Bitburg, Germany, 1945; Managua, Nicaragua, 1985. The two appear to be so far apart that no occurrence could possibly bring them together. But in March and April, 1985, Ronald Reagan asked himself a question, Whom shall I honor? And his answers showed that Bitburg and Managua were closer to each other than anyone had supposed.
It began with Michael Deaver’s trip to Germany, in search of “photo opportunities” for the president’s visit. Deaver used his ingenuity along the way to purchase BMW automobiles for himself, his friends and connections, with a discount reserved for diplomats. This swindle made the news, and President Reagan said of it genially: “People in his position have always done things like that.” By people in his position the president seemed to mean: officials who have the honor of serving the
American people. Behind such a judgment lies an unusual conception of public virtue. Till now, American democracy had found one of its vindications in the idea that service to the republic could form the highest aspiration of a citizen. The people to whom this honor was given, it followed, would be people above any suspicion of chicanery. And yet, President Reagan’s feelings about public service have always been equivocal.
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