I had hoped to avoid any comment on Ronald Reagan’s death, but there is so much chatter on the topic I fear that my silence might become a loud silence.
What principles ought to apply when a political figure who has achieved high rank dies after a long retirement and illness? Surely, his friends are entitled to eulogize him, and his adversaries, if they can find nothing good to say (as, for example, in John Kerry’s very graceful comment on Reagan) ought to adhere to the principle de mortius nil nisi bonum.
If the dead man’s friends insist on eulogizing him by making palpably false claims on his behalf (for example, that he had no significant failures), his adversaries are put in a false position, and risk giving their consent by silence. Still, ugly outbursts such as Christopher Hitchens’s are to be avoided at all costs, and even well-reasoned and restrained criticism ought to wait at least until he is buried, and, preferably, until the grass is green on his gravesite.
As it happens, the liberal side of the aisle has been rather well-behaved so far; surely better-behaved than the right would have been had the decedent been Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.
Note: The right-wing Indianapolis Star seems to think that Hitchens is still of the left. In fact, like the proverbial Harvard professor who left for Yale, Hitchens improved the moral and intellectual tone of both camps by changing sides.