If it were possible to wrest some amusement from a jumble of lies and distortions, Republican talking points provide a rich source of laughable moments. Nothing in recent memory comes close to the fast-stepping mastery of answer-avoidance and the dismissive wave of a hand that recent candidates have employed with such aplomb. Not since Ronald Reagan engaged in those brief encounters with the press as airplane engines roared in the background has there been such profound political circumvention.

But, if the tactics politicians use in refusing to address issues are vaguely amusing, the fact is the American people are poorly served by shoddy statesmanship and international one-ups-man-ship. Reagan is celebrated by partisans for ending the cold war and bringing down the Berlin Wall. Rarely is it mentioned that in facing off with Russia’s Gorbachev he found himself confronting the closest thing to a reformer Russia had ever produced, someone more amenable to peaceful resolution of global conflicts than leaders of the past. In the end, however, it was Reagan’s arms race initiatives that forced Russia to capitulate in the face of bankruptcy. They blinked but we didn’t escape unscathed, having assumed an enormous debt burden along the way – – the legacy of a foreign-policy ‘victory’ that failed to grapple with the cost of an expanding off-budget war machine.

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