Praise of Ronald Reagan was excessive during his life and -- to paraphrase “The Thin Man Goes Home” -- his death hasn’t imbued him with better qualities. Predictably, though, his death raises the level of praise from excessive to overwhelming. My gorge is rising with it.
Yes, President Reagan made us feel good about ourselves -- at least those of us whose skin didn’t crawl and blood boil upon hearing his fatuous, hypocritical moralizing. But it’s easy to make people feel good about themselves by lying and appealing to their baser instincts.
Now, in addition to the deluded millions who truly thought he was a statesman and a wonderful guy, others lie to make themselves feel better about electing him. Twice. Or to sell papers.
It’s reasonable to remember that Reagan was a half-bright actor who confused reality with movies, citing events in speeches that had only happened in scripts. (People credit him with being eternally optimistic and very focused, neither of which is all that difficult or remarkable for a moron.) He was a wealthy white man who seemed to care solely about other wealthy white people, when his charge as president was to do the best for his country, not his class. He was an armchair warrior who vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, then sent weapons to Iranians who’d held U.S. citizens hostage for months. He was a self-proclaimed patriot who subverted the Constitution to back nun-killing, terrorizing thugs simply because they opposed a popular communist government.
Since we survived the Reagan years, recovering fiscally, de-emphasizing nuclear arms for awhile and playing good catch-up in the fight against AIDS, the worst legacy of his presidential terms seems to be the worship of him enabling his other legacy: an arrogance that rationalizes lies because the ends justify the means. And, anyway, God is on our side.
Our current president is a Reagan fan, and it is easy to see in him the fruit of Iran-Contra, which itself germinated in the musty shadow of Watergate. (Talking Points Memo has a terrifying post that pinpoints the administration’s justification of sacrificing the law for expediency.) When Nixon died, Watergate was played down, stunningly, and we’re seeing a similar blindness in the media’s eulogizing of Reagan.
The Sacramento Bee says Reagan “took full responsibility” for Iran-Contra, an absurd misrepresentation caught by Editor & Publisher’s Joe Strupp. The Wall Street Journal, in discussing Reagan’s “enduring economic legacy,” notes that “Corners of the globe where Communism and state control of the economy once were seen as the salvation of the poor now celebrate stock markets and entrepreneurs” -- as though the failures of an unsustainable economic model were somehow the work of a U.S. president. The coverage everywhere glows, because we mustn’t speak ill of the dead.
President Bush, although saddened by the loss of his idol, must be happy.
Because if Reagan can get away with it, maybe he can too.