As you may have noticed if you’ve been alive and in the US the past week, our 40th President passed away recently. I think there was some sort of requirement that if you blogged, you talked about/beatified/criticized/cussed about Reagan at least once this week, which is probably as good an indicator as any what a personal impact his Presidency had on us.

I don’t really want to get into it myself, since I could probably be writing pages, but I do think I should say something, at least to make up for the general lack of seriousness embodied in Bush/Zombie Reagan earlier this week.

I grew up in the Eighties, and got started early on as a political junkie. (Hmm, that doesn’t sound right, somehow.) Growing up in a Republican house in the middle of a big Southern Democratic state, my parents weren’t big fans of President Carter, and my earliest memories of the national news involved the embassy hostages in Iran and the failed rescue attempt. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and malaise was more a cultural term than a psychological one.

So, President Ronald Reagan comes along, and while it wasn’t Morning in America for us, things suddenly seemed better. Looking back, even from just a few years later, I think sometimes we were just looking for a difference after the bad old days of the Seventies. (We thought we found it in Carter, but for some reason the country decided it didn’t want that kind of difference.) Reagan definitely supplied it. With a genial manner, a confident demeanor, and a slightly dotty sense of humor, he seemed like a National Dad.

Of course, first impressions only last until the second time you see someone. Let’s see, what were the next few years like?

  • Assassination attempt
  • Unemployment
  • Lebanon
  • Grenada
  • Yuppies
  • Homelessness
  • Iran-Contra
  • Defense spending
  • Reykjavik
  • IRBM Treaty
  • Meese
  • Spiraling debt
  • Glasnost
  • And so much more…

Sounds horrible, right, kids? Oddly enough, it was one of the most adventurous times I can imagine to be interested in politics. It’s probably just remembered youth talking, but it all felt epic in scale, huge decisions shaking the world, principles upheld, principles betrayed, lives ruined and won…You get the picture. Everything seemed more serious and bigger and brighter and important, even at a time when America was wandering off into apathy again.

Kind of makes you impatient during a time when the political scandals wander over into sex, and the political movements all call themselves “moderate.” 😐

I doubt too many politically aware people from my generation can really regard Reagan with equanimity — a lot love him still, a lot hate him still — even with the leavening effect of his long illness. A lot of folks are like me, just confused by the complex relationship of nostalgia, loss of innocence, and memories of a bipolar world.

I wonder if folks will remember Clinton in a similar fashion?

Edit: A good entry on Fafblog about Reagan as icon.