First, please: No more references to Ronald Reagan as The Gipper.
(Reagan died this afternoon, if you’ve been doing your weekend chores and not checking the news).
I always blamed Reagan for the recession in the early 1980s that ruined any chance of my generation enjoying the prosperity enjoyed by our parents. This might not’ve been true where you lived, but in my hometown in downstate Illinois, Reagan’s presidency was a disaster.
Caterpillar Inc. laid off something like 20,000 people; most of ’em never got their jobs back. From the end of World War II right up to, well, the day I graduated from high school, it was a cinch to get a job at Cat and kiss your fears of poverty goodbye.
By the summer of 1982, everybody in my circle of acquaintaince — including my dad, who had over 20 years of seniority at a wire mill — was out of work. My dad sat around for five months before he got desperate enough to take the worst job in the plant — running a machine that galvanized nails. It was hot, nasty work nobody with any seniority ever had to do, till the Reagan Recession.
I moved away from Peoria that summer and stayed away for most of a dozen more. The one fortunate outcome of all the good factory jobs disappearing, though, was that I had no choice but to get myself a college degree, which was the best thing that ever happened to me.
So I guess I owe Reagan thanks for ruining all my prospects and forcing me to find new ones. Maybe we all needed some tough love back then, but we had to endure one hell of a spanking. Twenty years later, the sting’s pretty much gone and there’s nary a scar to be found.
Reagan’s crowd didn’t suffer much pain back then, as I recall. Which has tended to make me suspicious of people who want discipline for everybody but themselves.
I can’t help admiring Reagan’s optimism, though. Think about it: a guy with a forgettable career as an actor goes into politics. What were his chances of becoming, say, governor of California, much less president of the U.S.A.? Slim and none to to the “realists” of the world, but Reagan was undaunted.
You’ll see that among almost anybody who makes it big: A belief in what can go right vs. what can go wrong.
I don’t speak ill of the dead, it just strikes me as bad karma. So as long as the flags are at half-staff I’m setting aside my gripes about the Reagan era. We’re all gonna need that spirit of forbearance as the coming TV news weepathon tries to deify the guy.
In any case, you gotta give this to Reagan: how many other politicians inspired songs by the Ramones?