READERS OF The American Spectator need not be reminded that the press was less than fair in its treatment of Ronald Reagan and his presidency. Or that members of America’s intelligentsia, so called, dismissed his popularity with odd allusions to luck or magic. Now that President Reagan is ex-President Reagan, these self-delusory seers are breathing relief with the force of fire from a dragon’s snout and acting as though the great spellbinder never existed. But just as they all looked on helplessly while our President marched through the Republican primaries and straight into the White House in 1980, they once more look helplessly on as a movement gains momentum that may yet again pass them by, this time on its way up, up, up. A proposal to give proper recognition to the Reagan years has hit like a fever across the land; and with a little effort from conservative organizations, including all tabloid-size conservative magazines, we may just be able to get this project “off the ground,” as we here at The American Spectator are wont to say.
Specifically, we would like to see that the same resources that helped propel Ronald Reagan and his ideas to the Oval Office be tapped to place his congenial visage onto Mount Rushmore, located somewhere in southwestern South Dakota. This does not mean money—according to our plan, the Reagan head will appear on Mount Rushmore only after a head-tax has been levied on the citizens of South Dakota, who will then be immersed in a windfall of tourism dollars. All we ask is that enough people make their voice heard and their will known.
The American Spectator, under the valiant leadership of R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., has formed a new committee to play at least a modest role in this patriotic endeavor. It was Tyrrell, after all, who unsuspectingly inspired the project last July 26, when he presented then-President Reagan with an artist’s rendition of how Rushmore might appear with our fortieth President set comfortably alongside Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The President smiled graciously and accepted the gift for what it was: a fond gesture to a man who had inherited economic chaos at home and Soviet adventurism abroad, and who proceeded to quell the anxieties of a populace driven by fear.
Fine. But the story kept popping up in the press, thanks to the reproduction of the drawing in John Elvin’s influential “Inside the Beltway” column, which appears in the Washington Times. When Elvin gave the story yet another plug in early May, it apparently caught the eye of a Village Voice reporter who, the following week, discussed the Rushmore project in the Voice’s otherwise somnolent pages. Then all hell broke loose. Tyrrell began receiving phone calls from newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations at a frightening rate. Naturally, to push things further along, he commanded that a press release be prepared and mailed (at once!). And so it was done.
THE PRESS release, admittedly fashioned with the Spectator’s penchant for levity, announced the formation of the Committee for Monumental Progress (CMP) to institutionalize the magazine’s support of the Rushmore project. CMP was designed to be in touch with modern sensitivities, especially after Senator Larry Pressler (R. SD) expressed concern that “any additional blasting” might harm the 48-year-old monument. Pressler, our research staff has discovered, was instrumental in widening the highway that leads to Rushmore, and hence is not a man we wish to alienate.
“Rushmore was dynamited in 1927 so that the famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum could begin sculpting the presidential facades,” CMP’s press release stated. “But in keeping with modern environmental concerns, CMP recommends a more sensitive approach in adding Ronald Reagan to the mountain’s collection of worthies. The amount of rock chiseled away must be kept to an absolute minimum. Thus we plan to fly in a concrete nose and chin, and possibly a concrete ear. An artist is currently being sought to make a mold of President Reagan’s head, which can then be enlarged using advanced holographic techniques. The concrete appendages will be attached and the whole thing suspended next to Abraham Lincoln in such a manner that the mountain’s moss may double as Reagan’s hair.”
And so that those of our friends who appear regularly in TAS’s “Current Wisdom” do not feel left out, CMP proposed that the monumental nose, chin, and ear be supplied by the Soviet Union, whose engineers are justly acclaimed as leaders in this field. But if for any reason Soviet industry is unwilling to part with all that concrete, CMP will engage the services of some other Third World dictatorship (excepting the slap-happy Sandinistas, who couldn’t produce so much as a concrete toe if you supplied them unlimited funds, a blueprint, and a month in Erie, Pennsylvania).
With the press release duly dispatched, Tyrrell, The American Spectator, and CMP hit the media with a sudden splash of ink, and we are pleased to report that the story is taking on a life of its own. The New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the New York Daily News, Time, Newsweek (its first Spectator citation in twenty-one years!), the Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, and CNN, for starters, picked it up all in the span of a few days. A slew of smaller papers around the country pitched in with reports and editorials (some admittedly lukewarm). The San Jose Mercury News, for instance, kicked-off its May 18 edition with the excessively cute headline, “Rush on to Chisel Reagan.”
“Higher-ups” in the Mount Rushmore Society were immediately alarmed. Tom Griffith, the executive secretary of this pernicious little society, tried in vain to spike our proposal by claiming, “The simple fact is that there is no suitable rock to carve anyone at Mount Rushmore.” But why then does he bother adding this: “Why fool with a masterpiece? Would you paint another figure next to the Mona Lisa?” Clearly he feels terrorized by CMP (as does Al Hunt, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, who on CNN’s sprightly “Capital Gang” denounced the current groundswell to affix Reagan to Rushmore as his “outrage of the week”). It is evident, moreover, that Mr. Griffith’s credentials as an art critic are in poor repair.
TO RESOLVE the dispute, CMP has contacted the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., urging them to undertake a feasibility study of at least 150,000 words. We simply cannot take the Mount Rushmore Society’s claim of “no room” seriously. The claim is clearly antihistorical: the American presidency did not stop with Teddy Roosevelt, and the Mount Rushmore Society should have realized this when they lit that first stick of dynamite sixty years ago. It is also the cavil of a Luddite. Obviously, through innovative use of laser technology, many more Presidents could appear on Mount Rushmore—at least nocturnally. Calvin Coolidge, for one, would make another splendid addition.
But if it is indeed a genuine problem to have five Presidents physically occupying Mount Rushmore National Park, CMP would like to spark a national debate on the purported greatness of Teddy Roosevelt, who may very well turn out to be expendable. Gutzon Borglum admitted he put TR on Rushmore for the sole reason that the Panama Canal was cut on his watch—a mere technocrat! And environmentalists, of all people, should be clamoring for Roosevelt’s head—literally—in view of the brutality this “sportsman” exhibited toward wildlife year after year. He mowed down the gamut of creatures God deposited in North America, from the affable buffalo to the nimble whitetail deer. If Teddy bows out, the Reagan likeness will be cleared for landing between Jefferson and Lincoln, and the Democrats would be placated knowing there will be no net gain of Republicans on the mountainside. (We also believe, incidentally, that considerable thought should be given to effacing the flaky Jefferson, but that is a different campaign.)
Along with discussions about the feasibility of improving Mount Rushmore with what historian Garry Wills so aptly labeled the “Reagan magic,” the Rushmore movement has also spurred a growing debate over the success of the Reagan presidency itself. As CMP officials, Tyrrell and I have lately done multitudinous radio talk shows, and the talk invariably focuses on Reagan’s accomplishments in his eight-year reign as top executive and commander-in-chief—accomplishments the aforementioned “intelligentsia” would prefer were kept hush-hush. CMP wasted no time in arranging for the first clash on this emotional issue in the national prints, a heated exchange between Tyrrell and Mr. George Thompson of Florida Today on the editorial page of the seismographic USA Today. “[Reagan] spent more on peacetime defense and less on education, the ill, the homeless and unemployed than any other president, ever. Worse, his legacy included a weak successor chained to a witless promise of ‘no new taxes.'” Precisely! Tyrrell chiseled away at each of these yelps and concluded, “Let us have a national referendum, and wise politicians will make it a key issue of the 1990 congressional elections.”
ACCORDINGLY, MOST Of CMP’s efforts will be directed at elucidating President Reagan’s genuine successes. For openers, consider the economy. Energy shortages and the “misery index” are ancient news. Jobs are being created faster than people can fill them. The rest of the world is quietly cutting tax rates, not wanting to draw too much attention to its earlier scorn for “Reaganomics.” (Incidentally, on May 19, the day a Reagan-for-Rushmore item was sent over the Associated Press wire, the Dow Jones index soared to 2501 with 240 million shares traded, hardly a coincidence.) And one of the Gipper’s truly monumental economic achievements was conning liberal Democrats into decrying the evils of federal deficits!
In foreign affairs, who would have predicted eight years ago the drama now unfolding around this tilted orb? Reagan’s America catalyzed the forces for liberty now strengthening on every continent save Antarctica, though its penguins are restless. The Soviet Union has been stung smartly thanks to Reagan’s support of the mujahedeen, and a Communist regime was heaved out of power in Grenada in a refreshing reversal of history’s march. Then, against the fond desires of our liberal elites, our Ron rebuked Gorbo in Iceland by refusing to let go of SDI—a program Reagan single-handedly initiated in 1983 that could quite possibly render nuclear missiles too costly an offensive weapon for the USA’s enemies, thereby protecting our fair land and all its contents, including our national monuments. And who can deny that the national mood has swung from gloom to the kind of healthy pride that did in the intelligent Mike Dukakis?
To establish our role in this ongoing national debate, CMP has enlisted flesh-and-blood persons to proclaim the truth that Reagan’s epic deeds have indeed earned him a spot on Mount Rushmore. Lyn Nofziger, Peter Hannaford, Victor Gold, John Elvin, Baron von Kannon, Edwin Meese, Anthony Dolan, and countless other notables have enthusiastically agreed to sit on the board of directors, with R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. as its chairman. Clare Boothe Luce has been named a board member emeritus, a bow to her many inspired conversations with Tyrrell on the importance of recognizing the Reagan legacy.
Please join these and other grateful citizens in our ambitious plot to put President Ronald Reagan both onto Mount Rushmore and further into the parlors of enlightened debate. Write your Washington representative today, even if he is under indictment or about to resign. Initiate support groups. Spread public awareness. Raise your neighbor’s consciousness. The Committee for Monumental Progress is asking for your help. But remember: we don’t need your money, we need your sympathy.
The whole world is watching.
David Shanahan is the executive director of the Committee for Monumental Progress.