I am, I'm still a fan of Ronald Reagan.

I realize this column is a little late. Despite the almost non-stop coverage of Mr. Reagan's death last week, it didn't hit me then that I should write my own tribute to the man whose presidency framed a significant portion of my childhood.

Looking back, I perceive Mr. Reagan as a grandfatherly presence always smiling in the background. It's the way I've heard that people saw President Eisenhower in the 1950s.

The mental image I get is that of Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties," with a poster of President Reagan smiling down from the wall of his room. Come to think of it, I believe for a while I wanted to be Alex Keaton n although I never took that first step and bought a Reagan poster.

Anyway, Mr. Reagan is the first president I remember considering "my president." I would have been just 6 years old when he took office, but his second term lasted into my junior high years.

Many of the news articles and commentaries I read since Mr. Reagan's death spoke of the optimism and patriotism he inspired. Indeed, that's how I remember the Reagan years.

Maybe it's just because I was young and not jaded, but I remember being proud to be an American and confident of a bright future of prosperity and peace. There was the Cold War with its threat of nuclear holocaust, but I guess I believed my "grandfather in the White House" would take care of us.

I vaguely recall some of Mr. Reagan's addresses to the nation. Alas, I don't remember the one in which he uttered the now-famous admonition, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

I do recall the Iran-Contra scandal, with its interminable Congressional hearings. I even remember doing my best wannabe stand-up comic's impressions of Mr. Reagan saying, "I don't have any recollection of that."

But I don't remember Iran-Contra making me lose faith in the president the way the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal did. Maybe I just wasn't old enough to understand the seriousness of the charges against Reagan's administration.

And then there are the criticisms from the left n which I remember hearing even while he was in office n that Mr. Reagan gutted social programs and showed little regard for the poor.

Those criticisms may be valid: The ?80s are still characterized as a decade when material excess was not only accepted, but encouraged.

But all heroes, however golden otherwise, have feet of clay. And the fact remains that Ronald Reagan helped restore some of the confidence of a nation still reeling from Vietnam and Watergate.

I think it's also safe to say that he at least helped give the final push over history's precipice to one of the modern world's most oppressive political systems n Soviet Communism.

For those two reasons, if for nothing else, Mr. Reagan deserved the national tributes that we saw last week. And he deserved this tribute, however humble it may be.

May you rest in peace, Mr. President.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.