Friday, April 30, 2010

The Speech of the Unknown

Reagan had a bunch of stories, and this involves one of my favourites. Over the decades he would occasionally relate a tale about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where the delegates waver at the last minute, only to be roused into action by an unknown speaker at the back of the hall. After signing, they turn and find the stranger has mysteriously disappeared. Reagan enjoyed the drama and its hint of miraculous intervention at America's birth. In 1981, a minister wrote to inform him that the speaker was, in fact, John Witherspoon. Though the president graciously received the information, the story was robbed of its mystery, and he never told it again.

Mitch Horowitz, an historian of the American occult, has uncovered an interesting new aspect to the story. Reagan never gave a source for his tale, though in 1974 at CPAC, he mentions he heard it from "a writer, who happened to be an avid student of history", but that he himself " never researched or made an effort to verify it". Horowitz now has, concluding that Reagan took the story from occult philosopher Manly P. Hall:

After publishing his great work, Hall spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing within the walls of his Egypto-art deco campus in L.A.’s Griffith Park neighborhood. He called the place a “mystery school” in the mold of Pythagoras’s ancient academy. It was there in 1944 that the occult thinker produced a short work, one little known beyond his immediate circle. This book, The Secret Destiny of America, caught the eye of the future president, then a middling Hollywood actor gravitating toward politics. Hall’s concise volume described how America was the product of a “Great Plan” for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies.

Reagan's telling of the story apparently matches Hall's version, suggesting that "the president’s reading tastes ran to some of the outer reaches of esoteric spiritual lore". Reagan believed in an ordained destiny for America, though he attributed this to divine sources, rather than the more earthly (if not grounded) idea of an ancient conspiracy. This revelation, however, certainly suggests a new meaning to another oft-repeated aphorism:

You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.

I will call it mysticism!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Romney the Westerner

Mitt Romney has bought a $12 million house in Southern California, prompting an Independent Californian Voter to ask, "Is the camera-friendly Mitt Romney looking to become the Ronald Reagan of the 21st century?"

References to Reagan will, of course, saturate coverage of the contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination and this one, like many, seems a stretch. After all, why not buy a house in Southern California if you have $12 million? Moreover, could someone really expect to turn around their regional identity in two years? In Romney's case, though, the answer might be yes. Ingratiating himself with California Republicans, getting a tan and a cowboy hat - these efforts could give the candidate the veneer of western conservatism and remove the taint of pallid eastern liberalism. Or maybe he's setting his sights lower for a Californian Senate seat in 2012? Or maybe he just wants a house in the sunshine on the beach?

Interestingly, while Romney is eager to endorse Tea Party hero Marco Rubio in Florida, he's also stepping out with billioniare suspect-RINO Meg Whitman in California. Finger in every pie? Party uniter? He is a man of wonderous mystery.

Michael Reagan continues to push his distinctive brand. If, like me, you feel a gnawing shame and anger everytime you log in to your Yahoo! account and see a news story which denigrates Sarah Palin, or hate yourself for using the services provided by those hippies at GMail, then weep no longer and get an account!

On the grounds that the major email service providers "support liberals", Reagan is offering fellow ideologues the first conservative email system, for just $34.95 per year. I hear Oliver North and John Poindexter, who both understand the dangers of a politically unreliable electronic messaging system, have gladly signed up.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Dark, Dark Hours

In one of the recently rediscovered General Electric Theater episodes, Reagan has a fraught encounter with the wayward youth of today (today being 1954) in the form of James Dean's unstable hipster. Here is the story reduced to six minutes:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Loyal to the Party, or to Reagan?

Raymond Boyd, a new self-financed candidate for Georgia's governorship, has begun his campaign for the GOP's nomination by taking on the state party in a symbolic battle. A classic self-made outsider with, in his own words, "the testicular fortitude it takes to be a leader", Boyd refuses to be tainted or restrained by the Republican machine. By rule, all candidates must make an oath of allegiance to the Party to recieve its nomination . Boyd refuses. "I’m not a Republican who follows the sheep," he says, unwilling to make a pledge to a party which has "drifted from its core principles" - "It's an oath, by God, it means something to me." It is unclear exactly what the oath demands, but I expect it is not dissimilar to this Florida one, which simply asks that candidates and officeholders do not oppose other Republicans in other elections.

Oaths are not in themselves unacceptable to Boyd, however, and he has suggested his own, which pledges that he:
will not be bound by any position of the Georgia Republican Party that I do not feel would represent the core principles of that faction of the Republican Party which is referred to by many as ‘Ronald Reagan Republicans.' I am running as a Republican -- a Ronald Reagan Republican. I hereby reaffirm my pledge to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I offer my life in defense thereof.
A Tea Partier, Boyd embraces the new factionalism in the Republican Party, using Reagan as an incoherent symbol of that split, and of the angry nationalism that drives it. Reagan represents the broad idea of America, but also the belligerent minority. This is probably not a sustainable idea, and likely not enough to sustain Boyd's earnest if clumsy campaign. He seems like an interesting one to watch this year, though.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Learning from Reagan's Debates

Last night's tepid but historic televised debate between Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown potentially began a new tradition in British electoral politics. As the first of its kind, the only precedents available to pundits and commentators have been the US presidential debates of the last fifty years. In general, these have featured in the UK media as simple lists of memorable blunders and one-liners, but Domonic Sandbrook in the New Statesman took a closer look at the single example of Reagan vs. Carter in 1980.

Both Carter's and Reagan's performances offered lessons for the party leaders - but all in matters of style and presentation:
In many ways, the Reagan-Carter clash was a reminder of everything that is wrong with televised debates: their fixation with personality rather than policy, their obsession with the image rather than the word, their emphasis on the individual rather than the party.
As Sandbrook suggests, it is also unique for being vaguely memorable and, because it was held so close to the election, politically consequential. Last night did not seem to match it in either sense unless Clegg's supposed victory and bland but strangely celebrated performance actually translates into solid votes for the Liberal Democrats. Otherwise, the better comparison will be the Reagan vs. Anderson debate which occured well over a month before the election, elevated John Anderson and sustained his high poll ratings, but did not prevent his candidacy being squeezed out by the two main contenders come November.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reagan and Obama in the Approval-o-Meter

A poll-watcher has been noticing the similar trend of Obama's and Reagan's approval ratings in their first months in office. A result of familiar economic conditions and comparably ambitious agendas, the two both score relatively low compared to other modern presidents.

Their opening positions are quite different; Obama's honeymoon was immediate and historically ordained, while Reagan's more gradual. His early peak probably relates to his survival of an assassination attempt.

The Lifeguard: Ronald Reagan and His Story

The best news ever is that Reagan's life has been turned into a one-man play. While the author is a veteran of CSI, the producers, David Permut and J. Mark Travis have experience in presidential plays from their work on Give 'em Hell, Harry in 1975.

Seeing a similarity between the political turbulence of the '70s and contemporary America, they also envisage for Reagan a similar role to Truman's after his death - a fond icon of more stable times. A nostalgic reflection on Reagan will appeal to America's desire for unity - "Never before has there really been a president who took a country that was so divisive and brought it together." This is an interesting assessment - by Hollywood producers, of all people - of Reagan as a cure for partisan discord rather than its symbol.

The play will be filmed in Ford's Theater (suitably? eerily?) later in the year, and I look forward to the Fox News reviews almost as much as seeing it. "Several big-name actors have expressed an interest" - please, let it be Tom Hanks.