Stick One to the Gipper
Date: Wednesday, June 16 2004
This is from my friend in Thailand. I laughed my patootie off, so thought I'd share, as an antidote to the Reagan post-funeral wrap-up coverage love-in.
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Stick One to the Gipper
by Adam Hunt
Just in time for Ronnie, my many blessings in Thailand now include cable television and the Fox News Channel. So now I can write about TV, instead of obsolete reality.
Why do I watch Fox? Well, why waste time with those dreary, adult news channels, when you can enjoy blond, perky extremists belittling the poor or showing us how gay marriage triggers global warming.
So for the past week, I've been consumed with Fox's coverage of the manufactured spectacle of Reagan grief. On the weekend it climaxed with the burial of the Cadaver-in-Chief at the oxymoronic 'Reagan Library'. Nancy Reagan stage-managed a mythmaking extravaganza, worthy of Jackie O's best work crafting the Camelot legend. Looking rather corpse-like herself, with her skin pulled back behind her skull for the ceremony, Nancy cast a sympathetic figure - even as her meatless body hardly cast a shadow.
My first reaction to her grim, grey solemnity was, 'God, she has a big head for a widow.' The thing is roughly the size of a microwave oven. Balanced on top of the body of a rhesus monkey, the effect grows more cartoonish with each successive facelift. But instead of barfing out sweets like the human Pez dispenser she resembles, she stared on in stoic silence. But what was with those glasses? Apparently you can't maintain the cleanliness of your senile husband's ass AND shop for fashionably appropriate eyewear. These things were right out of my Mom's glove compartment in 1980.
The funeral was Nancy's best performance since pretending to love the Reagan children at White House functions. She massaged the casket, tongued at the flag and generally hammed it up as the world stared. Actually I was somewhat moved by her act, as I get very emotional when I have a hangover. (I was really freaked out by 'Dawn of the Dead' one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago). The tears struggling to trickle from the corners of her eyes shocked me at first. But if I learned anything from Shrek, it's that monsters have feelings too.
I listened to the cliché-laden eulogies. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's moved me the most. Or at least, it moved the digesting food from my stomach, up through my esophagus and out my nostrils and mouth. The Gipper and PM BM forged a deep bond of crony-ship throughout the eighties. They shared much in common: Irish roots, conniving wives who spent more on shoes than their husbands' administrations spent on famine relief and the ability to escape prison terms for various nefarious deeds and corruptions.
Fox carried barely a word about the real Reagan legacy: the crippling pit of national debt, the illegal support of murderous dictators, the shoving of the welfare poor onto the streets, the rape of environmental law, the industry deregulation that led to scandal and fatality.
Fox's one moment of 'balance' came when Ted Rall was interviewed about a cruel obit he wrote. But it was less an interview than a flogging with the host repeating several versions of the following insults until the 3 minutes were up: 'You are mean, you are cruel, you are a nasty person... You are heartless, you are..' Those tuning in mid-rant, may have mistaken the host's tirade for the real Reagan eulogy.
Reagan was a guy who claimed trees cause global warming and elk rub up against gas pipelines to stay warm. The man had made dozens of public mentions of jelly beans (his favourite snack) before ever uttering the word 'AIDS' in public in 1985. He also had a bit of a fantasy/reality issue. He even claimed on two separate occasions that as a soldier he helped liberate Nazi death camps (Um - he was an actor during the war).
He invested enough cash in a quirky, little start-up called the Afghani Mujaheddin, that its supporters were able to topple a couple skyscrapers 20 years later. He illegally sold missiles to the mullahs of Iran (supposedly a hated enemy, who had kidnapped dozens of US hostages) and funnelled the proceeds to a drug-running death squad in Nicaragua.
But Ronnie smiled and winked and Americans forgave the big lug. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette and fightin' commies was breakfast enough to feed Madeline Albright on a 15 drink hangover.
But by all accounts Reagan had a deep well of compassion when confronted with a sad child or an injured puppy. He choked up and clutched them to his impressive man-bosom. (I saw a shirtless pic - he had breasts the size of Oprah Winfrey's). But once finished with the emoting and hugging, he returned to his ranch to snack on the barbecued limbs of homeless people and chuckle over photos of Central American torture victims.
Sure, I admired his sunny optimism. As I admired Hitler's ability to capture the German landscape in attractive watercolours. Or Muammar Kadaffi's gift for accessorizing his muumuu with the perfect pistol holster. And some analysts would like to starve the Reagan legacy of any credit for toppling the evil empire. I will give him some for quickening the pace.
But Americans seem to love leaders who can tell jokes, make them feel comfortable, show affability. These are important traits in a birthday party clown, but not necessary for a president.
Sure, I love zany anecdotes and I'd bow my head for the occasional presidential noogy. Reagan was likeable on a personal level. Likewise Bush. But I think a truer test of character is a person's policy decisions. How many people would a great leader let die for lower taxes? How many villages would he burn for an ideology or for cheap oil? In my value system, I prefer a guy who tries to help the world's afflicted to the one who can get the most laughs with his armpit farts.
Finally, the open sores are scabbing over on this weeklong funereal disease that led the media to focus on a dead man's sunny personality rather than his sinister policies. Now maybe a true examination of Reagan's legacy can take place. I hope it will warn voters of the dangers of electing affable, dim-witted, rosy-cheeked clowns. Otherwise, John Kerry better learn how to make balloon animals real quick.
(Ok, next time, maybe I'll update you about MY life. First, I need to turn off the TV and return to having some of my own experiences. But nostalgia for the dead is fun. So fun for some, in fact, that the newly rejuvenated Bush campaign is considering having Barbara clubbed to death just before the September convention. Anyway, you can still write me back, even if this seems more like an ugly polemic than a personal update.)
Your Ugly Polemicist,