Happy Birthday to the Gipper
Posted: February 9, 2011 Filed under: philosophy, politics, punk
Three days ago, much of the nation celebrated what would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday (if he were still alive). I did not celebrate the occasion.
Ronald Reagan is a significant president in my life because he was the first politician than I voted against. I can’t honestly say that I was very excited about Mondale back in circa 1985, but Reagan had been elected to his first term when I was still in High School and had already been around long enough for me to figure out that I did not think he represented the aspirations for my culture or my nation. When Reagan was up for re-election I was finally old enough to vote and I voted against him. Perhaps I owe Reagan a measure of thanks because he did help me form my own opinions; mostly by embodying everything I hated, from his condescending avuncular platitudes (“There he goes again!”) to his cabinet’s Orwellian talent for spin — i.e.: call a ‘death squad’ in Salvador a group of heroic freedom fighters and the majority of the slack jawed public and self interested politicians who don’t have the stomach to fight you on it will acquiesce and agree to re-categorize your illegal sponsorship of terrorism in another country as ‘doubleplus good.’
Watching his spectacle funeral a few years ago, complete with the coffin laid on a gun caisson and boots inserted backwards in the stirrups of a horse without a rider (a bizarre bit of political showboating that seems more at home in some part of a titless PG-rated a Mardis Gras parade than anywhere else) and hearing so many lining up to suck the dead man’s cock (or at least stroke his balls) was a truly strange experience. Ronald Reagan was an American war hero who, unlike actual soldiers, never got his hands dirty or made any reference to the fact that when you go to war, a lot of suffering and death takes place. Eisenhower was well before my time, and, in the lens of history, he seems to be regarded as a ‘merely average’ president, but since Eisenhower had been an actual general you would think the pomp and circumstance of dead generals would be reserved for him, but Ronald Reagan warmed the cockles of our American hearts and never expressed doubt or regret over anything he did. Never mind that his war service consisted of making training films. There is no doubt about it; even in death, Ronald Reagan is and always was a winner who could piss on the public and then get thanked for it.
The current trend of whitewashing Reagan’s legacy reminds me of the overwhelmingly positive obituaries that came from every corner after Senator Jesse Helms died. Journalists in the supposedly ‘liberal media’ mentioned Helm’s blatant racism at the time of his death only as a personal peculiarity, like a preference for seersucker suits or bow ties, rather than calling Helms what he was: an evil old man who rode racism to power. They talked about his long “service” to the nation but did not delve too deeply into what his “service” entailed. Similarly, on Reagan’s birthday the old platitudes came out and got polished up.
I think Reagan’s true gift to America was his cheerful but ruthless demeanor that insisted everything he did was ‘ok,’ and, by extension, everything WE did was OK. Jimmy Carter was a downer — faced with an energy crisis, Carter wore sweaters and turned down the thermostat. Reagan, on the other hand, denied the problem. If America had suffered a famine, rather than telling people to ‘eat less and don’t waste food’ like Carter might have done, Reagan would have thrown a banquet for the beautiful and powerful and then blamed the poor for starving themselves to death. In a master act of denial-of-facts equals victory, Reagan’s administration lowered the Federal poverty threshold and then announced that their policies had resulted in a reduction of people living below the poverty line. Moving the goalposts equals progress. Faced with a choice, Reagan would just damn the facts and pick the answer he wanted. He didn’t sweat the details or the shades of grey because he knew the public wouldn’t either. He was the Lone Ranger (not the troubled “Shane” or the angry Sheriff of “High Noon”). He was NEVER guilty of doubt or hesitation and never needed to think things over. He wasn’t really a warrior, but he looked and acted like one from the movies. He told us pretty platitudes that we found more comfortable than uncertain and difficult decisions. He was a jolly Gordon Gecko who gave jelly beans to visitors, made us feel like greed and intentional stupidity were virtues and he looked good in a cowboy hat. And when we looked at him: the eternal, sunny optimist, we believed that our shit did not stink. And that was what we wanted.