People don’t show Reagan respect; will history?
The passing of President John Kennedy in 1963 left indelible images in the minds of most Americans – his frame-by-frame death in the Zapruder film, his 2-year-old son John’s salute as the casket passed (an image planned and choreographed by Mrs. Kennedy), and the somber, black-and-white broadcast of the funeral cortege stately passage down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., to Arlington Cemetery. The passing of President Ronald Reagan is unlikely to leave such images in the memories of most Americans, although if there are such images, they should leave us embarrassed.After his death, former President Reagan’s body was taken to his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., to lie in stately repose, the casket covered with an American flag and attended by a military honor guard, before being brought to Washington, D.C., for the state funeral Friday. C-SPAN ran a live feed from Simi Valley, showing the visit to the library rotunda of Mrs. Reagan and her family, followed by a procession of average Americans who supposedly had come to pay their respects to one of the most popular presidents of the modern era. Mrs. Reagan arrived dressed in black, escorted by family and friends of the family respectfully attired in somber clothes, as one might expect in honor of Ronald Reagan. After brief words by the family minister, Mrs. Reagan stepped forward to touch her face to the casket of her dead husband – to the ring of a cell phone. Mrs. Reagan, lost in mourning, didn’t seem to hear the clanging, but others did, searching with their eyes for the offender.After Mrs. Reagan’s departure, the public was allowed in. A sparse few had come with a sense of dignity and respect for the man, his family and the occasion, wearing military uniforms, suits or dark clothes. The vast majority, however, strolled past the body of the dead president in tank tops, flip flops and jean shorts, with ice cream cones and, of course, cell phones, as if the president’s lying in state were a tourist attraction. This stream of average Americans demonstrating such utter and ignorant contempt for a president, especially this one, offered mute testimony to a post-Reagan America.You may disagree with President Reagan’s politics and positions, but basic respect for the dead demanded more than was given by the average American. History has yet to determine whether Ronald Reagan was a good president or not. Although right-wingers regularly hail the benefits of Reaganomics and tax cuts, that’s simple self-deception on the part of closed-minded conservatives. Reaganomics brought massive deficits, not a balanced budget, lower interest rates, jobs or economic justice. Reagan’s role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union is clear, although again historians will debate whether Reagan consciously knew what he was doing, or whether he engineered the massive military buildup that the Soviet economy couldn’t match out of policies rooted in the 1950s. Time will also be required to assess Reagan’s role in the war on terrorism. President Reagan posted Marines in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, but shortly after the horrific truck bombing that killed more than 300 marines and civilians, Reagan brought them home, purportedly to take them out of harm’s way. Terrorists viewed Reagan’s action as a retreat, and proof of the success of a well-targeted car bombing. Moreover, Reagan will be remembered for straight-faced lying, repeatedly claiming that “America will never negotiate with terrorists,” all the while selling arms to Iran in the hopes of opening communications with terrorists for just that purpose. The typical terrorist will remember Reagan in a far different way than the average American. To him, Reagan offered proof that Americans would cut and run from a fight, and that American presidents would plainly lie in public if it suited them. The dead deserve respect, whatever their political persuasion. It’s no surprise Ronald Reagan won’t get it from terrorists; it is a surprise that he isn’t getting it from the average American either.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. This is his debut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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