Richard Reeves

On Being Wrong: I Told You So

NEW YORK -- No doubt there is something both petty and unseemly about saying, "I told you so." After all, the people who were wrong about something -- invading Iraq, for instance -- know what mistakes, honest mistakes, they made. But it does feel good to remind them.

In the current issue of The American Spectator, which for more than 30 years, in good times and bad, has been one of the monthly bibles of American conservatism, Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute reminds me that he once told me I was wrong about the legacy of Ronald Reagan. So I was.

Hayward told me so years ago in a debate in Santa Barbara, an event only he and I will long remember. And he tells me so again in a long, intelligent and fundamentally fair review of my book on Reagan in the current issue of the Spectator.

Being called a "grandee" for the first time, I had to reach for Webster to find out that I am "a man of high social position or eminence." Unfortunately, though, I can't carry a tune.

But "President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination," published at the beginning of this year, certainly does represent a change of tone. Even if I wrote that the 40th president of the United States dumbed-down America with his gift for mixing fact and fiction to turn issues into emotions, I could hardly ignore the truth that the man changed the world. He made us see the world around us in a different way, an achievement associated with genius. The creator of "borrow and spend" Republicanism is still president in the same way Franklin D. Roosevelt, that old "tax and spend" liberal, was still running the country years after he died.

But enough about me. What did YOU think of my latest book? I am taking Hayward's essay as a rationale for saying "I told you so!" to my colleagues on both the right and the left who blindly ignored history and human nature to declare victory in Iraq. It has, after all, been three years now since "shock and awe" and "mission accomplished." And unless President Bush, Reagan's mini-me, adopts the tried-and-true Reagan technique of cutting and running -- remember Beirut in 1983 -- we will still be trapped there for another 10 years.

My "told you so" instincts were aroused by Extra!, the newsletter of a valuable liberal voice, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which marked the anniversary of the Iraq invasion by quoting the first words of grandees who were wrong then and still are:

-- "I will bet you the best dinner in the Gaslight District of San Diego that military action will not last more than week ..." said Bill O'Reilly of Fox News.

-- "All the naysayers have been humiliated so far. The final word is hooray," said Morton Kondracke, also of Fox.

-- "The war was the hard part. ... It gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war," said Fred Barnes, also of Fox.

-- "The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper West Side liberals, and a few people here in Washington," said columnist Charles Krauthammer.

-- "When we find the chemical weapons ... the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years," said Dick Morris on Fox.

-- "The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints," said Tony Snow on Fox, before he moved over to the White House himself.

-- "Now that the war in Iraq is all but over, should the people in Hollywood who opposed the president admit they were wrong?" said Alan Colmes, Fox's house liberal.

-- On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said: "I'm waiting to hear the words, 'I was wrong." ... I just wonder who's going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: 'Hey, America. Guess what? I was wrong.'"

Well, I'm waiting, too. We all make mistakes; that is the nature of life. Real grandees learn from them.

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