11 June 2004

Reagan’s legacy

I have to admit that Reagan’s speechifying has almost always made me
tear up.  When at his finest rhetorical moments (the 1984
convention, the speech before the Berlin Wall, the eulogy at the
Challenger disaster, just to note a few), he had a near-unparalled
ability to pull us along to the heights that he achieved in his
words.  I think his only contemporary equals have probably been
Mario Cuomo and Bill Clinton.

My evaluation of Reagan is mixed, as the legacy of Reagan’s
administration toward gay people reverberates even today.  From
Tyler’s site
:

Can you believe that the unholy pact President Reagan and the
Republican Party entered with the forces of religious intolerance have
not weakened, but grown exponentially stronger? Can you believe that
the U.S. government is still bowing to right wing extremists and
fighting condom distribution and explicit HIV education, even while
AIDS is killing millions across the world? Or that ‘devout’ Christians
have forced the scrapping of AIDS prevention programs targeted at
HIV-negative gay and bisexual men in favor of bullshit ‘abstinence only
until marriage’ initiatives? Or the shameless duplicity of these same
forces seeking to forever outlaw even the hope of marriage for gay
people? Or that Reagan stalwarts like Buchanan, Bennett and Bauer are
still grinding their homophobic axes?

Much angrier than I would put it, but full of truth.  I would add,
however, that the administration did nothing that didn’t have at least
the tacit approval of the public at large.  AIDS was a scourge
because it did not — theoretically — affect “regular” people. 
AIDS advanced the push for gay rights further and faster than it
probably would have without the plague.  But at what cost?

Could Reagan have stopped the course of the pestilence?  Certainly
no more than he “ended” the Cold War?  But he could have had an
influence, he could have set a tone, he could have done something.  But for doing nothing, he, like any of us, will have to answer.

The Rev. Sen. Danforth reminds us at this moment that we celebrate, in
a funeral, the light that darkness cannot overcome.  And there has
been much reminding those assembled that this is a religious service in
a house of faith.  One of the tenets of the Christian faith lies
in confession, as a key to holiness.  The confession of sin in the
Prayer Book confesses to God “what we have done and what we have left
undone.”

Did Reagan commit a moral wrong in the way he treated those afflicted
with the scourge of the virus?  I think so.  But so did the
country.  And those actions are something we must all atone for,
and we must, in an effort to rectify the injustice that Ronald Reagan
and the country comitted, we have to continue to look for the justice
of mercy.

On a completely separate note, Bill Clinton appears to be the only
person at the funeral who gets into the music.  He always seems to
be happy singing or listening to music, and he even sways a bit in time.

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