There's a metaphor for the Reagan-era right there in the rusting Reagan Library Restrooms.
No one in the world needs me to tell them that Ronald Reagan lead the storied American life. Born in Illinois, economics and sociology in college, became a Sportscaster, a Hollywood actor, married movie star Jane Wyman, married Nancy Davis, became politically active, was elected governor of California by a majority of a million votes - a lot then. Won again. Ran for president, won, and then won a second White House term with a landslide victory for good measure.
Possibly more than I'll manage in a lifetime.
Along the way he survived a 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley which also seriously wounded his press secretary, James Brady. Brady later offered the 'Brady Bill' which allowed states to refuse to sell hand guns to convicted felons, doesn't seem like a bad idea, on the face of it, and contributed to the larger debate about the place of guns in society.
To mention that Ronald Reagan tripled the deficit between revenues and spending seems churlish and unpatriotic, so, few ever do. Better we concentrate on his singleminded, single handed dismantling of communism in Eastern Europe. "Tear down that wall, Mr Gorbachev."
About AIDS and Homelessness in America, there wasn't much from Ronald Reagan and not much to be added by me oh and let me go back to the economic nonsense of his time before we move on. Of course he made America feel good about itself - who doesn't feel great when they're spending some elses money? He spent so much of it, while peddling a bunch of crap about reducing government. What the hell sense does a reduction in government make - if you aren't reducing spending while addressing the needs of those in need of government services - and we've seen Americans in need - either give me dedicated civil servants or give me my money back. Don't keep on taking my money, reducing government and giving my cash to private corporations who need to make a profit for their shareholders before they can provide a service to the public.
Those were just a few of the thoughts I had while waiting in line for an hour to get into the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
I am easily swayed though. I'd begun to think Freud was a complete fraud until Mr. Lake took me over to his North London home one morning for photographs in the parlor. I never did much care for Elvis until after I went to his house in Memphis. Then he seemed more okay, offering a comparatively modest lifestyle given the stratospherically elevated circumstance of his last 20 years on earth. In both cases I came away wanting to know more. Granted Elvis' jet, the Lisa Marie (a 1958 Convair 880), parked across the street from Graceland isn't the most modest, but well, there's a similarity there to Ronald Reagan - he's has just had his jet, Air Force One (60s era Boeing 707 ) installed at his place too. It was the installation of Reagan's jet that provided the impetus for the trip to the library.
A visit to the Reagan Library is a great day out. Oh there are shortcomings - poor parking, and that rust in the restrooms, an employee was overheard saying that they don't recycle... plastic/glass/whatever, that and a complete lack of critical perspective. Mere quibbles really compared to what you get for your $12.00 admission. Set on a Simi Valley hillside, the spanish ranch-style building features big chunks of the Berlin Wall, a replica White House Rose Garden and the de rigueur replica Oval Office - splendid beige carpet is a nice detail they never use on the West Wing. And the new jewel is the retired Air Force One.
Unfortunately, on the day we went, the first holiday weekend since the plane had been installed, the crowds were enormous and the temptation to give up altogether and simply do the gift shop - There is a fantastic gift shop with all of the usual, and a few more of the unusual gift items - I found a gipper zipper tag particularly appealing... and the restaurant where they stock authentic Air Force One Hamburgers... was sorely tempting. In the end, we waited an hour to get in, not bad, and immediately after a luncheon of the delightful aforementioned burgers, lined up for an hour and a half for our four joyless minutes aboard Reagan's jet. HWDDI. As in How Would Disney Do It? Well a lot of the pain of lining up could be assuaged by more video monitors and action from Reagan's speeches and the drama of his accomplishments. A little more to look at than just the Checkpoint Charlie mannequin. - although he is good. A few more diversions please!
The plane itself is unnervingly narrow and cramped. Presidents flew in this? Tomorrows kids will cry. More suited to a President as a top civil servant than the latter day President as CEO. Its retirement was required. We do need 747's now for the Whitehouse in the sky... Why oh why wasn't Reagan flying a hollow bodied Concorde, they could be picked up for a £1 - think of how much more he might have accomplished at twice the speed of sound? His 707 is worsted wool compared to a Concorde's chiffon. Imagine the 1970s with none of the glamor, that's what he got.
After the plane we raced through some of the 600,000 gifts the Reagan's received, during their stay in the White House. The imagination of people when they give their gifts - are they really, simply hoping ultimately for a place in a display case such as this? Nancy's dresses, well, we've grown to love Nancy more and more over the years, her defiance in favor of science. She brought a touch of California glam and California cookiness to the White House. Some of her dresses are nothing short of incredible. They really should've got her seamstresses to tart up that plane.
All in all, a good day out, a slice of American History as big as a slice of Apple pie. One that begs then, the great Steven Colbert question... Great President, or Greatest President? Trust but verify...