Monday, February 22, 2010

On the Reagan Trail

The Peoria Journal Star reports on a Reagan-themed tour of Illinois which took place on his birthday this year, led by his son, Michael. The trail went non-chronologically from Reagan's almer-mater, Eureka College, to his birthplace in Tampico, and then to Dixon, which he would come to see as his hometown.

Edmund Morris' Dutch opens with the biographer and former president visiting Tampico, the first time, for Reagan, since his birth. Reagan sees the room in which he was born and retreats in shock.

He showed no interest in what I tried to tell him about the events of eighty years ago in Tampico. Instead, he took refuge in his own stories about Hollywood...Listening to him, I asked myself who of us, forced so brutally to confront the nothingness from which we have sprung, would not have turned away as he did, knowing it to be indistinguishable from - indeed, identical with - the nothingness that looms ahead?

The celebratory tour did not embrace the themes of darkened memory and approaching death. Instead it emphasised the connection between the Hollywood President and his smalltown, Mid-Western origins. Amongst the weirdly framed photos, we see a Dixon statue of the president looking blankly at a handful of Illinois corn kernels. One Eureka senior remarked:

My newfound appreciation for Ronald Reagan comes from seeing the communities in his life, the values he learned, the culture and his upbringing...It's amazing that he never lost sight of who he was and didn't look down on his roots.

This is certainly a theme that Reagan evoked often enough, and which is asserted in his more friendly biographies, and at the Reagan Museum in Simi Valley. It is not the only story of Reagan, however, who quickly left smalltown Illinois to make his fortune in the great cities of Des Moines, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Alonzo Hamby thought it "a measure of his political skill that he made us believe he could have been a contented provincial nonentity".

Some earlier thoughts I had on Reagan and the small town.

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