One of the most dreadful features of the internet is that just anyone can go back through online newspaper archives and see how wrong I have so often been. My opinions have been enacted in a public forum almost since Methuselah played with Lego, and now they're all available in ghastly array -- the many, many times when I have been wrong or stupid or misinformed or lazy or hasty or arrogant or insensitive.
You can be wrong in whatever you say, and little will remain of it in 24 hours: within a week it will be as tangible as a salmon fart in hyperspace, and within a decade it'll be as vanished as the light shed by the sun when the Earth was a lad.
Not me. Everything I've said in my columns is now on the record, for all time. I occasionally trawl through my opinions, and with much mortification and shame I wonder how I could have been so utterly cretinous -- last week, last year or last century. But in no matter was I as wrong about anything as I was in my assessment of Ronald Reagan, made in the era when I was a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool PC lefty, when all my opinions were like books borrowed from the great liberal-library of anti-capitalist and US-phobic mythology.
It says something about the cultural power of pinkly toxic unthink that I could publicly have subscribed to its political caricatures, even when they were so totally contradicted my personal experience of the US itself. I even coined a phrase to describe the alleged effects of US foreign policy: "tertiomondication", the act of turning societies that might otherwise be prosperous into third world countries. Yes, I said that: oh, the shame of it.
Well, I've changed my mind now, but without subscribing to the opposite viewpoint, widely held by conservative Americans, that Reagan was close to being a saint. He wasn't. He was a flawed man, whose reverence for the Founding Fathers of the US was at times infantile, and his comparison of the terrorist-Contras of Nicaragua with Jefferson and Washington and Franklin was worse than absurd. His order to the USS New Jersey to fire naval shells into villages in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon remains inexcusable.
Moreover, Alzheimer's struck him early, even in the White House, causing him to confuse his film parts with his own life, and making him cruelly ripe for parody. And as for the "evil empire", as he called the USSR -- well, only now do we know the real meaning of evil, bred by the very cause that he was arming and aiding in Afghanistan.
But he was nonetheless a very great man -- and what elevated him above most elected politicians was his passionately held vision of personal freedom. Beyond the US, Margaret Thatcher was almost alone in sharing his ambition to lift the burden of the state from the citizen.
The greatest gift that political leaders can bestow is not an institution or a space programme or a university: it is to enrich the landscape of the minds of those they govern. Where there were wastelands of despair and doubt and anxiety, great leaders cause luxuriant harvests of self-belief to flourish.
That's what Reagan did for the US: he inherited a nation demoralised by defeat in Vietnam and by Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon and the Iranian hostage crisis, and transformed it totally. He restored the US to what it had been after Pearl Harbour and before Vietnam, the bastion of world freedom, and in doing so, he spread the light of liberty across the Eurasian landmass.
Few men in world history have ever achieved so much for so many hundreds of millions. And yes, and throughout, he was reviled by us in the liberal left. To show how idiotically wrong the liberal left still are about him, check "Reagan gaffes" on the internet, and as you'll see, they're not blunders at all, but simple truths. Hence the allegedly "hilarious" quote: "Heaven help us if government ever gets into the business of protecting us from ourselves."
Quite so. For protecting people from themselves is actually what most politicians see as their duty: but Reagan sought to guard the citizen from such meddlesome intrusions. By reviving the culture of personal freedom, he enabled Americans to reach beyond the merely possible, to grasp the improbable, and to seek the impossible.
The pursuit of the absurd led to the Strategic Defence Initiative, which both accompanied and drove the third great American industrial revolution. Finally, Silicon Valley, which had been around for a couple of decades, became a great world-hub. The new American dream expressed itself in many different unexpected ways -- in the internet, the PC and the micro-communications miracle.
Before Reagan, Japanese companies dominated the semi-conductor business. Today, nine of the top 20 microchip companies in the world are American, and only five are Japanese. Google, Microsoft, Apple and Intel, which have changed the entire world, are products of the self-confident and dynamic America that Ronald Reagan helped rescue from the trash can.
So please allow Mr PC Liberal Blatherspout here to mumble to one of the greatest Americans in history, on this, the week of his 100th birthday: Sorry, Mr President.