Friday, June 11, 2004

President Chill

I've been trying hard not to follow all the news about and romanticized remembrances of former president Ronald Reagan. One, I don't think that my opinion about the whole thing really matters; a former president dying is a fine time to show respect, pay homage, and mourn as a nation. Have at it. Two, in first grade, my grade school held a mock election for president. I voted to reelect Jimmy Carter. The cutest girl in school voted for Reagan. I poked fun at her; she won -- the election and my heart (for that year, at least). And three, OK, I do think the whole thing's a little overblown. Reagan wasn't all that, and now could be a time to show respect for the dead -- while still giving some time to consider what makes a president passable... or great.

Luckily, despite the back-and-forth sniping that's been going on in the newspapers of late -- some cautious critics finally, seemingly bravely emerging, and the expected near-immediate backlash trying to put the kibosh on anyone who dares question the Gipper -- thankfully, no less than Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin has finally stepped up with his take on the matter.

In a column entitled "Reagan Should Be on a $3 Bill" -- OK, Reagan was an odd duck, but was he queer? -- Old Man Breslin -- sadly one of the last remaining old-school columnists left in the wake (and wakes) of scribes such as Mike Royko and Herb Caen (may Eric Zorn continue to mature and Jim Knipfel [a reason to read the New York Press] not go Jim Carroll or Hunter Thompson on us) and only one of many reasons to read Newsday -- contends that Reagan is not only imposing on America with his prolonged death throes, was not already near-dead for quite some time, but is now -- in his post-mortem media portrayal -- mistakenly being assigned roles he didn't play.

Opining that Reagan didn't end the cold war as some have claimed, Breslin returns to the fact that Reagan was an actor. First, foremost, an actor. And while we as a country may have yearned for a telegenic president ever since the Kennedy-Nixon debates, Breslin reminds us that even the most heartstring-tugging lines associated with Reagan -- "Win one for the Gipper" -- wasn't even his line.

It was Knute Rockne's. So regardless of how you feel about Reagan's media portrayals, sentimental history, and loving relationship with his wife -- which is truly a beautiful thing worth celebrating -- let's look to the man's presidential performance and record... and judge his American leadership based on that.

Not just our sadness that a former national leader has died, which should perhaps be a patriotic given, given analysis.

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