Don’t Believe the Hype
(Soundtrack: Public Enemy — It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back)
Ronald Reagan, star of Kings Row, died today. Contrary to popular belief, he was a very good Hollywood actor. Oh yeah–and he was the worst possible thing that could have happened to America in the 1980’s. Christine and I spent a few hours watching all of the coverage on CNN this evening, and I was stunned by how much of a free pass the guy is getting. Now, don’t get me wrong–I don’t think Reagan was “evil” or anything like that. He seems to have been a wonderful man. And anyone that questions his ability as a communicator just can’t have lived through the eighties. But when it comes to Republican presidents, I’d rather see an asinine bungler like George W. up there at the podium than a skillful and respected statesman like ol’ Ronnie. The thing is–liberal democracies thrive upon acrimonious relations between the parties–we don’t need no “eras of good feelings” (Richard Hofstadter’s The Idea of the Party System remains the best book on this subject, even though it doesn’t seem to be in print!). The exercise of power is always an ugly thing–and anyone who puts a happy face on the most powerful office in the world does our system of government a terrible disservice…
I am a die-hard proponent of free medical coverage for all, free higher education for all, an “economic bill of rights” (which is a very different thing from the “government handout” spin that is put on current “welfare” programs–a decent standard of living, in the richest countries in the world, should be a right), 100% tax on all estates over 1 million dollars, absolute freedom from all restrictions upon the personal choices of adults (legalize all drugs; fuck “family values”, etc.), and the recognition of all mammals and birds as persons (not “citizens”, of course, that would be absurd…)–and I still have nothing but warm feelings toward Ronald Reagan! The man seems to have led an exemplary American life, and he was correct when he declared that the country hadn’t run out of heroes–nor had the voters, in 1980, let go of their desire for one. The pedestal was there waiting for him. And he acceded to it with a smile. That’s the horrific thing about the Reagan presidency!
I led off this post with that Gruenwald-era Captain America cover because I firmly believe that it’s the most astute bit of pop cultural political commentary the era produced. Captain America was in the White House, for all intents and purposes, from 1981 to 1989. Now, Steve Englehart had written stories about Cap’s political views before (and they were somewhat moronic views at that–“bad man in power”=”I give up on the country”–what the fuck?), but Gruenwald argued that, in a liberal democracy, heroes shouldn’t just be “above politics”, they shouldn’t have any connection to the government at all! His Cap was willing to sacrifice everything (even his own iconic status) in order to extricate the “symbol of America” from any entanglement with pragmatic arrangements. The “City on a hill” is an impossible ideal, not a fait accompli–any attempt to trap the genie of “America” within the governmental bottle produces intoxication! An America that identifies with its leader (Republican or Democrat) is a danger to itself and others. Our behaviour made the Presidency a necessary evil. (I say “our” because I’m talking about all Western democracies here!) If we deserved a Utopia we’d have achieved it without a leader’s help. There are no Utopias. Power exists because of sin. And every president is your enemy.
Ronald Reagan made too many people forget that.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t all go out and rent Kings Row!
And, as I’m sure Johnny Bacardi can tell you, Reagan made a lot of films with Priscilla Lane, including one (Million Dollar Baby) that I’ve never seen–perhaps they’ll put it on DVD to take advantage of all the hype? We’ll see!
Also: I heartily recommend Peter Delacorte’s Time On My Hands, a fascinating time-travel story about a whacko plot to kill the Gipper complicated by the young actor’s ingratiating personality.
Good Night Friends!