“The old order changeth,” wrote Tennyson, “yielding place to the new.”
Okay. Fine. So, like - when?
The old order has been very much front and centre for the past week, nearly stumbling over itself, practically elbowing fellow enfeebled former world leaders aside in a pellmell rush to eulogize The Great Communicator ™.
During the most extensive crepe hanging since Princess Diana became easier sifted than lifted, as eulogy after eulogy shoved Ronald Wilson Reagan up to a pantheon somewhere between Jesus Christ and Elvis, the great, the near great and the great unwashed followed the Presidential remains around like stations of the cross for six straight days: from California to Washington, from the Rotunda to Arlington, then back to California for a sunset send-off held yesterday at Point Mugu. (Until I saw it supered on the screen, I always thought it was spelled 'Magoo', as in 'Mister'.)
And the sound bites poured in – from Washington and every living President and their father (sometimes a twofer) to New York and newshounds who knew him when, to Hollywood where his career as both actor and politician began.
(My favourite anecdote, told years ago by Reagan himself, was of a famous film director who on hearing the actor was running for Governor of California was supposed to have exclaimed: “No, no! Jimmy Stewart for Governor – Ronald Reagan for best friend!”)
One of Reagan’s best friends was at his funeral – Great Britain’s former Prime Minister, the slightly rusty ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher, who thoughtfully committed her admiration to video tape some time ago, preparing (in what can only be described as a prescient manner, considering her recent series of speech altering strokes) a final hail and farewell to 40th Chief.
Brian Mulroney, pretty much universally loathed back home in Canada, but beloved by Ronnie and Mommy, shared a front row seat for the SRO funeral with Thatcher, Gorbachev and other former staples of the nightly news, rising to give a eulogy that contained some of the purplest prose ever to flow from an empurpled ex-Prime Ministerial pen.
(Interesting story – according to a pal who’s toured the Reagan library in California, it was Mulroney himself who advised the curators to title him ‘His Excellency’ in any material or photographs in which he appears. Barring any recent changes, the undeserved – and un-awarded – honourific remains.)
And it didn’t stop there; after thousands of collective hours of television devoted to slavishly following every last detail of the Presidential life right through the Presidential death, every fact and factoid, every rumour and lie – the hushed golf announcer type voice-over delivered by the pompous Paula Zahn and the diminished Jeff Greenfield provided a sort of bizarre play by play for the taking off and landing of airplanes… the hearse loading and flag waving (and flag folding)the embedding of the word 'catafalque' in the vocabulary of each and every American, the riderless horse, the 21 gun salute, not to mention the staged salutes of clueless little boys as the Presidential death-capade rolled on by - the endless, senseless, heartwrenching, hankie-wringing, hyperbolic love-in was just too much!
I’m almost afraid to read the most recent editorials, concerned that any moment now rose-tinted remembrances will turn B-actor and commercial cigarette hustler into ‘Oscar winner’; that the guy who was far friendlier with McCarthy than fellow actors accused of possible membership in the Communist party during the House Un-American Activities Commission hearings will instead be recalled for his fictional fame as the eternal best friend; that the guy who did deals with devils from Iran to Columbia is now being haled as a freedom fighter, and that the famously neglectful and disinterested father will somehow ride off into history as a dedicated family man.
Wait – I’m too late.
And there’s something deeply creepy about newly beloved by press and public ‘Mommy’. I distinctly remember the reports of her talents for squeezing freebies – everything from gowns to goblets, and from designer jewelry to designer dishes – from anyone who came near the White House back in the 80’s. The hoo and the hah that was created by some of her more creative efforts at intimidating providers into scrapping their various bills, forced her to perform a decidedly defensive version of ‘Second hand Rose’ at one of the annual White House press dinners. Now, if the 'all is forgiven' over-the-top media coverage is to be believed, she’ll likely be canonized before she goes to her great reward – therefore continuing a lifelong tradition of me-firsting by the former First Lady: first of the not-yet-dead to be accorded sainthood.
(Talk about ‘Just say no’!)
So as America wallows endlessly on in a sticky nostalgia for one of her more average sons (his approval ratings when he was President inarguably unspectacular) we’re left to wonder how the funeral of an ancient back number has become the siren call for remembering the great old days of the excessive 80’s.
Trickle down and voodoo economics, Star Wars missile systems, Noriega, Contra and the image of Reagan shoving soon-to-be-ex President Jimmy Carter aside to garner the glory for bringing home American hostages on the first day of his Presidency (possibly the most cynical public approval move of his entire administration – and on the very first day!) are all forgotten as America remembers a time when the Twin Towers still stood, war between the US and the Middle East had yet to occur and charges of torture and abuse against the forces of democracy were yet to be brought.
Perhaps this last week is less a burial of a past President, and more a welcome distraction from the present – the hideous ‘New’ that has replaced the more or less re-imagined ‘Old’.
Perhaps what Americans would really like to have been doing the second week of June 2004, was burying the memory of Iraq and Afghanistan and Lynddie England and Abu Grhaid prison six feet deep - sowing it with salt, pouring it over with concrete – and relegating it with a sigh of relief to a faint and distant memory.
Going by how Ronald Reagan was remembered this last week, it’s just a matter of time.