Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reagan’s Memory

Ron Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, is out with a book about his father in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth. In it, he says that he believes the late president showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease while in office.

…[H]e saw hints of confusion and “an out-of-touch president” during the 1984 campaign and again in 1986, when his father couldn’t recall the names of California canyons he was flying over. Arguing his case in the book, Ron adds that doctors today know that the disease can be in evidence before being recognized. “The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s while in office more or less answers itself,” he writes.

The response from the people who worship at the feet of the memory of Mr. Reagan has been apoplectic, even though it was announced in 1994 by Mr. Reagan himself that he had the disease. But to suggest that Mr. Reagan was anything but the great leader who always had his wits about him as he reduced the size of government (he actually expanded it), who lowered taxes (he did, only to raise them higher than before) and who never cut and run from military confrontation (Lebanon?), is, to them, blasphemy. Reality is a casualty to more than just the person with the disease.

The Reagan worshipers can remember him any way they like, and on the actual day of his centenary, February 6, there will be praise and glory pouring forth from them on a scale that would dwarf a North Korean holiday. But in doing so, they are demonizing the disease that afflicted Mr. Reagan and doing a terrible disservice to those millions who are its victims, and that includes the families. To deny the fact that President Reagan showed signs of the disease earlier than the day he released his statement in 1994 makes it harder to accept that it is a slow but inexorable process and the sooner it is detected and dealt with, the better.

I was no fan of President Reagan, but it’s not doing him or his legacy any disservice to be upfront and open in discussing the disease that stripped him of his being. Stigmatizing Alzheimer’s destroys the memory as much as the disease.