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Help from Reagan in Beating the New Evil Empire
Charlie Clark

The "name-everything-after-Ronald-Reagan" movement continues to stalk its quarry, which during this hunting season means the National Airport Metro station.

Just when Northern Virginians thought it was safe to get back on the subway, a clique of Congressmen from points faraway have revived the conspiracy to deny federal transportation monies if the regional Metro authority declines to spend $400,000 on re-labeling the airport stop to display Reagan's name.

The man to help us block this misguided juggernaut is none other than…Ronald Reagan. Were he not stricken with Alzheimer's, the Great Communicator would be speaking out against such unfunded federal mandates. He also would instinctively dismiss this fanatical effort to litter our freedom-loving nation with temples of cult-leader glorification worthy of Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro or Kim Il Sung. Because it was Reagan who tagged the Soviet Union "the evil empire," he's our best weapon for meeting the latter-day threat from this New Evil Empire.

The Reagan worshippers claim they're merely enforcing the law that renamed Washington National for Reagan, while clarifying things for tourists who allegedly get confused by what apparently are dozens of Metro stations that contain word "airport." We're supposed to believe that this "grass-roots" (or is it Astroturf?) campaign represents a burst of patriotic pride in sound stewardship of our nation's legacy.

In fact, the Reagan-as-national-savior campaign is a slick, orchestrated PR gimmick cooked up by right-wing ideologues like Grover Norquist, Phyllis Schlafly, and Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). I suspect these worthies are feeling insecure about the country's political direction - perhaps they're among the few Republicans who noticed they lost the popular vote in last year's election.

These ideologues are so underconfident that future historians will revere their hero like a Lincoln or a Jefferson, that they've drawn up plans far more ambitious than just putting Reagan's name on the International Trade Center, an aircraft carrier, and our local airport. They want a Reagan memorial on the national Mall, his face on the $10 bill, his image carved in Mount Rushmore, and some form of Reagan commemoration in each of the 3,066 counties in these United States. If this movement today seems hyperactive, imagine the overdrive it will shift to when the Gipper eventually dies.

Such a cornucopia of bad taste would be unexplainable if it weren't such an obvious tactic for pushing the conservative agenda. That was clear in 1998 when the bill renaming Washington National Airport (already named for George Washington) was rammed through in a party-line vote. Republicans wouldn't even entertain a bipartisan approach, such as simultaneously re-naming Dulles Airport for Jimmy Carter who, polls show, is the most admired living former president.

The airport bill also made a mockery of the bill signed in 1986 by, ahem, President Reagan, requiring an interval of 25 years after a luminary's death before a credible societal consensus could be formed about the appropriateness of a memorial. Not to mention the bizarreness of naming the airport for the president who began his term by firing striking air traffic controllers, who mocked the government's "puzzle palaces on the Potomac," and who spent as little time in Washington as he could get away with.

To be sure, Reagan will be ranked by future generations as an important president. He'll be recalled for championing a tax revolt, an aggressive defense and foreign policy, a challenge to liberal spending and regulation, and an upbeat style of campaigning.

But any measured judgment of Reagan's achievements will include the ledger's negative side: his quadrupling of the national debt, his record budget deficits, his high unemployment rates, the poorly informed management style that brought on the Iran-contra scandal, and his elevation of image-making over substantive policy debate. Funny how none of these discomfiting facts gets mentioned by the Reagan-for-sainthood boosters, which is why we can't have them running national monument policy.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-National Airport) is counting on the Senate to block this latest slap at local sovereignty. Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who as regional Metro representative has led the resistance to this scheme to create the first Washington Metro station named for a living personage, points out that Reagan was a not a popular figure in our area.

Indeed, while I see "Reagan National Airport" in newspapers and hear it on radio weather reports, I have yet, in private conversations with either Republicans or Democrats, to hear a single person call it anything but National Airport. Such civil disobedience is a patriotic way for average Americans to defeat the New Evil Empire. Do so in the name of Reagan.