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Gipper's Loyal Followers Start New Reagan Revolution

Crusade to put his name on landmarks builds steam

So far, there's a Ronald Reagan boulevard in Warwick, N.Y., a Ronald Reagan Bridge in Dixon, Ill., and a parkway in Gwinnett County, Ga., named after the 40th president.

But for dedicated Reaganites seeking to honor the Gipper, these and a few other minor memorials make up a paltry list.

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If these followers have their way, his name will soon be added to National Airport in Washington and a host of other national icons. A "Put Ron on the Rock" T-shirt only half-jokingly advocates adding his face to Mt. Rushmore.

The growing effort to memorialize Reagan comes at a time when his image is becoming ever-more burnished. Not only does he get kudos for bringing down the Soviet Union, but now many are crediting his antigovernment, antiregulation approach with sowing the seeds of today's bountiful economy.

Indeed, Reagan supporters see an opportunity to immortalize his ideals in concrete, marble, or granite, thus giving Reagan an eternal voice in the nation's political debate. They also think liberals have dominated the naming of the nation's monuments and memorials.

"Liberals went out and named things after JFK, King, Roosevelt," says conservative gadfly Grover Norquist, who is leading the Reagan effort. "People look back and say they must be great, look at all the stuff named after them."

But many liberals aren't quite ready for the Reagan renaming revolution. And they deny they've got control of history.

"That is a perfectly idiotic point," chuckles Michael Kinsley, the left-leaning editor of Slate, an on-line magazine. "FDR was the greatest President of the 20th century, and even Ronald Reagan would agree," he says.

The naming of Kennedy Airport in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Kinsley says, were cathartic national efforts to move beyond the assassination.

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But given that Reagan is still living - and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - few take a head-on approach in opposing the campaign.

Colorado Governor and Democratic National Committee Co-Chairman Roy Romer says he likes Reagan and isn't against naming things after him, but he says it's more appropriate to memorialize presidents after they've passed on. "I think you bestow honors on presidents who are, you know...." he says, not finishing the sentence.

SOME critics also oppose the renaming effort on philosophical grounds. They suggest Reagan's real legacy is the country's $3 trillion national debt.

Or they point to the irony of some of the dozen or so things that have been named for Reagan. They argue that the champion of smaller government wouldn't want his name plastered all over government buildings. Specifically, they point to the Ronald Reagan building in Washington.

The Taj Mahal of Washington government office buildings, this $738 million behemoth is still under construction, is years late, and is 125 percent over budget. It contains 3.1 million square feet of marbled opulence, 85 elevators, and office space for 7,000 federal workers.

Even Reagan supporters confess to the irony. "It's everything he hated. I thought it was some kind of revenge," says Michael Ledeen, who worked in Reagan's State Department.

But supporters are confident that the renaming effort will succeed.

"People are interested in Reagan again," says Mr. Ledeen. "Reagan has reached the part of the cycle where he begins to pass into history," he says, pointing to an increased number of books about Reagan. Some social observers even say America is on the verge of a Reagan revival.

Philosophies aside, when it comes to the airport, some feel changing the name would simply be confusing. "There is only one national airport, the gateway to the nation's capital, and we think its important to keep the name," says Tara Hamilton, the public affairs manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority.

Nevertheless, name-change legislation has the support of 32 governors and the Republican congressional leadership. And outside observers say it is likely to sail through both houses by February. Norquist claims to have assurances that President Clinton will sign the bill.

And the prospect of success seems to embolden supporters.

Norquist says that as soon as the airport renaming goes through, "We'll be working with governors in each of the 50 states to get other things named." And then it's time, he says, to export the idea. "We'll write to all the eastern European countries," he says, outlining plans to try to name monuments in nations that, he says, owe their freedom to Reagan for facing down the Soviet empire.

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