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Betting the 20 on Reagan

Some of us may have thought that our "All Reagan, All the Time" week would
be enough, but now comes word of a movement to plant the former president
on our $10 bill.

This comes from the same crowd that wants to put him on Mount Rushmore,
that tried to get him on the FDR dime, that got the former National Airport
in Washington named for him, and that hopes to see something named for him
in every single county of these United States.

One has to wonder what gets into the people behind such infectiously
empty-headed ideas. Someone please persuade them to repeat after me: Ronald
Reagan hated communism and totalitarian states, which is where the instinct
to deaden leaders with leaden monuments belongs. Naming everything under
the sun after him not only won't enhance Reagan's reputation, it will
diminish it. If the 40th president truly moved the American spirit in a
historic way, we won't need a host of drinking fountains and park benches
to tell us so.

The only good reason for putting Reagan on anything bigger than a postage
stamp is that bestowing some large materialistic honor on him may be the
best way to sidetrack the inspired simpletons who insist on commandeering
his name.

The $10 bill isn't the place for Reagan, as his own family has
acknowledged. That would mean effacing Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was no
plaster saint, but he was a member of the founding generation, a
right-hand-man to General Washington. He was also brilliant, a bit
skeptical about human nature, and given to great writing. He laid the
groundwork for a central bank system. He was a vociferous abolitionist on
slavery, and for all the right reasons, when that wasn't an easy
commitment. He belongs on our currency.

Andrew Jackson does not. He actually hated Indians, for one thing. As a
military leader, he even encouraged his men to make trinkets of Indian
remains. He owned a few. As president, he defied the U.S. Supreme Court in
order to do us wrong, and the worst wrong he did us was one of the worst in
our history - the Trail of Tears.

If Reagan has to have a place on our currency, he should replace Jackson on
our $20 bill. It would be appropriate in every way. The 20 is one of our
most-used bills, meaning many of us would find Reagan's smiling image
before us almost every day of the week; this should satisfy his more ardent
name-peddlers.

And Reagan's accomplishments certainly outshine Jackson's, even after
allowing for contemporary bias. Jackson's only solid accomplishments were
to open the American interior and the West to settlement, and to extend the
voting franchise. Both of these things would have happened without him,
just as the War of 1812 was won without his fabled generalship at the
Battle of New Orleans. But they might well have happened in a more orderly
way, without all of the Indian blood his methods demanded. Reagan by
contrast helped to end the Cold War and beat one of the worst spells of
inflationary recession since the Depression - it is hard to imagine either
happening in a better way without him.

Finally, for those who would miss Old Hickory the Indian killer ... well,
all would not be lost. Reagan didn't kill any Indians except in the movies;
but he managed to remain asleep at the wheel while Indians were being
killed in Central America as an offshoot of the Iran-contra scandal, and he
opposed us on several other fronts as well, all of which should make up for
any Indian-hating nostalgia the Jacksonians might feel.

All in all then, it's Reagan for the 20 and Jackson for the dustbin of
history. We'll just have to come up with some other way to get the
overrated Teddy Roosevelt's mug off Mount Rushmore. Sitting Bull anyone?

Rebecca Adamson is the president of First Nations Development Institute and
a columnist for Indian Country Today.