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Americans believe in sunshine. We don't like bad news. And we want a president who makes us feel good.

            And so America is in a period of glowing mourning over the death of that happiest of presidents, Ronald Reagan. Reading the tributes, looking at his adoring Nancy, our sadness has been wrapped in warmth. And smiles.

            Hardly a word has been said about the damage inflicted on this nation during the Reagan presidency. But we are all citizens, and citizenship carries great responsibility. Americans' citizenship must be an educated one, with a willingness to face painful facts. Our patriotism must not be mindless.

            The Reagan record is painful. There was the dangerous loopiness of a president pushing for a Star Wars missile shield, confusing movie fiction with reality, broaching the subject of an invasion from Mars with the leader of the Soviet Union.

            More serious was an economic policy that created enormous deficits, fostered high unemployment, raised taxes on low and middle-income Americans and cut them the wealthy. Reagan drove up defense spending and launched attacks on vital social programs, on the environment, on organized labor. He had no compunction about talking about "welfare queens."

            His foreign policy included supporting brutal governments in Iraq (yes, Saddam Hussein), Guatemala, and El Salvador.

            And then there was Iran-Contra, a scandal in which Reagan administration officials set up a secret branch of government, sold arms to Iran --- which violated federal law and infuriated allies --- and used the proceeds to aid rebels in Nicaragua, which also violated federal law. And when word of these illegalities began to leak out, administration officials lied to Congress and destroyed documents. And Ronald Reagan played dumb.

            This was not small stuff. It was, as numerous commentators have noted, a frontal attack on the Constitution. Reagan administration believed they had the right to do whatever they liked, laws or no laws, Congress or no Congress.

            And through it all, much of America smiled.

            Once again, we have a president and an administration who believe they have the right to do whatever they like. It is a scary time, and as the nation marks the death of Ronald Reagan, the Reagan record should be reminding us of what happens when the White House is in the hands of ideological, arrogant people.

            Instead, through it all, America is smiling through its tears.

Speaking of Ronald Reagan, Iran-Contra


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