courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library The hero’s feats are familiar, but what was it in his nature that allowed him to do such things while proclaiming his devotion to a theoretically austere religion with nothing good to say about rich folks? Edmund Morris keeps looking for a deeper Reagan, for a someone beneath the affable, impenetrable surface; but I think there was only surface, and nothing more to find. Ronald Reagan was a dangerous President precisely because he was an invincibly ignorant Middle Western American, with a headful of commonplace ideas about himself, his country, and citizens like him. The United States, Reagan knew without doubt, was earth’s greatest nation, highminded and generous, and its citizens shared the nation’s virtues. Soviet Russia was America’s evil opposite, hell-bent on spreading the wicked gospel of Marx and Lenin, which would weaken and destroy the native enterprise of free people, who could do better things for themselves than any government could do for them. It could never enter Reagan’s mind that his beloved country on occasion had itself acted the evil empire, for he had the great gift of be FEBRUARY 18, 2000 lieving whatever was to his own credit and advantage. When he lied in his teeth, he believed in all sincerity that he was speaking truth. Always the actor, always itching for attention and applause, he was the perfect instrument of a ruling class intent on class warfare and as insensitive as he to the needs and dreams of other people. Reagan liked to be photographed as the central figure of an admiring group; but to his own children he was a distant father, and in an autobiography of over 700 pages, he could spare just three lines for Jane Wyman, his first wife and the mother of his children Maureen and Michael. It’s no wonder that such a man could so quickly transform himself from ardent New Dealer to snitch for the commie-chasing F.B.I. Informant T-10 would always follow power, serving himself while spouting the high sentiment that he always thought was genuine. Edmund Morris quotes a Reagan letter of 1952 that struck me as at least a partial self-portrait. Of the newly elected Vice President, Reagan wrote, “Nixon is a hand picked errand boy with a pleasing faade and naught but emptiness behind.” With another election looming, that sentence is frightening indeed. To many voters, Reagan offered the irresistible combination of good looks, smooth talk, celebrity, and religiosity. Will the citizenry next choose a sort of Reagan junior grade hand-picked by the rich and manacled by their support, a theocrat with no great brain but persuaded of his own rightness? If I were a prayerful man, I’d pray that the hand-picked candidate’s God would take time off from watching high school football in Texas to keep that from happening. James Sledd is professor emeritus of English at U.T.Austin, and has never met Edmund Morris in any incarnation. PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS. Join the Texas Civil Rights Project $25 a year. Volunteers needed. 2212 E. MLK, Austin, TX 78702. for more information. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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