Thursday, June 10, 2004


Ray Charles is dead. I remember a bit of graffiti logic that used to be in the men's room at College Library in Madison:

If God is love
and love is blind
then Ray Charles is God.

You know he's still rocking.

I'm far more affected by Ray's death than by Ronald Reagan's. The deification is reaching ridiculous heights, but I have to say I'm not surprised: anyone recall the aftermath of Nixon's death, when he was revised into our greatest diplomat? Not to mention that whatever else he may have done, Reagan managed to shift the political discourse in such a way that today politicians on both sides are defining themselves by his values. How can they repudiate him when they owe their public faces to him?

For me, there were three Reagans. The first was cartoonish, a sort of Max Headroom, a talking head who was never without a pithy, reductive take on whatever his administration was f%&$ing* up at the time. And that voice . . . the clips recently are creeping me out. It's like a mesmer's voice, which might explain why so much of the public is still under the man's spell. It's not natural.

The second Reagan was the incompetent. The one who fell asleep in meetings. The one who seemed to honestly not understand that we were arming Iran. The one in David Stockman's book who became a blind-faith believer in supply-side economics but who was so hands-off that not only were the necessary budget cuts not made, the budget actually ballooned to create the deficits that Dick Cheney likes to tell us don't matter. This Reagan had strong beliefs but no interest in the mechanics of seeing them addressed; a boss of the "I-don't-care-how-it-gets-done" variety, which in government is an open invitation to skullduggery and incompetence.

The third Reagan was one I saw in recent years, mostly through Naysayer Nance. Of course, Alzheimer's is a terrifying disease, and I have sympathy for the sufferer and the loved ones, no matter who they may be. But in particular, the excerpts I read of the man's letters--love letters to Nancy, pen-pal exchanges with a young African-American boy--humanized him. Perhaps it's this human quality that has caused so many people to join the cult of Ronny, and to a point it's understandable. I remember, after 9/11, that for a moment I had a burst of love for Dubya, when his voice broke at a press conference and he looked as though he might weep. I responded to it because I wanted someone in charge to be as freaked out as I was. I didn't want calm and cool so much as I wanted human.

We all demonize those whom we disagree with to some extent. The day Reagan was shot I was walking home from school when a neighbor gave us the news. My sister and I, coming from a good Democratic family as we did, skipped home cheering. Bad behavior, clearly. It's good to remember the human-ness, but part of that is fallibility. The fact that Reagan slept in the White House while the Cold War ended does not make him a great leader any more than the fact that his spiritual descendant wasn't choking on a pretzel when the planes hit says anything about his competence.

Here's hoping we never see either of them on Rushmore.

Whew, that was a rant. Done now.

* Yes, I learned to cuss from the comics page.


Post a Comment

<< Home