As David Brooks noted last week, the Democrats are rapidly falling into a minority mentality. The stridency, the lack of realism, the bizarre oppositional stances (who ever thought the Democrats would oppose drug prescriptions for Medicare!) — all speak of a faction whose members becoming increasingly aware that they are irrelevant.
Nowhere is this clearer than in last Sunday’s long-awaited broadcast of The Reagans. True, the script wasn’t very flattering — although it certainly wasn’t as bad as reported. And true, the show’s recollections of the 1980s read like “Liberalism’s Greatest Hits.” But why should Republicans want to censor this melodrama? The three-hour script’s biases are so profound, so transparent, they end up saying more about the authors than about the subject.
In ways the show was engaging. First, James Brolin does a wonderful Ronald Reagan. The physical resemblance is striking but Brolin did even better with Reagan’s mannerisms. This guy can act and deserves credit for much more than being Barbra Streisand’s husband.
Judy Davis, on the other hand, proves that physical resemblance means nothing if you’re not acting in good faith. Her hyperthyroid Nancy Reagan bears almost no resemblance to the ex-President’s wife — at least as she has emerged in public and various memoirs.
What the show completely fails to grasp is the world that Reagan inhabited. Half of The Reagans is spent on scheming Nancy (she is really the star of the show) and the other half portrays the President being manipulated by his advisers. This is cartoon reality. Everyone who ever encountered Reagan personally came expecting a lightweight and ended up being awed by the gravity of the man.
In How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, former speechwriter Peter Robinson tells of one confrontation between Reagan and Arthur Burns, the god-like former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board who had advised Republican Presidents since Eisenhower. At a cabinet meeting, Burns — sitting at Reagan’s right hand — made yet another attempt to suggest that the federal budget be balanced by repealing the tax cuts of 1981. “Didn’t I say I was going to relieve the American people of their tax burden?” responded Reagan firmly. “Well. don’t ever mention this in my presence again.”
Reagan was most at home in a man’s world. He could joke and banter with the best yet never shed his dignity. He refused even to take off his suit jacket in the Oval Office. (This is often mentioned in contrast to Bill Clinton’s penchant for shedding other portions in his wardrobe.) As Robinson reports, Reagan was the most light-hearted yet the most serious man he ever encountered.
Ignoring all this, The Reagans proceeds to rework history. What do you remember most about the Reagan years? “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall?” The “Nuclear Winter” crusades that depicted Reagan as a warmonger? The “Walk in the Woods” at Reykyavik (subject of a recent off-Broadway play), where Reagan refused give up his anti-missile defense system but tried to convince the Sovieit premier of the fundamental goodness of the American people? The invasion of Grenada? The downing of KAL 007, which convinced even many liberals that the Soviets and their allies were evil?
None of these make the script. Instead, “The Reagans” concentrates on the August 1981 downing of two Libyan jets after they attacked American fighters in a dispute over Libyan air space. The sole purpose is to recount how Reagan’s aides woke him in the middle of the night and then let him go back to sleep. Another subject treated lovingly is the President’s 1985 visit to Bitburg Cemetery, where an intelligence foul-up left him speaking near the graves of 20 SS soldiers.
On the other hand, the entire decade-long confrontation with the Soviets is dismissed in one bizarre scene where an aide rushes into the Oval Office and announces, “Mr. President, Premier Gorbachev has agreed to meet with you to discuss disarmament! You’ve won the Cold War!”
As always, the liberal centerpiece of the Reagan’s foreign policy is Iran-Contra. Frankly, I’ve never been able to understand all the fuss. American lives were at stake and Reagan quietly allowed a deal to be done. Then Oliver North hijacked the profits to jump-start the Contras after Congress — bowing to liberal fantasies — decided to accept the Marxist Sandinista government. (Pressure from the Contras eventually forced the Sandinistas to hold elections, which they lost.)
Sure all this was embarrassing, but did it set off the tumult in the Middle East? In the script an hysterical aide tells Reagan, “Mr. President, you have destroyed this country’s foreign policy and made us the laughing stock of the entire world.” Only liberals would believe that.
Peter Schweizer’s Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union, tells how Reagan plotted the Soviet downfall from the first day of his administration. Bill Casey, head of the CIA, was dispatched all over the world to line up Arab, Israeli, and Eastern European allies. We smuggled radio equipment into Poland to support Solidarity (another no-show on The Reagans). We put the squeeze on Europe to prevent construction of the Siberian gas pipeline. We got surface-to-air missiles to the Mujahedin that helped drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. (That’s one we might partially regret.) All this — plus Star Wars — led to the Soviet collapse.
Brushing history aside, The Reagans concentrates on the soap opera of Nancy’s domineering ways and Ron’s ineffectual bungling. The scriptwriters seem almost crestfallen that Ronald Reagan, Jr.’s didn’t turn out to be gay. And of course there is AIDS, which, next to Iran-Contra, seems to be the most important event of Reagan’s eight years. The end credits announce that 890,000 people still have AIDS in America. Streisand, whose son has AIDS, reportedly blames Ronald Reagan personally.
Any scientist will tell you that AIDS is now one of the most heavily funded research topics on the planet. Yet somehow it is never too late to go back and blame the whole thing on the Reagan Administration.
Regarding cheap-shot efforts like The Reagans, conservatives have nothing to fear. As Brian Anderson writes in the latest issue of City Journal, “We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore.”