Monday, June 07, 2004


I am not a historian. I do have a BA in history. I have taught history in junior high schools, but our focus was always either early world history or American history until 1877. I am an American citizen, and I had the (mis)fortune of my own junior high and high school career taking place during the Reagan administration.

I point out these things to say that I have very few facts on which to base my negative opinions about Ronald Reagan. I mean, I came of age during his presidency, I studied history in college, and taught history as an adult, but I have never intensely studied the Reagan years, either as a requirement or simply for my own edification. Unless you count hours of listening to Minutemen and Camper Van Beethoven records as intensely studying the Reagan years.

And I guess I do kind of count those hours. I first remember my father voting for Carter in 1980 (or maybe that should say "voting against Reagan" in 1980) and telling me and my sister what a whack-job "Ronnie Ray Gun" was. My dad was studying for his divinity degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (my mother also took some classes), and my sister and I would hang out on the campus while my parents were in class. I remember us being on campus when the election was called in favor of Reagan, and my father in particular convinced us that Reagan's election was undesirable and I in particular shared his disappointment. He explained to me that Reagan would be bad because he wanted more "nukes" and really was not fit to be president.

A brief aside
I'm struck now by the fact that my father, as a would-be Southern Baptist minister, would vote for Carter instead of the icon of today's conservative movement. Of course, my father is also a scientist with a Ph.D in thermodynamics and mechanical engineering, and his view of the world had been very much influenced more by his experiences in science at that point than by his relatively new Christian views (which he'd acquired a mere five or six years prior). Now his pendulum has swung entirely in the opposite direction, when he told me in 2000 that he'd become a "single issue voter" and the single issue his vote hinges on is a candidate's opposition to abortion.

So anyway, that was my first impression of Ronald Reagan, handed to me as an earnest sixth grader. Of course, my interest in politics would soon be overshadowed by an obsession with the Beatles, as John Lennon was killed the very next month.

I remember hearing about Nicaragua and contras and Sandinistas during all these years, but I never really tried to sort such things out at the time. But I also remember starting to get into "Bloom County" and "Doonesbury", both of which I remember as being no friends of the Reagan administration. And as I got older, The Clash, U2, The Police and R.E.M. started to inform my thinking, and even if I couldn't completely understand every reference in their lyrics, they were always pretty clear about their politics in interviews.

And even during the Iran-Contra hearings, I was still more into music than into politics. I think I felt that a young kid from Mississippi had very little chance of really sussing out the truth of such things, much less being able to make a difference about any of it. And let's face it, when I started college that fall, I didn't really even want to go. I wanted to play guitar in a world-famous rock band and only went to college when it became apparent that wasn't going to happen right away. And I only majored in history because advertising, my original major, began to disgust me and I had always enjoyed stories about Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte, and the Alamo as a kid.

I am only now beginning to understand the unsavory nature of America's policies toward Central America during the Reagan administration. I am only now beginning to understand the implications of Reagan's tax cuts and deficits. And of course, let's not forget our arming of Iraq AND Iran during the eight-year war between those two countries (and let's not forget the 1983 picture of Donald Rumsfeld smilingly shaking Saddam's hand). I can only anticipate my horror at what I will perceive as my current naivete after another ten years has passed.

So my impression of Reagan is not a favorable one. From the get-go I didn't think much of him and am now beginning to fill in the blanks in my understanding about why. And the irony of the current Hollywood bashers lionizing actor and SAG president Ronald Reagan is, well, ironic.

So when we got to the club where my current band was playing this past Saturday night, they had the TV on and some channel was going into Reagan memorial overdrive. The bartender confirmed that Reagan had died, and we began to discuss our reactions to his death--mine was "Good riddance" (which I felt a little bad about saying at the time, until I heard Cuba's reaction).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is the best thing i've read about the whole reagan memorial overkill. right on!