On The Edge

Ah, that a man can smile and smile, and be a villain … - Hamlet

For anyone who paid any attention to the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), media coverage of his death on June 5, 2004 was nothing less than a crazy-making experience.Who was the man in that coffin? Certainly not the man on historical record.

Not since the naive, simplistic and racist reporting of September 11, 2001 has so bold a collection of drooling lies, liars, theatre and tears been perpetrated on Americans, and by extension, Canadians on any single occasion.

In the many days of enforced public mourning nobody came to bury Ceasar, but many showed up to praise him. Indeed, by the time this article reaches print, the Titan, the Great Communicator, Liberator, (take your pick) has probably risen and returned to us, still wearing the white hat and the disingenuous smile with which he was planted.

Ironically, the Ronnie Reaganthon took us back to the days when ancient Soviet cold warriors died, and Russians endured weeks of martial music and canned tributes bearing little or no resemblance to the truth. Unlike many comtemporary Westerners, however, the Russians at least knew a joke when they saw one.

It is polite custom to speak charitably about the dead. But the inimitable American public relations machine, fuelled by political interests and tactical scriptwriters, took us much further than that, using the dead to imprison the living in a fog of grandiose and toxic self-deception, a fog meant also to justify and enable contemporary Caesar George W. Bush to stay his lethal course in the Middle East.

By virtue of media magic, the fortieth president of the USA was transformed into an all-benevolent and heroic figure, lifting America up and away from the sordid events of Watergate and Vietnam with one hand and liberating the slaves of Soviet communism with the other. Hands behind his back, he apparently called for the fall of the Berlin Wall, and behold, it fell down before him.

All this Reagan did with characteristic humility. As he said, typically, when defending the hugely unpopular seal hunt in Canada, “I couldn’t actually club a seal myself.”

And there were other things he couldn’t do. In 1987, he couldn’t explain the secret sales of weapons to Iran, a strategy designed to ransom American hostages and fund CIA Contra rebels attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. “Try as I might, I simply cannot recall anything whatsoever,” he said, and miraculously remained both unprosecuted and unimpeached.

His CIA death squads and the deaths of an estimated 200,000 Nicaraguans were not mentioned in any of Reagan’s eulogies. There were other omissions; among them massacres in El Salvador; Reagan’s belief that nuclear war was winnable; that homelessness was a choice; that South Africa’s Apartheid regime deserved support; his attack on unions. Add to that list ballooning debt and deficits, unapologetic partnerships with company as murderous as himself, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Of course, any of this missing information could have spoiled Reagan’s last service to the invisible elite of America, which was, simply put, one final round of fraudulent patriotism, one closing call for U.S. hegemony at any cost, including the current cost, more than a billion dollars a day to keep the military “in business.”

When Reagan died, his obedient media created false mourning for false losses and ensured that those afflicted by his policies did not perceive their wounds.

But why did this transparent strategy go largely unchallenged in this country? Why were we also neoconned when Reagan died?

Reagan was deeply suspicious of Canada under Pierre Trudeau, convinced it was a rat’s nest of socialist conspiracies, lamenting more than once that it was a country where a third of tax dollars went to pay for medical care, whereas he himself devoted half of his taxes to armaments. But Canada-U.S. relations improved wildly under Brian Mulroney, whose unabashed “continentalism” was far more promising.

There is little resonance between the values of the Reaganites and most ordinary Canadians; the sophisticated rejection of Steven Harper in the June federal election showed us that.

But the elevation of Reagan to sainthood and the revision of his record, like the war in Iraq, suited Canada’s publishing class. It was another chance to board the gravy train. It was another chance to try to redeem the sorry reputation of Reagan’s manservant, Brian Mulroney and restore him to influence. And it reinforced the idea that what matters in politics is not policy, but personality.

Journalism, it is said, is the first draft of history. When it comes to the story of Ronald Reagan’s life and death, let us pray for an early re-write.