Monday, June 07, 2004

They've gone and grabbed old Ronnie

(Bonus points if you can identify that line.)

I suppose I should talk about the death of Ronald Reagan. I don't know that I have much to add to the discourse, though...I mean, I have no love for Reagan, the President; I'm a little flabbergasted at the media hysteria, in fact. The Great Communicator! The most beloved and popular and cherished and adored President of all time, forever and ever, don't even try to argue, amen. Really? I don't get it.

I mean, I was a free-lunch kid. So I had Reagan to thank for the threat of a lot of ketchup. He invented and demonized the Welfare Queen; we weren't on the throne, but we were definitely part of the court. I spent no small amount of time in my adolescence fearing a nuclear holocaust, fearing The Russians, fearing it would be "Red Dawn" in the school-bus zone outside Washington Middle School at any moment. (I also feared algebra, the aliens in the movie version of War of the Worlds, and that my mother would die and we'd be sent to live on the farm with our dad, so take that as you will.) I don't remember gleaning anything in particular from the Iran-Contra scandal except, Politicians lie. All the time, like rugs, lie lie lie.

Reagan was the first President I can remember paying any attention to. The pompadour! The apple cheeks! The scary wrinkles! The "Well..." I mean, I knew who Carter was, but I couldn't tell you a single word he ever said. A kid on my bus in second grade went to Washington D.C. on vacation and returned with a wind-up toy, "Jimmy the Walking Peanut," the buzzing clockwork hilarity of which was the sum total of my political consciousness at the time.

Reagan was the first President I could quote. "Honey, I forgot to duck." The Challenger speech, its ending swiped from a poet I could Google in ten seconds but can't remember now. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I've heard that 20 times in the past 48 hours...thing is, it gives me a little shiver still, because...they did. Eventually, they did. A big hunk of it stands in my company's conference center, as art. Holly roves freely about in a unified Germany. I don't lie in bed worrying about The Bomb any more...though as an adult I've discovered that there are things so much scarier that it's better to not think of them at all if you ever want to sleep again. Dubya, I'm looking at you. Whatever Reagan's legacy, he was better than the current guy holding the contract for the big red phone.

But. Forget the President. I can spare a little grief for Reagan, the man. There are more violent, more painful ways, perhaps...but I can't think of a crueler way to die than Alzheimer's, for victim and family alike. Nancy, scary Nancy, tiny and brittle and fierce--she looks like my grandmother, who always loathed the comparison--it was obvious that they adored each other, and that she loved him to the end. I cannot imagine the horror of watching your husband, partner, father, friend, recede into silence, an enormous speechless toddler, mobile but without thought. A windup toy. The Walking Peanut.

I've read a lot of bitter forums today, people complaining that however much the Reagans suffered, they had help: Nancy could get the best medical treatment for her husband available, could have respite care whenever she needed a break, had coverage and concern her husband denied scores of poor Americans. It's true.

But. I saw that clip half a dozen times today, while I chugged away on the eliptical trainer at the gym: Nancy, putting her ferociously coiffed head down on her husband's coffin, bereft. Goodbye. I have said those goodbyes, myself, recently enough. Say what you will of the President, but...I can grieve a moment for the man.

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