During the weeks of covering Reagan's funeral and commentary on his legacy in 2004, I watched the media do a tap-dance regarding Reagan that's superceded only by the tap-dance they performed around him while he was a sitting president. They didn't call him The Teflon President for nothing, did they?
One of the things that I keep being told, in various ways and with different intention since last weekend, is that I need to show "respect for the dead" in my writings about Reagan. I'm told "it's the least I can do" or "it's not asking too much" of me for me to let go my anger and write dispassionately about him.
I wasn't dispassionate about the man while he was alive and compos mentis. And quite frankly, I'm finding the insistence that I treat his memory with dignity almost as oppressive as the news media that's following its own dictum. At any rate, last Monday, before I really noticed more than the basics — he's dead, he's having a state funeral, his body goes to DC on Thursday, no mail delivery on Friday — I wrote something that a friend has characterized as spiteful but "encompassed by actual commentary of an adult nature". I think I like that I could do that a week ago so instead of risking losing that edge, I have left what I wrote then mostly intact.
I must confess, however, that I am tempted to add a few things. Because nothing stimulates the memory quite like having to listen to lies you'd forgotten about more than a decade ago.
I remember listening to Bill Graham speak in Union Square about the Holocaust, and why Reagan's visit to the Bitberg cemetery was such a slam in the face to Jews, like him, who had barely escaped Germany alive. I remember the headlines the next day when Bill Graham's offices were torched and not only his work place, but his archives were destroyed.
I remember friends now long gone who taught me French, how to dance, gave me information on how to travel in Europe as a queer. I remember the joy of being gay in San Francisco in the 70s turning into the fear of answering the phone to hear of yet another death in the 80s.
But on Monday, June 7, 2004, this is what I had to say.
So, he's dead. I don't care about his family so I'm not even remotely sorry he's dead because of their pain. Most of them stopped talking to him years ago anyway, remember? I'm sorry he's dead for one reason only: he wasn't sick for long enough before he died.
Yeah. So if you're gonna be upset reading my version of this truth? Move along, yes?
Ronald Reagan was a pig. He was a rich, thoughtless, pig of a man who accidentally won a gubernatorial election in 1966 and never looked back after. Remember Bill Simon? the man who Gray Davis effectively nominated as his prime opposition? That's what Pat Brown did with Reagan all those years ago. The difference there was that Reagan actually pulled it out when he wasn't supposed to.
Reagan didn't care about people, he didn't care about ideas, he didn't care about the country. What he cared about was power and how to keep it. Sell cocaine for the purpose of funding insurrection in Central America? He was all for it. Until our current asshole of a president, Reagan's tenure in that office produced more felons than any before him.
Gas students on the Berkeley campus because they didn't like the war in Vietnam? Go for it. If they'd been raised better, they wouldn't have been expressing their silly opinions anyway.
Oh, and speaking of education: Ronald Reagan's tenure in politics is responsible for the destruction of the understanding that an educated populace is a social good. From now on, the only purpose for an education is for an educated individual to reap the personal benefits of schooling. Good bye Grants in Aid! Each student should just work harder, and take on more personal debt because a BA will give them more income in the long run anyway, and that's what it's all about.
Say goodbye to liberal education as we knew it and hello to a field of BusAd and engineering students who never read a book for fun. Hey, we don't need an educated public anyway. Look what happens if they're educated! They riot in the streets!
This list of grievances is endless, but for those of us who knew a world before 1980, who watched Reagan systematically destroy a large portion of what we thought was valuable in our society, don't expect flowers and chocolates and black bunting. Personally, I used up all of my black bunting in the 1980s burying friends and loved ones whose only crime was being gay in San Francisco and New York.
When it was announced that Reagan was ill, I wished him a long and healthy life. That was a decade ago. He died too soon. His family still had money, land, power, and health insurance. I wanted him to live long enough to end up in one of those homes he said were okay for us to place our grandparents in if we didn't have the personal finances to pay for an in-home nurse. I know it was a long shot, but I had such hope.
The kind of rage I still carry in my heart over this man's actions reminds me of how much more work I have to do on myself. But I really do hope that in death, Mr. Reagan finally gets to reap what he sowed.
Today? I stand by what I told another friend last night. I think that people's relief response is laughter and cheering. And I think that when one has lived the life Mr. Reagan lived, which cost so many other people their lives and their dignity, asking people to behave in a particular way over their passing is asking too much.
Me? I didn't cheer. I didn't anything. But in the face of the love-fest that followed upon his death, all I could think about was that he was reaping what he sowed. If he had earned our respect, I'd go with it. But what I feel at this point is simple relief that he can't hurt anyone I love ever again.
Cynthia Hoffman is a former Director of Bad Subjects.