Thursday, June 10, 2004

Reagan - Chaunce the gardener

The New Republic Online: Unorthodox - Jonathan Chait
...The missile treaty was no fluke. Alongside Reagan's (justly) celebrated steely revulsion toward communism sat a wooly-headed, almost peacenik, sensibility. Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon's 1991 biography of Reagan--celebrated for its fairness by left and right alike--revealed Reagan's attachment to anti-cold war movies like The Day After and War Games, which inveighed against the horrors of nuclear war in the most syrupy way. He had a particular affinity for the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an alien arrived and forced the United States and Soviet Union to make peace. Reagan invoked this trope so frequently that Colin Powell, his national security adviser, would tell his staff, 'Here come the little green men again.' Reagan even brought up the movie in his 1988 summit with Gorbachev--who, understandably, didn't know quite what to make of it--in the course of proposing a deal by which both sides would destroy their entire nuclear arsenals. All in all, his view toward the cold war was far different than the 'moral clarity' that is currently ascribed to him.

Peter Seller's 1979 movie "Being There" was a masterpiece about a very simple gardener who, by virtue of cryptic responses and a good suit, is elevated to the presidency. At the end of the movie Chaunce the Gardener strolls across a pond. Not around, across.

The movie was based on a book that preceded Reagan, but Reagan inspired the movie.

The movie may be the best possible guide to Reagan's contributions to history. I suspect, however, we really owe as much to Howard Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev as to Ronald "Chaunce" Reagan.

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