Gipper Clipped

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New at Reason: In 1985, James Brolin played Pee Wee Herman, and America cheered. In 2003, James Brolin played another beloved historical figure, and America jeered. Did James Brolin change, or did America? Cathy Young investigates.

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  1. Slight nitpick. Judy Davis is Australian, not British (from my home town, no less).

  2. Reagan has been reported as saying, about AIDS: “Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.” Is that really so different from the “Those who live, die” comment?

    See http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh111003.shtml

  3. As Rick Barton points out, almost everyone who met the Gipper found that he had a strong sense of not only knowing his audience and playing to them, he knew what he was talking about.

    As the playwright in the article tries to play up the AIDS angle on the ‘evil’ private Reagan, we should remember that for much of the 80’s most doctors and scientists had very limited knowledge as to what specifically caused AIDS. At one point it was referred to as Hepatitis (much of that was due to gaining more research money since Hepatitis researchers were concerned about the blood poisoning that AIDS sufferers had). Mosquitoes were linked as a possible transmission vector. And even though AIDS was the silent killer of homosexuals and druggies, there was nothing that that the Gipper could do to stop the spread of the disease…What could he have done?

    Thrown more money at research? How is that justifiable when AIDS only struck a small somewhat well-defined community when heart disease and cancer (not to mention the flu and pneumonia) slaughter millions each year?

    Created a modern 14th-century plague-infested Europe complete with death brigades and full city quarantines?

    What do these idiots want? And those words that the playwright wrote…”They that live in sin shall die in sin.” If anyone ever heard Reagan speak, they would immediately know that this level of theological indifference is just not within Reagan…He wasn’t overly religious…more of a deist than the cartoonish leader of the religious right that Brolin’s character tries to capture.

    I’m sorry for the rant, but I clearly remember the paranoia and hysteria that came with the media blitz of the AIDs ‘crisis.’ The media onslaught made many children of the 80’s into hypochondriacs…I have to go, my rheumatism is acting up.

  4. As a Reagan fan (not an idolator) I simply thought CBS was nuts. They thought airing a story containing totally fabricated smears of a debilitated former president an acceptible business decision?
    As so many others have pointed out, no one in media in their right mind would have ever done something similar to a JFK, an MLK or similar liberal icon. Why not? Because it would have been seen as contemptible ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM wouldn’t it?
    Liberals assume a license to smear. Normally, they get away with it. In this instance they went way too far and were reigned in only because very few people (of any political persuasion) can defend obvious defamatory lies as some kind of “First Amendment” or artistic “freedom” issue.

  5. Why do I get the feeling that all the hubbub about this miniseries was based on the moronic assumption that TV ratings become de facto vindication for everything. Some people seemed upset that a left-biased view of Reagan might actually get decent ratings, without assuming the possibility that it could have tanked anyway. Which is probably what CBS’s real motivation was for not showing it, flak or no flak.

    There was a left-baised view of Reagan while he was in office. Deal with it. If you don’t like it, make another competing bio-pic. If we can have competing, biased views of Jesus H. Christ, the world should certainly be able to handle competing views of Ronald Reagan.

  6. If we can have competing, biased views of Jesus H. Christ, the world should certainly be able to handle competing views of Ronald Reagan.

    (sarcasm on)

    There is only one correct view of Reagan: The Truth.

    The Truth is that He walked on water during His 1980 campaign, but the liberal media covered it up.

    The Truth is that He turned water into wine at his own wedding to Nancy.

    The Truth is that He predicted that some day George Bush Sr. would raise taxes when He said at His final cabinet meeting “One of you will betray me.”

    The Truth is that George W. Bush first discovered Reagan on the road to Damascus, and now devotes all of his efforts to advancing Reagan’s agenda.

    (sarcasm off)

    Sorry, but sometimes I just feel the need to mock the way the right worships Reagan. Respect the man? Fair enough. But worship him? Come on, it’s not like Ronald Reagan is Richard Feynman! 😉

  7. I’ve had to grow up wondering what the big deal was about JFK. I suppose it’s only fitting that my kids can grow up wondering what the big deal is about Reagan.

  8. thoreau,
    THANK YOU! I too diefy RPF. Great post.

    “The whole thing was rotten because its purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor.”

  9. Reagan was religious in many ways; read the several biographies of him – he was afraid nuclear weapons would bring on a biblical armageddon (which is why he was willing to talk to Gorbachev in 1985 in the first place) for instance; he was opposed to abortion on religious grounds; he wanted a prayer in school; etc. A lot of very religious Americans didn’t vote for Reagan for no reason after all.

    I think people confuse church attendance with religiosity.

    I agree, you could have written a drama which was accurate and protrayed Reagan in a poor light; the mere fact that he let Regan control the first half of his second term is enough by itself, that is the fact that he as very out of touch and not really “leading” and acting as a ceremonial President in reality.

  10. Richard wrote:

    What do these idiots want? And those words that the playwright wrote…”They that live in sin shall die in sin.” If anyone ever heard Reagan speak, they would immediately know that this level of theological indifference is just not within Reagan…He wasn’t overly religious…more of a deist than the cartoonish leader of the religious right that Brolin’s character tries to capture.

    I think you?re right, however as Deron White pointed out there are quite a few people living today who were either not alive or very young when Ronald Reagan was POTUS. I have no doubts that many of the critics of this smear job were (rightfully) concerned that this sort of smear piece would be shown in social study classrooms and present a rather distorted version of what Reagan did and his beliefs to a generation too young to remember him. The same thing was done with my class regarding Nixon and JFK with those ridiculous Oliver Stone movies. I?d like to think that other schools have ?educators? who weren?t so intellectually lazy as to try and ?teach? by making their classes watch a fictional film and present it as ?history? but I?m not that optimistic.

  11. To modify the controversial line in the movie:

    Those that watcheth not Doctor Laura must endure those who watcheth not the Reagan movie. Those that watcheth not the Reagan movie must endure those who watcheth not Doctor Laura.

  12. I thought Dr Laura was just a radio show, did it get TV syndication?

    And I think a proper response is to support the right of the strikers to do so, but to tell them that they’re out of their minds when they do. Excuse me while head to Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs for a moment – I’ve never received such prompt service.

  13. She tried to get a TV show, but there was a backlash and threats of a boycott. The TV deal fell through. It wasn’t censorship, at least not in the coercive sense of the word (I don’t have a dictionary in front of me, so I leave open the possibility that it has more generic meanings). It was a network looking at the market and deciding not to roll out a product that would hurt its bottom line.

    Same for the Reagan movie.

    I might disagree with the nuts who deify Reagan, and I might think they exercised their rights in a silly manner, but there’s no denying that they acted within their rights, and there’s no need to fear for the First Amendment.

  14. They could have done a pretty good slam job on Reagan with just the facts. It would still have been poor taste not to wait until he and Nancy were dead for a while.

    Speaking of dead for a while, did I miss it or has there never been a “true confessions” version of the JFK story? You know, one showing him getting shot up with “vitamins and minerals” and chasing every skirt in town.

  15. Reagan was an “idea guy” for sure. One time John Hospers, the first LP candidate for president, was on a radio talk show in Cal. and a call came in from the governors mansion. It was Reagan jumping into the conversation. Also, it was in either 1975 or 76 when he was trying to wrest the GOP nomination from Ford that he came to Colorado to give a speech in Ft. Collins. I drove up from Denver to hear him and after the speech, when he and Nancy got to me in the receiving line they found a wide eyed kid who was jazzed that he cited “The Road to Serfdom” by Hayek in his talk. He told me he also really liked Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty”! This, of course, put me “in orbit” and I then mentioned that I enjoyed the points he made in an interview with “Reason”. ( I think it was in that interview where he made his “libertarianism is the kernel of conservatism quote”) I remember he then said, I swear, “Well” “I’ll have to look at that again”. (remember when the “Well” was the stock in trade of a Reagan imitation?) As I shook their hands in an enthusiastic “fare well”, Nancy assured me that “Ronnie loves that little magazine”.

  16. I’m surprised that no one has commented on the potential ironic delight of this mini-series. This is something made by shrill modern liberals of someone they deeply hate. I’m predicting MST 3000 fodder here. I, for one, am very disappointed they axed it.

    Oh, and for all you Ronnie Raygun lovers out there.. he was in the back pocket of the religious right, no question. And he really trumped up tricky Dick’s little drug war.

  17. “As Rick Barton points out, almost everyone who met the Gipper found that he had a strong sense of not only knowing his audience and playing to them, he knew what he was talking about.”

    Perhaps in 1975. By 1984, he was clearly succumbing tired, confused, and inattentive. Stress hastens Alzeimers, and they ran him again anyway, because he made a good figurehead. Bastards.

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