Correction to This Article
A Sept. 15 editorial incorrectly described an official who, acting on Nancy Reagan's behalf, asked that Senate candidate James Webb not use footage of President Ronald Reagan in a campaign ad. The official works for the Reagan Presidential Foundation, a nonprofit organization, not the Reagan Presidential Library, which is part of the National Archives.

Let Reagan Be Reagan

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Friday, September 15, 2006

IT IS A TICKLISH thing for Sen. George Allen, a Republican running for reelection in Virginia, that his Democratic opponent, James Webb, once worked for President Ronald Reagan. And it is especially awkward for Mr. Allen that the Gipper seems to have admired Mr. Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, and said so. But the fact remains that Mr. Webb did serve Mr. Reagan, both as Navy secretary and as assistant secretary of defense, and that the late president once lauded him publicly before a large crowd at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. So it is easily within the bounds of fairness that the Webb campaign is airing an advertisement that includes 10 seconds or so of Mr. Reagan paying tribute that day to Mr. Webb's "gallantry as a Marine officer in Vietnam."

The Allen camp has cried foul, and an official at the Reagan Presidential Library in California, acting on Nancy Reagan's behalf, has asked that the ad be pulled. Neither protest has merit. The late president's public utterances are not the private property of his library or family. As for Mr. Allen, his campaign complains that the clip misleadingly implies the former president's support for Mr. Webb's candidacy. By that tortuous line of reasoning, the photograph on the Allen campaign's Web site, showing a young Mr. Allen shaking Mr. Reagan's hand, is also an implied endorsement -- which it isn't.

The president is a public official, paid by the taxpayers. His speeches are in the public domain; they belong to all Americans, and to history. His words may fairly be the subject of bitter debate and divergent interpretation for decades or centuries to come, but they should not be censored posthumously. In this instance, Mr. Webb has neither distorted Mr. Reagan's words nor taken them out of context; nor did Mr. Reagan ever repudiate them. The clip in question is a testimonial to Mr. Webb's service to his country in government and the military, not to a senatorial campaign that Mr. Reagan obviously never observed. It's a good bet that Virginians are clued in to the fact that Mr. Reagan, being dead, has taken no position on the Allen-Webb race. As for the partisans, they should let Reagan be Reagan.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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