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They couldn’t get the sonofabitch in the ground fast enough, that’s all I can say. Oh, it’s nothing personal against him — on the contrary, it’d be nice to have a moderate back in the White House again — but Ronald Reagan’s death is apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed the Sunday morning pundits into fullblown gibbering inanity. Did I really hear Charles Gibson call Robert Taylor “one of the great actors of his day”? (Even Diane Sawyer looked at Gibson like he was off his nut before she concluded “A giant oak has fallen in the forests of our lives.”)
There’s a lot of swell talk about how Reagan made us all proud again, but not so much as a nod has been given to the faultlines that his career exposed in the American psyche or the misery that his administration brought forth around the world. (I’m not expecting to hear the phrase “U.S.-funded El Salvadoran death squads” any time soon.) The media has returned to the same state of timid, blank-eyed adoration that was the hallmark of the man’s 1980 coronation, when no one was willing to probe too deeply his references to “bucks” swelling the welfare lines or his moonshine economic schemes. It was the time in which Americans concluded — happily and forever — that there is no greater virtue than shallow optimism.
The clips and soundbites bring back such memories as how Nancy’s electric orange suit and central positioning at the podium made it appear that she was the one that Warren Burger swore into office in 1981, but also of the earnest head bobs and slight stammer that made Reagan such a lovable Big Brother, and of the calming buzzwords and claptrap that would provide a rhetorical template for so many politicians who came after him. What made him insurmountable in the American mind was his ability to fill the role of father figure; it was a superb form of camouflaging which turned a real-life dysfunctional father into our own Mao, whose praise and reassurances made it easy to overlook his foibles. The role looks easy enough, but it’s just embarrassing on lesser men who try to muster his brand of ordinariness and plain-speaking, while a Truman looks like Machiavelli next to him. Anyway, I can’t take the encomiums and gush any longer — they just don’t jibe with my memories of the man, even if the rift between claim and actuality isn’t as dramatic as the one that appeared when Nixon died. I think I’ll put something sensible on, something like Dr. Gene Scott, who by comparison makes me feel at home in the world.