Presidents

We watch with rapt attention as a “President” never elected in a remotely legitimate way see his “regime” crumble before the primogeniture he thought to be his due could be put in place. The Glenn Becks of the world notwithstanding, this is a purely middle eastern event, well described during the week by the remarkable journalists working under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Richard Engel, on scene, and Rachel Maddow providing context and asking the right questions, stand out, but there are many who have done great work this week and this, for instance, must be read by everyone interested in the subject.

There is little to add to what the great Sleepin’ Jeezus posted yesterday. In the meantime, we, back here, will have to endure yet another attempt to sell President Reagan as someone who was great, instead of vacant at best, and the front man of the meanest group of people to form a U.S. government in my lifetime

It is unlikely that Meet the Press originated from Hyde Park, New York on the 100th anniversary of the birth of our greatest president in 1982 but, of course, the Sunday talk shows did not stray from Washington in those days. Some say it was not widely celebrated except in New York, but speaking from New York, my recollection is somewhat different.

The New York Times archives (which are slightly out of whack right now), tells us that New York Governor Hugh Carey, noticing the zeal in which the Reagan administration, then beginning its second year was dismantling the New Deal, told a gathering at Hyde Park that President Roosevelt was “need now more than ever” but, of course, he had no idea what things would be like when President Reagan’s centennial came around.

Tomorrow, David Gregory and others who want to ignore the cruel way President Reagan and his acolytes attacked those who most need the help of the federal government, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. They will not discuss that he began his successful campaign for the presidency in Philadelphia, Mississippi, an unmistakable signal that the murders of Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner were now relics of a past his presidency would remove from our history, much as Congresswoman Bachmann would purge the sin of slavery from it today.

President Reagan was an amiable fellow and, of course, well able to play the part of President, even if the responsibilites of the office did not interest him. He was happy to be the front man for the greedy among us who see no reason why the problems of others are their concern. Forgive me for republishing the following, from February 4, 2008, but time is precious this weekend, and the following, in italics to identify it as recycled stuff, roughly makes the point about the supposed Great Reagan the right wing, and David Gregory are saluting:

This is not literally about The Election, though really it is. It is not actually meant to be yet another one of those what was so great about President Reagan pieces which show up every now and then, such as during the orgy of memoriam when he finally passed away after a long and, for his family, very painful illness. It probably will resemble one anyhow.

It was hard, though, to watch Anderson Cooper swoon about the great Reagan, and see that Air Force One behind the Republicans debating the other night without wondering again about when this actor pretending he was the President of the United States became a great president. He was never the real president, of course; that was, briefly General Haig (who slipped on the day that President Reagan was shot and told the nation not to worry since he was in charge), then Don Regan, then sort of Nancy Reagan, or Don Regan or whichever got to the microphone first and then, when the complete play acting fell apart with the “President” telling the country, in character, that he would never approve of selling arms to Iran, only to find out that “he” had done just that, Howard Baker.

Just as Katrina somehow “proved” to people holding on to a reed of fiction that President Bush was not actually running a government as providing a face to cover all sorts of corrupt misuse of the powers and financial resources of the government, something that any fool with a hint of objectivity could have seen as early as the summer of his first year in office when he told Secretary Powell to stop talking to North Korea, and anybody still open minded about the subject had ample basis to reconsider when they saw the guy reading to school children as the country was under attack, the unmasking of President Reagan by “Iran-Contra” could only shock the utterly unshockable. Here was a supposed President who had to be reminded that Samuel Pierce was a member of his cabinet, whose every speech was filled with stories that were verifiably false and who appeared to have neither a thought or care.

He looked like a president, though, and, in that B actor sort of way, sounded like one. Tom Hanks, a much better actor, has never pretended that he actually flew Apollo 13, but Ronald Wilson Reagan not only got to pretend he was president he was, under the law anyway, actually the office holder.

It was a great idea to prop this guy up so that his henchmen and such could do their dirty work behind this amiable actor. After all, his immediate predecessor was a very intelligent man, who hadn’t a clue as to what being president meant and was elected only because in his humble, goofy way he appeared to be the antithesis of the Crook named Nixon who we had dumped only at great cost, and the nice enough guy who finished his term but did not seem even close to being prepared to do what a president was supposed to do (to the point that he forgot that Poland was a communist country at the time while in a political debate.)

So by 1980, what the country wanted was someone who did not seem to be a crook, but looked and sounded more like what we hand in mind: you know, like Franklin Roosevelt, or, Dwight Eisenhower. (There is a big difference there, but the point was that we have someone who could, uh, play the part.)

From the minute he was elected, until his vice-president, running to succeed him tried to distance himself a bit from the clueless guy who beat him in the 1980 primaries by making him look like a fool, by saying that his administration would be “kinder and gentler” it seemed that the country had lost its collective mind. The Vietnam War was finally over, and the Iraqi hostages released, and the whole thing, from the day President Kennedy was killed until then seemed so difficult that maybe we would be better off without a real president for a few years and just have an actor there. So when AIDS started to infect gay men, he could console us by pointing out that we weren’t gay men so there was nothing to worry about.

And so, here we are in 2008, seven years after our country was attacked on its own soil for the first time since 1941 by people we have chased into a volatile part of the world in which a least one country apparently has a nuclear bomb, and who are undoubtedly plotting to attack us again and one of the major political parties in this country, the one whose latest pretend president was unwilling to cut short a photo op while the country was under attack, fields a slate of candidates who fall over each other to proclaim themselves the next Reagan. And television news commentators act as if this makes sense.

And one final point in this world of movie acting that we care about so much more than the actual world. The Associated Press reported last week about huge build ups of something, unlikely to be Santa’s elves, in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but some movie actor died of something in Soho and that relegated these stories to the dustbin. And Senator McCain: before you or the other dwarfs tell us about how this phony president you gave us (and remember: had Senator McCain run with Senator Kerry in 2004, they would be trying to get re-elected right now) has kept us from further attacks since 2001, keep in mind that the people who are out to get us, got us in 1993, at the World Trade Center and didn’t come back to do it again until 2001. They wanted to get it right and time was on their side, because we do everything we can to help them.

This is not pretend or play acting. This is why we have a president; not to read to children (we call those people “teachers” and we pay them ridiculously low salaries to do this and then whine that they aren’t doing a good job). The idea is to have a president to lead a government that at minimum will protect us from those who want to hurt us. Not to smile while they do and tell us stories about what might have been.

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13 thoughts on “Presidents

  1. cmaukonen

    It would be easy to vilify Reagan the man but the man was obviously not completely in charge. It was what he symbolized that needs to be put into focus. The most horrendous, cruel and barbarous application of social Darwinism since Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Pinochet. Invoked with out mercy and with total cold heartedness. The very epitome of the republican party agenda.

  2. Barth

    The expression is “all politics is local” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/opinion/l02politics.html) but whether it is so today or not, what all international events are not, is American or homogeneous. We are not about to have a popular uprising based on what is sweeping through Tunisia, Egypt and other places in the middle east.

    Will what is happening there have a profound effect in this country? Of course. But, really, it borders on the absurd to compare the tinterbox in Egypt with what passes for political discourse in this country.

    1. cmaukonen

      I do not see an uprising like that in the middle east here. That is the people vs the government. However a regional or state based uprising with one region/group of states against another is possible. Or one class vs another. Like the racial upheavals of the past but not necessarily race based. More like North vs South or East vs West or something like that.

      1. Barth

        We have endured that since the beginning of this country and it is, overtly or not, rae based at least in part. There is no question that this will continue and solidify. The excellent Times series re-living the political aspects of the civil war, in fact, all but underscore that this struggle between north and south, between those who have and will not give it up and the rest of us has never been settled. (In the term of the day, we have not yet seen closure). If I was a dreamer, I would suggest that we just split the country along the lines they suggested back then (although i would like to keep Sarasota and Miami….).

        Our more dramatic colleague believes revolution is in the air and that we have not noticed the deterioration on what was described as “what passes for political discourse.” Well, we all want to change the world, eh?

  3. Barth

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. I voted for President Carter’s re-election holding my nose. His presidency was not something to get excited about, but he beat Senator Kennedy in the primaries and I could not support the idea that a movie actor would be elected president.

    He was a terrible motion picture actor (I wonder if that story about him as the first choice for the role Bogart had in “Casablanca” is true?) but his imitation of a president was not bad. The incumbent certainly did not seem to be a president; neither did his immediate predecessor and the one before that was flat out evil.

    It was not a great time. You joined the good guys when we needed you most.

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