This Sunday commemorates the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan, America's (post-Kennedy) Presidential Sweetheart. Though forever embedded in our historical fabric as a swashbuckling Cold War hero, Reagan's contributions may have been only mediocre, to say the least. Read more about the actor-turned-president's overrated political effect in the Cold War in Michael Kinsley's 2001 article, below.
One Reagan foreign policy initiative almost no one tries to defend is trading weapons for hostages in Iran-Contra. It was morally contemptible, it violated one of the central principles that got Reagan elected, it trampled the very value of democracy it was ostensibly designed to promote. And it didn't even work.
But the question history must decide is: Was it better or worse than oral sex with an intern? It seems to me that subverting the Constitution on an important policy matter is worse than embarrassing everybody with your private squalor. It seems to others that overzealousness in freedom's cause is easier to forgive than raw self-satisfaction. Whoever is right about that, the mantra of the Lewinsky scandal was that the lying, not the original transgression, is what counts. If so, Reagan's sins are at least equal to Clinton's. He never testified under oath until he was out of office and his claims not to remember things had become sadly believable. But at the height of the scandal Reagan lied to us on television just as spectacularly as Clinton did, with that little shake of the head, rather than a Clintonian bite of the lower lip, as his signature gesture of phony sincerity.