Monday, February 07, 2011

Ronald Reagan's 100th Birthday...

I will confess my relationship with Ronald Reagan is (as facebook might say...)  "complicated."

Like so many of my  friends who are still  Republicans,  I grew up in the Reagan Era. As both a Young Republican and as a College Republican I enthusiastically supported Ronald Reagan.  (Yes,... I was a member of both the YR's and a CR's .... We all do foolish things in our youth.  Some of you smoked pot, I supported Republicans.  Both probably  amounted to the same strange trip down a rabbit hole of  un-reality.... Moving on...)

Like a lot of people, I found Reagan's  unwaivering faith in  the  greatness of America  very  appealing.  His hard line stance against the (portrayed) threat of  Soviet aggression was comforting.   And his carefully crafted messages of "Morning In America"  were both inspiring and reassuring.

I  actually met  President Reagan, twice.   Both times were during his second term.  Both times were amazing  experiences.   I also saw him speak in person on at least 5 different occasions.  Including his now famous speech at the Berlin Wall.  I was a teenager  at the time,  and remember  being filled with pride.   My President was standing up to the  Soviets and demanding they take down the wall they had erected  through the middle of a city, and by extension, the Iron Curtain they had built through half of Europe.

Now as an adult, I find the rose color has largely come off the lenses through which I view our 40th President.  This past week has seen conservative  media  proclaiming the greatness of the "Reagan Legacy" at full volume, and agressively attacking anyone who dares  disagree.  Even going so far as to attack Ronald Reagan Jr., who last month voiced his belief that  his Father's Alzheimer's  disease  did not develop after he left office,  but   instead, was something that affected President Reagan while still in office.    The right wing blogosphere literally exploded with vitriol  against  the Son of the man they idolize.

 Now as someone older, who  works in Health Care,  I sadly have met far too many people who have a family member struggling with Alzheimer's.  Looking back,  Many other close observers of President Reagan during those years have concurred.  It is now sadly clear that Alzheimer's was an issue  then, and was not something that developed AFTER he left the White House, as Fox News loves to claim.

The thing that struck me most, on  those two occasions where I briefly spoke with President Reagan;  was how he really wasn't "there".   Now looking back it is clear why.   It was as if, he saw an American that nobody else did.  He was in his own world,   one that he truly  thought was real.    Alzheimer's caregivers will often tell you how patients exist in a world that is a mix,  of their own hopes and memories.  The warm fuzzy Norman Rockwell image of America where horrors like AIDS, Homelessness and Poverty didn't exist, was the "World" in which Reagan mentally lived.

The deliberate inaction by the Reagan Administration in the early days of the AIDS epidemic was nothing less than criminal.  The Reagan White House  was content to sit idly by as many in the Administration and the larger GOP/Conservative Right, actively lobbied  to; " let the faggots die.".

The first time White House Press Secretary  Larry Speakes  was asked about AIDS, his glib,  joking response, is horrific and sickening when read now,  in the aftermath of the death of  Millions of people world wide.

The anger towards President Reagan in the HIV/AIDS community is real, and completely justified.  Yet  looking back now,  hindsight  is always  20/20 isn't it?   So no,  I do not feel  that Ronald Reagan should be on Mount Rushmore. Nor do feel he should be burned in effigy either.   The emotional impact Ronald Reagan had on a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America,   was real.    Yet at the same time,  any monument to his legacy must  also include the facts that more officials  from his administration  have been indicted than any other in modern history,  even more than the  Nixon Administration.

The fact is Ronald Reagan was not mentally fit to be president.  I dont say this to excuse or affix blame  for the damage his Presidency did, but simply  to give some context to the debate now going on over the Reagan legacy.
Yet  I can't help feeling,  that the greater crimes against America were committed by the larger GOP.  Those around President Reagan  in his Administration.  Men and women,  who were all too happy to use the Neurological disability of an old man to justify their greed, bigotry, arrogance and willful ignorance.

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