07 June 2004


what's a principled lefty and a committed christian to do (think) about the death of ronald reagan?

before church on sunday, i wrote a long meditation on reagan's impact on the world; the intensity of my anger toward this person i'd never met; the latin american politics "come the revolution..." hit list that laurel and i made back in '01; my disdain for those who think of reagan as either a great thinker or a great man. it started like this:

"what was he? was he bad? ignorant? misled? callous? stupid? self-aware? crafty? principled? wholly unprincipled? sincere? well-intentioned? power-hungry? and what did he do? did he follow the orders of his hardline underlings or did he think of that shit himself? did he really believe in welfare queens? in star wars? in the contras? and is he going to hell? i guess it doesn't pay to ask that one..."

reagan's death puts me in a situation that feels similar to the one i faced after the iraq war became inevitable. how does one abhor the war while being sympathetic toward, and concerned for, its soldiers? likewise, how does one sympathize with a man whose decline included a lot of suffering--on his own part and that of his family--without giving in to the temptation to conduct a mini-canonization? alzheimer's disease is really horrible, but what about the people all over the world who died as a direct result of reagan's policies? what about iran-contra?

what about reagan's legacy here in the united states? for a while, this was a place that made an honest attempt to care for its people when their circumstances made them, to whatever degree, unable to care for themselves? reagan and his minions told bald-faced lies about government -- what it does, what it means and what it can be. they destroyed millions of lower- and middle-class people's faith in our democratic institutions, and then used that imposed apathy to screw them over even more.

depending on his intentions and his level of self-awareness during the time he was in office, i think it safe to say that reagan was not a good man. certainly it is *entirely* safe to say that he was not a man who did good deeds. the nyt had his obit under the subhead "OLD TIME VALUES" on sunday morning. my mind reeled.

is there a culture in this world that doesn't try collectively to pretend that every dead famous person was a good famous person?