Hello everyone. It's been a busy seven days. First, Turkey Day pleasantly came and went. Next, Fiancee S. and I got to spend some getaway time an hour or two away from here. Then I caught a cold, which gave me a parting gift of laryngitis -- a gift that unfortunately keeps on giving. Lastly, it's been a very busy (though thankfully not terribly stressful) week at work.
During my two days of incapacity due to illness, I had a chance to ponder two presidential docu-dramas that appeared on successive nights: The Reagans (or also here)
and Oliver Stone's Nixon.
I found the two to be a study in contrasts. Both are probably more fictional dramatization than factual film, yet one is critically hailed (Nixon) and one is critically reviled (The Reagans). I wonder why?
To its credit, the Showtime cable network did round up some big political "match experts" (plus one associate producer of The Reagans who knew he was being thrown into the lions' den) to talk about why The Reagans was so bad. I instinctively knew why they were going to say it was bad; the series makes Ronald Reagan into a cartoonish buffoon. I have never been a great admirer of the Reagan Administration, but, you have to admit that Ronald Reagan had a certain something that allowed him to connect with the "person on the street" and turn otherwise sensible, intelligent people into idiots who believe that you can lower taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget at the same time.
Ronald Reagan may not have had intellectual gravitas (like Martin Sheen's President Bartlet on The West Wing), but, he could be a dynamic speaker and was strongly committed to his principles. Instead of showing that with its virtues and its flaws, The Reagans presents the once and future President as a babbling puppet... of his wife, of the Republican Party, of his ruthless associates.
Nixon, on the other hand, gets the usual fictional gloss from Oliver Stone and is hailed as an important piece of film work, especially for Anthony Hopkins. Read the review on the IMDB page about the film I linked to above. I especially liked the following passage:
Rather what Oliver Stone has constructed here is a mythology about a certain political persona that resembles Nixon in a milieu that resembles American politics and some things that happened once upon a time some thirty years ago.
This seems to beg a question: why not call it something else if it is not actually about Nixon and Watergate?
Given these two examples of Presidential fiction, why does Nixon fare so much better? Probably because he was a son of a bitch, and we are very sure he was a son of a bitch because he recorded so much on tape. That he also attempted to actively subvert the entire American electoral process in 1972 also has to put him beyond rehabilitation in the eyes of all but the most livid conservatives. He can therefore be abused with impunity.
Reagan faced a similar problem, violating the laws of the land at the highest level, but, at least had the integrity to admit his wrong on national television (even though he claimed not to remember it). He also always had this dissembling "aww shucks" charm, and now lives with advanced Parkinson's disease. This perhaps puts him beyond "the picklocks of biographers" until his legacy can be more fully accessed many years from now.
on 2003-12-04 at 9:53 p.m.
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