I just read the news that Reagan died, and of course I’m sad, mostly for two reasons:

  1. It’s sad when anyone dies.
  2. Now, the Reagan nuts are going to be really annoying.

I can already imagine the throngs of bereaved Young Republicans in identical blue suits who will surely spend the next few months flooding the streets in tears. There’ll be a big tribute to our 40th President at the Republican Convention — as there should be, but it’ll be way over the top and Trent Lott and Rick Santorum will extol him with messianic veneration, their heads bowed somberly, hands folded, poll numbers rising. Petitions will circulate again to have his face plastered on the dime, the dollar bill, the face of Mt. Rushmore, the flag. There will be even more schools named after him, and roads, and bus terminals, and the next thing you know, Congress will be seriously debating renaming Iraq in his memory.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Reagan or his politics, but I’ll say this: he didn’t scare me. Perhaps his greatest gift was how, even as he ascended to the most influential political position in the world, he always seemed like a regular guy. All along, he was just a guy I disagreed with who had a lot more power than I do. What scares me are these people who are determined to glorify him as nothing less than the embodiment of everything that they consider to be American. These people seem unable to accept the fact that their hero is a mortal, like the rest of us. I don’t know how they’ll react when confronted with this new evidence that suggests otherwise.

I still remember the moment my tenth grade history teacher informed our class, “Ronald Reagan will be judged as the greatest president in history”. He said it in the same tone he’d use to say something like “There were thirteen original colonies” or “The first ten amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights”, and as he uttered the words, his voice cracked under the emotion brought on by a tsunami of jingoism and respect. Lee Goldman, bless him, politely raised his hand and said, “Excuse me, is this open for discussion?” (Unfortunately, he was told that it wasn’t, but we all heard Lee’s side of the story that day in study hall.)

Whatever his failings, you have to give Reagan credit. He clearly had a message that resonated with people and stirred them to action, and his influence will greatly outlive him. People like that are essential to a healthy democracy, whether you agree with them or not. Reagan inspired a boundless loyalty in his devotees and built a large following of eager disciples who would do anything for him.

Then again, so did Charles Manson.

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