One of the unfortunate side effects of competitive electoral politics has been the tendency to turn President Ronald Reagan into some sort of amalgamated mixture of touchstone and talking point. The Gipper has become the subject of left wing parody as Republicans vie with each other to invoke Ronnie’s name the most often, tie themselves to his image and cite their deep rooted connections to him. (Though Mitt seems to be the exception lately, saying during the last debate that Gingrich was actually closer to Reagan.)

But the most recent round of attacks leveled against the former Speaker have summoned up a speech he gave in 1986, excerpts of which gave the impression that Gingrich was criticizing the president’s policies regarding the Soviet Union. And to be honest, the first time I read them, I certainly got that impression myself. But now, a former aide to Reagan, Jeffrey Lord, is firing back against criticism from Elliott Abrams on this subject. Margaret Menge reports:

Jeffrey Lord, a political insider in the Reagan White House, railed against Newt Gingrich critic Elliott Abrams today for “grossly misrepresenting” Gingrich’s speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives in the 1980s as anti-Reagan when Gingrich was in fact lauding Reagan for his fight against Communist insurgents in Central America.

“It does no one — least of all Elliott Abrams or Governor Romney — any good to try and say that Newt Gingrich, as loyal a friend and ally to Ronald Reagan as could be found in the day — was somehow some crazed anti-Reaganite who got the Cold War wrong. Not only is this not true, its laughably untrue,” writes Lord in today’s American Spectator.

Abrams, Lord writes, was surely hoping no one would bother to “get into the weeds” and uncover the full record of what Gingrich said in 1986. But someone, a former Gingrich foreign policy staffer who now works in private industry, did, tracking down the Congressional Record for that year.

The full remarks – including the previously mentioned excerpts when taken in context – certainly do cast the speech in a very different light than that being presented in some recent ads by Romney and his supporters. The wide ranging speech actually heaps a considerable amount of praise on Reagan, particularly in his handling of the Evil Empire and their presence on the world stage. But included in there are concerns over the execution of the strategy. These cautionary notes were not just dreamed up by Gingrich, as Lord notes, but had been previously raised by analysts and observers including George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Jeane Kirkpatrick.

None of this appears to be a rejection or castigation of Reagan, but rather a lengthy analysis of a vastly complex issue which includes suggestions of how it might be improved. This was obviously a topic which must have weighed heavily on Reagan’s mind for many years, and it seems fully appropriate that Gingrich – along with all of his colleagues – would weigh in on it as they deemed appropriate.

Lord seems to lay this kerfuffle on the “frothing” of a hotly contested campaign season and calls for cooler heads to prevail. That might be good advice under the circumstances, offering a chance to get back to debating the issues of today rather than dragging the ghost of Ronald Reagan around like some sort of voodoo doll on each side. There are, no doubt, plenty of policy issues where people can disagree with Newt – as well as the rest of the remaining field – without going down that road.