Ronald Reagan was born on this date 102 years ago today. He died in June 2004 -- but I've written quite a bit about him in the intervening years, especially while and after I wrote a 2009 book about Reagan and his legacy called "Tear Down This Myth." Why focus so much on a man who left the Oval Office 24 years, who died nearly eight years ago?
The main and most important reason is that the modern Republican Party has warped Reagan's legacy for its own 21st century political purposes -- twisting his actual views and his official actions on everything from war to taxes into a right-wing vision that the Gipper himself probably wouldn't recognize. So it's useful from time to time to remind ourselves who Ronald Reagan really was -- and wasn't -- in order to beat back dumb ideas in the present.
Beyond that, I'm a huge fan of recalling our history, in general, because remembering where we've been can teach us a thing or two about where we are going now. As we debate reducing the federal deficit, for example, it's useful to remember that Reagan saw raising taxes -- something he did 11 times as president -- as part of the solution. The tale of how Reagan deregulated the savings-and-loan industry -- with disastrous results -- should have warned us about deregulating the banksters, even though it clearly didn't.
Let's be clear that there was quite a lot about the real, non-mythical Ronald Reagan not to like -- his encouragement of a Gordon Gekko economy that created a yawning gap between the rich and poor, his embrace of death squads and other atrocities by U.S. surrogates in Central America, and his failure to address problems from the AIDS crisis to growing homelessness. But there's one overlooked aspect of Reagan's policy that I keep coming back to, because it's so relevant in 2013: His views on addressing international terrorism -- and on using techniques such as torture, military tribunals, and military strikes to combat them.