I don’t want to say anything about Ronald Reagan. I have kept my mouth shut for two days now on the subject. But amidst the feeding frenzy on both the left and right that still is going on (the left to destroy the mythos by rediscovering history, and the right to destroy history by rediscovering the mythos), I feel it necessary to interject a little something.
First: Ronald Reagan was a man I appreciated as an actor only slightly more cardboard than Rock Hudson, whose prediliction for sentimentalism turned my stomach. As an actor, he lacked the physical charm of Burt Lancaster, the inner struggle of Gary Cooper, the sense of irony of Gregory Peck, the intelligence of Cary Grant, and the heroic flaws of John Wayne. And yet, he tried to emulate each one of their personas at one time or another.
Second: The Reagan I knew as a politician was an old man. Older than my father. And as a result, a man of a different time. The great tragedy of the Reagan years, in my opinion, is that we as a nation in the 1980s felt it necessary to rely upon someone who was so obviously out-of-step and out-of-touch with the realities of life in the 1980s. For some sad, crazy reason, our national nostalgia wanted to forget the seventies (and by extension, the sixties) and return to Ozzie and Harriet land. Well, this was the man to get us there, McCarthy witchhunts and all. We (well, actually my parents generation) asked for it, and he delivered. The fact that what we asked for wasn’t really what we as a country needed was not necessarily Reagan’s fault — he was simply reading the script that the majority of the audience he could see beyond the footlights wanted him to read. That’s unfortunately how democracy works … as George Carlin once pointed out, the sad fact is that our elected leaders and representatives really are the best that we can do. They embody what is both best and worst in each of us. And in the “greed is good” generation of the 1980s, that worst turned out to be pretty bad, while the good seemed sentimental and trite. That describes the 80s, doesn’t it?
Third: Anyone who says that Ronald Reagan, regardless of what he may have done as “leader” of our democracy, deserved a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s, is an asshole. Fuck you for even thinking that. And my deepest condolences go out to Nancy and the kids, both for having to live through the twilight hell and having to live through the circus now, and for the great hole in their lives once filled by a large, charismatic, sometimes humorous and often opinionated individual who is now gone, regardless of how you think he played his roles.
Fourth: On a personal note, the affect Reagan had on my life in the 1980s is observable by two simple facts. That during his Presidency, I was required to register with Selective Service. It was my impression at the time that he was responsible for that; and that I would likely be required to participate militarily at some near term juncture in the jungles of south and/or central America fighting to maintain some fascist-friendly ally of the American industrialists to whom the Republican party owed allegiance. And second, my first opportunity to participate in the government of this county, through the process of voting once I turned 18, was an opportunity to cast a vote against Reagan. I did so.
Fifth: Ronald Reagan was just a man. Nothing more, nothing less. Not a great villain, not a saint. If you’re sitting around either reading endless blog stories about him, or writing them, you survived both his time in power (which was, actually, pretty brief and more than a decade ago) and are likely to survive his legacy. Not so for Bonzo the Chimp, who died first.