Monday, February 7, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Yesterday was the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and despite the attempts of some members of the GOP to turn it into the second nativity, it got blown off the front pages of the papers by the revolution in Egypt and the run-up to the Super Bowl. Still, there were gatherings and memorials among the faithful, even though the fact remains that if Mr. Reagan was around today and tried to run for office as a Republican, he’d get run out of town as a tax-and-spend RINO by the Tea Party crowd that invokes his blessed name at every turn.

Perhaps the most cringe-inducing tribute to Mr. Reagan came from newly-minted Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle in an op-ed in the Politico.

When I was a child, President Ronald Reagan was the nice man who gave us jelly beans when we visited the White House.

I didn’t know then, but I know it now: The jelly beans were much more than a sweet treat that he gave out as gifts. They represented the uniqueness and greatness of America — each one different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony…

Yes, the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the meaning of life comes down to a collection of artificially colored and flavored gobs of sugary goo that, if you leave them exposed to the open air for a length of time, harden into a gelatinous mass that stick to your teeth. Clearly Mr. Quayle studied the depths of metaphor at his father’s knee in the same way he learned that good parenting is taught by calling out a fictional character’s family values.

Whatever. Aside from the fact that it completely distorts history and reality, there’s not a whole lot of harm that can come from mythologizing Mr. Reagan’s terms in office; after all, it was the 1980’s, and that decade could use a little turd-polishing. And, as Steve Benen noted, other than Reagan the Republicans have no real heroes to worship as president. The reason they call themselves the Party of Lincoln is because he was it. Since then, who? Harding? Coolidge? Hoover? Eisenhower was a liberal commie pinko compared to today’s stock of characters, and Nixon codified the politics-as-blood-sport brand that gave us Lee Atwater and Karl Rove: turn your opponents into enemies and make mere mortals into legends.

As a former actor in old Westerns, I’m sure Mr. Reagan would appreciate the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.