Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2004

An editorial page.

RONNIE

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

 

The bespectacled profile in the lower left hand corner of this photograph belongs to me. And Ronald Reagan sure had me fooled, back in 1966, when I was 17, and he was running against the obnoxious mealy-mouthed incumbent Pat Brown for California governor. That night he signed my placard and a copy of Time, and my high school pals and I exulted. You should read my diary entry for that day. I gushed over every detail.

And the next time I saw him, I was fooled again, at a meeting of the Regents of the University of California. When he showed at a doorway I took his photo, and he raised a hand in hello, as if just plain delighted to see me. They let anyone into Regents' meetings back then, so I got to sit in the same room as H.R. Haldeman and Robert Finch and Jesse Unruh and Patty Hearst's mother - who smiled at me. And yes, Ronald Reagan, who barely opened his mouth throughout , and only seemed conscious after some feeb came in and served him with a subpoena. Then he sat and twirled a gold pen between his palms and glared into space, pissed as hell. When he walked out the door he was instantly transformed - all smiles, all waves.

And the next time I saw him was even better, or even worse. In 1968 I crashed a Republican dinner at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, later that year the site of the worldcon, and was leaning against a post in the middle of the dining room, amongst all those rich and respectable Republicans, when my gaze wandered up to the table in the front of the room, and my eye caught that of Ronald Wilson Reagan, governor of California, and the sonuvabitch winked and smiled at me. Shook hands with him that night. "Third time I've seen you, Governor," I said, and "Well, nice to see you again," he said.

And then it was 1969. The creepy Third World students rioted to get a Third World College at the University - just what they'd tried across the Bay at San Francisco State. The cops tear-gassed the whole school, including me, and I wondered, why would Ronald Reagan, whom I still thought incapable of such things, permit that? And then it was May 15, 1969, the day of People's Park, and Ronald Reagan would never fool me again.

I saw him once more after that. Another Regents' meeting. This time they didn't let us in. This time we stood around outside and a clown brought a huge bowl of eggs to throw at Reagan as he left. Once more the back of my head made the newspaper with Ronald Reagan. You can see Reagan's hand inside the car, waving, and a guy with a moustache winding up to pitch an egg at Ronnie's car. Even then I figured he was probably one of Ed Meese's agents provocateur.

As Reagan's car drove off, I saw through the back window to another quintessential Reagan moment. He leaned over and waved at a hippy couple walking up the street. The girl waved back. And now that Reagan is dead and deified - or vice versa, because he's long been a demigod to right wingers in this land of ours - I have to wonder, did he mean it? That wave to the girl, that wink to me? If so, how then could he send cops and National Guardsmen and helicopters to spew acid gas on us, with a clear conscience and ringing contempt? Did he mean that, even, or was the carnage he inflicted upon my college and my city only a calculation, designed to win favor with the wingers in Orange County - and out in America? Did he mean it? Did he mean any of it?

I really, truly, have my doubts. Did you see that Rolling Stone where Richard Avedon published photographs of the most powerful people alive? Exquisite insights into his subjects' souls. Carter, about to weep. Reagan, grim, closed. A man may smile, and smile, and be a villain ...

In 1980, when he was running for President, and Meese and his grisly crew really had him primed, he came to Greensboro, North Carolina to give a speech. I lived there, then,, so I popped over to the Municipal Auditorium to see him again - and couldn't get in. By then security was everywhere, and the paranoid smell of revolution. Cops, apologizing for the security people, asked me to leave the grounds. I never got near Reagan again.

Okay, credit where due. You can give him credit for playing Gorbachev so adroitly, so the man with the birthmark would dismantle his failed society without a shot - although I'd credit the Pope with the cultural miracle that persuaded Europe that communism was a dead duck. But Reagan had his part in that, and it was a big, visible part, and credit where due. I should look at the Big Picture and forgive Reagan for People's Park and the tear gas I had to eat in my days of youth, for every man who is larger than life steps on a few toes on his way up, right? Even Eisenhower helped trash the Bonus Marchers. So it isn't important that Reagan made class hatred acceptable in America again . I should forget that film of him and his wife chatting with the Queen of England - going on and on in sniffing disgust about American welfare cheats. Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, mocking and degrading his country's poor to the richest woman in the world. I shouldn't remember that. I should let it slide that "Dutch" Reagan, the poor kid from Illinois, loathed poor people.

Such insights, memories such as people's Park, have no place, of course, in the Big Picture. There Reagan shines, the Conqueror of Communism, and so we should only look at the Big Picture. Tell you what. You look at the Big Picture. I'll look at my own pictures, the snapshots I took on forgotten days long ago when truth rode through the streets of Berkeley, days when it meant your life to have hair past your shoulders or oppose Richard Nixon's war, when Ronald Reagan said it was all right to beat and even kill us - and cheered when they did. . May 15th was the 35th anniversary of the assault on People's Park. On June 5, 2004, the day Ronald Reagan died, I remembered that day. I've never forgotten it. I'll never forget it. Won't get fooled again.


 

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