Longing for a hero, any hero
Nostalgia is a narcotic. It anesthetizes the mind with selective memories.It fills our need for warm remembrance. It creates longing for what was, for the way we like to see the world that was. Nostalgia is a magic mirror that beautifies the past.When we look at the Reagan years, we look into that mirror. What we see enchants us with visions of optimism and hope. For the moment, our eyes wander from the beheading of Nick Berg, from the hooded specter of Abu Ghraib, from the storm and fire of war.In America, we are desperate for a hero, so we search for one in the magic mirror of nostalgia and we find Ronald Reagan there, smiling his cockeyed smile beneath the brim of a cowboy hat, a glint in his eye. We see the Lone Ranger.Reagan is a heartwarming image made in Hollywood, a man who knew how to act and acted his way into the Oval Office. A telling Reagan quip pointed to his amazement that anyone but an actor could ever call the White House home.Reagan’s presidency was a blend of fact and fancy. It conjured the Wizard of Oz where the man behind the curtain was revealed as a mortal whose controls were orchestrated by simple ideologies, savvy managers and Norman Rockwell patriotism.Reagan, still known as “The Gipper” for an old black & white film in which he starred, is a testament to celluloid imagery. His favorite movie was “The Sound of Music,” a paean to noble sentiments and happy endings, all cloaked in a syrupy, feel-good musical.We need a hero, and Reagan is the hero du jour. His friendly demeanor, his down-home ease, his charm, his colloquialisms, color his past with a fresh coat of paint under which his failings and the failings of his administration are all but covered.Media commemoratives reveal a set of images, a parade of photographs showing the transformation of a young Midwesterner into a world statesman. This Cinderella story makes us feel good about ourselves and our country. The Gipper was a regular guy, and we honor him for being one of us.We need a hero for a president, even when that president was contradictory and ironic. From feel-good Reaganomics to the bolstering of fascist dictators in Central America, the Reagan years are being rerun like the “Sound of Music,” rich with chivalry, heroism and righteousness.”Tear down that wall!” becomes a battle cry for world freedom and liberty. It echoes John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,” when JFK called for a breaking down of the iron curtain more than two decades before Reagan.It was Mikhail Gorbachev, not Reagan, who tore down that wall, and yet, it is Reagan who now receives credit as the great unifier. Rhetoric and showbiz triumph over historical accuracy because we need a hero, and that hero might as well be a Republican.Never mind the naïveté in Reagan’s depiction of complex issues or his fading mental acuity toward the end of his term. America needs a hero, and we will build him from the common clay, fired with a glittering glaze of red, white and blue.Give the actor a script and he will transform mere words into eloquent idealism. He will stir hearts and lift minds. He will weave a spell over a population ready for enchantment, a population praying for a calm, placid, forthright, proud and fearless expression of their faith.America needs a hero, and that hero will lie in state beneath the shroud of the American flag, the colors of which have lost their luster under the glare of the klieg lights of current events. Give us a hero and take him with a spoonful of nostalgia so that we may feel good about ourselves again.Paul Andersen thinks Alzheimer’s has impaired our collective memory. His column appears on Mondays.
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