Has Ronald Reagan become an American myth
Ronald Reagan's last show
Even in death, the 40th President of the USA outshines political reality.
By Lotta Suter, Boston
A riderless black horse with Ronald Reagan's cowboy boots mounted upside down in the stirrups should, at the widow's request, lead the pomp with which the 40th President of the USA will be buried this Friday. The top-class funeral procession is flown over by an F-15 squadron in dramatic "missing-man formation" - although the honored man was afraid of flying all his life, never was a military pilot and spent the Second World War far from the gun in Hollywood, where he made educational films performed for the US Army. But as Reagan's like-minded fellow and PR director Patrick Buchanan explains: "For Ronald Reagan, the world of legend and myth was a real world that he visited often and in which he was a happy person."
With his foreseeable and unspectacular death as a 93-year-old Alzheimer's patient, Ronald Reagan stole the show for the last time on the political and symbolic stage of the USA. As a result of the lack of public interest, John Kerry suspended the current election campaign. And George Bush's grandly planned performance in Normandy was demoted to the second-rate performance of a second-rate substitute actor. Because US television preferred Reagan's 1984 D-Day speech; the scenery from back then is more picturesque, the prose more flowing, the presidential actor a lot more telegenic. The same immaculately coiffed “Teflon President” is beaming at us from all front pages these days. These images are so much nicer than those of the dark hooded heads of Abu Ghraib. Real balm for the wounded soul of the nation: "It's morning again in America" (Reagan's election slogan 1980).
The left-wing magazine “The Nation” bravely counters the hagiography of the big media with a list of the “66 unpleasant sides of Ronald Reagan”. Among other things, the dismissal of 11,000 striking air traffic controllers shortly after taking office, the idea of a winnable nuclear war, the voodoo economy, the massacres in El Salvador, the military interventions in Grenada and Lebanon, the support of white South Africa, Star Wars, manuals for the targeted killing of political enemies, budget deficits, the working poor, the concealment of the AIDS epidemic, the introduction of ketchup as a cheap substitute vegetable in school canteens and the consultation of Nancy's wife astrologers.
But big myths are immune to such petty scruffiness. The oldest ever elected president of the United States easily embodied youthful optimism. He, who diverted tens of billions of dollars from social programs to nuclear armament, is still considered a friendly, sociable person to this day. Despite record tax cuts for the rich and massive attacks on unions, he remained a folk hero. Despite spending-related record deficits in the state budget and trade protectionist measures, he is celebrated as the father of the free market economy. The negative consequences of his aggressive foreign policy from Latin America to Afghanistan, his contacts with Usama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, have been forgotten to this day. His theatrical rhetoric is remembered in front of the Berlin Wall - which actually fell during his tenure. Apparently even the Iran / Contra affair is forgiven: the illegal arms trade with the archenemy Iran and the equally illegal support of the Contras against the left Sandinista in Nicaragua. «Communism was bad, America was good. That made Ronald Reagan a great man ”, as a letter to the editor in the New York Times sums it up.
Today terrorism is bad and America is good. And President Bush is moving entirely on Reagan's territory, which had occupied the concepts of utopia and progress from the right; in Reagan's mind, convinced of America's divine mission; and with former Reagan employees such as John Negroponte (formerly El Salvador, now Baghdad), Colin Powell (formerly security advisor, currently foreign minister) and Donald Rumsfeld (formerly Baghdad special envoy, now Pentagon). But Bush is not a great man. This is confirmed by commentators from left to right and from former Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev to economic columnist Paul Krugman: In contrast to the incumbent president, Ronald Reagan showed a minimum of pragmatism, willingness to engage in dialogue and responsibility behind the ideological façade in terms of domestic and foreign policy.
As a “lousy president, but hellishly good king”, Ronald Reagan did two things in the USA: shifting the political spectrum to the right and a decisive change: the morally sour, culturally pessimistic conservatives of the sixties and seventies became the eighties forward-looking "revolutionary forces" (David Brooks); The formerly hopeful Democrats of the “New Deal” and the “Great Society”, as Franklin Roosevelt's and Lyndon Johnson's drafts were called, became pessimistic vested interests. The Democrats have so far not got rid of this positioning and this image. It is not ruled out that the Republicans, as Reagan's heirs, will be able to ride to an election victory again in the fall.
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