Reagan's legacy: A response 

After my column, Myth and memory: The battle over Reagan's legacy, was posted, I got a note from Andrew Coffin, director of the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara.  In the article, I noted that visitors to the museum at the Ranch Center, which is owned by the conservative Young America's Foundation, saw exhibits that emphasized Ronald Reagan's deep conservatism.  But I also noted that the number of visitors to the museum was relatively tiny compared to all the mainstream media outlets which are suggesting that Reagan was really a moderate and that Barack Obama is somehow Reaganesque. Coffin said my relying only on attendance at the Ranch Center museum doesn't give a full picture of what the Center does.  Here's his letter:

While I appreciate your acknowledgement of our "rigorous examination" of President Reagan’s conservative ideas, I think your focus on numbers of visitors misses one very important point. We don’t see our work in sharing Ronald Reagan’s ideas and values as beginning or ending at the Reagan Ranch Center. In fact, only a small percentage of that overall effort happens in Santa Barbara. Every program we run, from our summer conferences in Washington, DC to our campus programs across the country ties in to this mission of passing President Reagan’s ideas on to the next generation. The hundreds of thousands of young people who experience these programs get something they can’t almost anywhere else: an unadulterated conservative message directly from top conservative leaders, without the filter of the media or the bias of their textbooks and professors.

We think the Reagan Ranch Center is an important facility for the Conservative Movement, but we don’t pretend that everyone we need to reach will walk through its front doors—our emphasis is not on sheer numbers, though we work to leverage the impact of Ranch programs in every way possible. These efforts include regular and consistent national media coverage, particularly C-SPAN, which carries many of our programs; live streaming video online; podcasts; social media; etc. But our core model is built on identifying top activists on campuses around the country and bringing them to the Reagan Ranch to be inspired, energized, and trained to promote Reagan’s vision to young people who, as you point out, were not even born when Reagan left office. Our goal is connecting these activists to the conservative leaders of today who share Ronald Reagan’s principles and values. We know that’s the only way we can match the “very long odds” you reference. What we do in Santa Barbara depends on Ronald Reagan’s timeless ideas, expressed in their fullest form, flowing directly from here back to students on campus.

Our organizational model, built on training young activists and sending speakers out to college campuses—to reach as broad an audience as possible, specifically with Reagan’s timeless principles, makes the focus on numbers of visitors in our case particularly misleading.  But for another take on the numbers question, consider this: The impact of liberalism isn’t judged by the numbers who visit the Clinton Library, and the influence of Rock & Roll isn’t determined by the numbers who visit the Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

As you know, our commitment to campus-based programs now goes back more than 40 years, but we’ve created some special initiatives in this “Reagan 100” year that focus on capturing the national attention on the Reagan Legacy. I’ve attached a press release on our Reagan 100 Campus Lecture Series describing one such initiative. [Note: You can find "Reagan 100" information here.]

About The Author

Byron York


Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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