First of all, I'm a registered democrat, and I sit firmly on the left side of that central divide, albeit not teetering on the edge ready to fall-off the seesaw. I voted for Gore, I plan to vote for Kerry, and the current administration utterly terrifies me. With that in mind, watching the coverage of Ronald Reagan's death this weekend was fascinating, and there was a little part of me that said to myself, I wish he was our president now rather than the guy we've got.
My grandfather was actually a very staunch Republican which was odd for a Jew living in San Francisco. In fact, odd may not be strong enough a word. It was virtually unheard of. He was a big supporter of Reagan and California politicians such as George Deukmajian and Pete Wilson. (If he were still alive, I would love to know how he feels about Gov. Terminator.) I'm sure I missed many a fascinating political argument between my grandfather and my father and his siblings during Vietnam and Watergate (being not-quite three when Nixon resigned, my memories are fuzzy), especially concerning Reagan's conduct as then Governor of California.
Ideologically, there's very little that Reagan preached with which I agree, but watching the coverage, I was reminded that he was the kind of politician whom I could respect -- at least as far as any politician is respectable. George W. came into office with his famous pledge of being a "uniter, not a divider," yet almost immediately he managed to create, or at least help propagate, a greater schism between the parties than had existed in a long while, maybe ever. Reagan, on the other hand, if he was a master at anything was a master at being likable, and even his most ferocious political enemies always seemed to like him. His relationship with then Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil is legendary: the two were bitter political rivals yet reportedly they got along famously when governing was not the issue at hand. And while George W. "won" by the narrowest of margins because the country seems to be split ideologically, Reagan won, and then won again four years later, because he actually attracted an entirely new demographic, a group so large, it was given its own name: the Reagan Democrats.
60 Minutes dedicated all but Andy Rooney's segment of last night's show to remembering Reagan, and there were two clips that particularly struck me.
The first was an Oval Office televised address to the nation where Reagan acknowledged that our government had in fact traded arms for hostages and funneled money to the Contras in Nicaragua. Whether or not he was telling the whole truth -- particularly in regards to his own personal knowledge and approval of these activities -- might still be unclear, but he wasn't afraid to at least acknowledge some degree of personal responsibility. Yeah, maybe that's not enough, but at the same time, it's a hell of a lot more than we've seen from anyone currently working in or around the West Wing.
Even more striking to me, however, was a segment from a 1976 interview with Mike Wallace which occurred shortly after Reagan announced his first run for the Republican nomination (against then-President Gerald Ford). Wallace asked which, if any, of the Presidents of the 20th Century Reagan considered to have made the greatest impact on the US, and to Wallace's surprise, Reagan answered FDR. Reagan started his life as a registered Democrat and a big supporter of Roosevelt's, but his ideology, especially concerning the "Red Scare" and the Cold War eventually made him switch sides and start speaking for Republican candidates while he was still a movie star and not yet a politician.
Reagan's reasoning for still admiring Roosevelt to such a degree is what moved me. When Wallace asked him why FDR, Reagan answered, "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He's the one who gets the people to do the greatest things." Sadly, while Dubya constantly hides behind the explanation of "leadership" and his strength to make the "tough decisions" regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, it would be beneficial for him to actually pay attention to the words of the man who supposedly the Republican party looks up to with admiration and even awe.
So for better or worse, I still wouldn't vote for you Ronnie, and from what I've seen, you were a mediocre actor at best. But I'm sorry for you and your family that you had to endure 10+ years of one of the worst and saddest afflictions known to man, and I wish our current leaders could pay more mind and even follow closer to what you actually said and did rather than simply accept that the torch with which they're running is the same one you carried. Maybe your passing will help them do that.
Then again, probably not. Rest in peace.
Film notes: If you are, in fact, moved to see Ronnie the Actor, you could do worse than to watch his very last performance in The Killers. While this version directed by Don Siegel and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson is not as good as the 1946 noir classic directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien, it's still a lot of fun, and you get to see Reagan as a bad guy.
His most famous role is obviously that of George "The Gipper" Gip in Knute Rockne, All-American Also "memorable" is Bedtime for Bonzo in which he costarred with a chimp, although the movie is pretty horrible. Of course if you don't mind horrible, you might also want to check-out the 1957 film Hellcats of the Navy. The movie isn't any good, but it is an opportunity to see the one and only time Ron and Nancy acted together in a movie, back before they were married when Nancy was still just "Nancy Davis."