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Kerry on Reagan

The Massachusetts senator is saying all the right things now, but what did he say about Reagan before?

5:45 PM, Jun 7, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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SENATOR JOHN KERRY issued a respectful and respectable statement in response to the news of President Reagan's death on Saturday. "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious," he said. "Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate. Despite the disagreements, he lived by that noble ideal that at 5:00 p.m. we weren't Democrats or Republicans, we were Americans and friends." This was an appropriate, even deft, statement--followed by the announcement by Kerry that he was canceling campaign events this week.

But it's worth taking a look back at what Kerry said about Reagan during and after his presidency. Reagan was president when Kerry was elected to the Senate, and their ideological clashes were colorful and frequent. That's to be expected. Occasionally, however, during Reagan's presidency and in subsequent years, Kerry crossed the line into strident invective:

* In November 2002, U.S. News & World Report carried this Kerry assessment of Reagan's presidency: "You roll out the president one time a day. One exposure to all of you [the media]. No big in-depth inquiries. Put him in his brown jacket and his blue jeans, put him on a ranch, let him cock his head, give you a smile, and it looks like America's OK."

He repeated the same sentiments in an interview with Vogue last year, this time drawing a parallel to Bush: ''They have managed him the same way they managed Ronald Reagan," Kerry contended. ''They send him out to the press for one event a day. They put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or drive a truck, and all of a sudden, he's the Marlboro Man."

* That's not the only time Kerry has offered unflattering Bush-Reagan comparisons. In an interview last September with the Manchester Union-Leader, Kerry said, "We've seen governors come to Washington, . . . and they don't have the experience in foreign policy, and they get in trouble pretty fast. Look at Ronald Reagan. Look at Jimmy Carter and, now, obviously, George Bush."

* In 1992 Kerry said, "Ronald Reagan certainly was never in combat. I mean, many of his movies depicted him there. And he may have believed he was, but he never was. And the fact is that he sent Americans off to die."

* After his first major political battle in the Senate over Reagan's support for the Nicaraguan contras in 1985, Kerry said "I think it was a silly and rather immature approach," of Reagan's dismissal of a "peace offer" from Sandinista junta leader Daniel Ortega

* Last year Kerry said to the Democratic National Committee: "I'm proud that I stood against Ronald Reagan, not with him, when his intelligence agencies were abusing the Constitution of the United States and when he was running an illegal war in Central America."

In fact, Kerry has spoken at great length about the Reagan administration's "abuse of the Constitution" and "totalitarian" inclinations: "They were willing to literally put the Constitution at risk because they believed there was somehow a higher order of things, that the ends do in fact justify the means. That's the most Marxist, totalitarian doctrine I've ever heard of in my life. . . . You've done the very thing that James Madison and others feared when they were struggling to put the Constitution together, which was to create an unaccountable system with runaway power . . . running off against the will of the American people."

Kerry was right to say kind words about Reagan on the day of his death. But they shouldn't obscure what Kerry said about Reagan during his life.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.