The Magazine

An Army of One

From the October 25, 2004 issue: What it's like to be the only Republican in your high school.

Oct 25, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 07 • By DANIEL GELERNTER
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The book dramatically describes how Carter, in the summer of 1979, "like a royal potentate of old, summoning the wise men of the realm for their counsel in a time of crisis," went up to Camp David ("the mountaintop") while his people awaited "the results of these extraordinary deliberations." Then he made a "remarkable television address" in which he "chided his fellow citizens for falling into a 'moral and spiritual crisis' and for being too concerned with 'material goods.'" (Everyone else remembers this event as Carter's pathetic "malaise" speech.) The authors sum Carter up as "an unusually intelligent, articulate, and well-meaning president," but one who was "badly buffeted by events beyond his control, such as the soaring price of oil, runaway inflation, and the galling insult of the continuing hostage crisis in Iran." In other words: He did a great job, and the awful things that happened during his administration weren't his fault.

The Reagan chapter starts by describing Reagan's high hopes and goals, but quickly deteriorates: "At first, 'supply-side' economics seemed to be a beautiful theory mugged by a gang of brutal facts" as the economy went downhill. Then there was a "healthy" recovery. But "for the first time in the twentieth century, income gaps widened between the richest and poorest Americans. The poor got poorer and the very rich grew fabulously richer, while middle-class incomes largely stagnated."

This is how the authors describe the largest peacetime economic boom of the 20th century, a period in which the average income of all quintiles from poorest to richest increased. The book then quickly moves on to discuss the deficit: "The staggering deficits of the Reagan administration constituted a great economic failure. . . . The deficits virtually guaranteed that future generations of Americans would either have to work harder than their parents, lower their standard of living, or both, to pay their foreign creditors when the bills came due."

Reagan's most important achievement, ending the Cold War, is never mentioned in the Reagan section. The authors imply that the credit for ending the Cold War goes to none other than Mikhail Gorbachev. My classmates swallow it all. They believe that Gorbachev suddenly decided one day that it was time for his country to lose the Cold War. My history teacher thought it incredible that I refused to credit Gorbachev with "allowing us to win."

Perhaps needless to add, there are no lessons on the virtue of patriotism. Like the textbooks, my teachers are extremely charitable when discussing American enemies; from the Soviet Union to the Vietnamese Communists, they all get the benefit of the doubt. I would like to believe that this is only a temporary situation, perhaps one that a few well-placed educational reformers could begin to correct. But my fear is that it will take a long time to repair our public schools. Meanwhile, what will become of a country whose youngest citizens have been taught to have so little affection for it?

Daniel Gelernter publishes the Republican Dan blog at republicandan.blogspot.com.