Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just Say No

News changes rapidly.  In the two weeks since Nancy Reagan's funeral we've had the SXSW music and film festival, Obama's historic trip to Cuba and another terrorist bombing in Europe, as well as the continual droning news about whether the Republican establishment can put Donald Trump in his place.  Yet, if there is any place where her signature message, "just say no" resonated it was in the Halls of Congress, where Mitch McConnell has chosen to stand firm on his pledge not to consider any Obama nominee for the vacant Supreme Court chair, even when the latest USSC vote split 4-4 as expected.

Amazingly, Mitch cited the NRA and not the Constitution as his reason for rejecting confirmation hearings, stating "I can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses."  Apparently the 46 Democratic and Independent Senators have no say in the matter either.

I doubt Nancy would have been proud. According to Larry King, she was very upset with the direction this Republican election cycle was going, and I imagine with the Republican leadership in general.  We've heard any number of former Reagan cabinet members and advisers express their dismay with the current state of the Republican Party, which places some shallow notion of victory above all else.  GOP congresspersons steadfastly refused to work with the President the last 7 years on any issue except for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.   They consistently filibustered each major judicial and administrative appointment to the point that Harry Reid eventually had to resort to the "nuclear option" to clear the many outstanding appointments before the Republicans took over in January, 2015.

In that sense, McConnell didn't need the "Strom Thurmond rule" or now the "Biden rule," which he cites, as he never recognized Obama as President of the United States.  He simply adopted Nancy Reagan's simple adage, "just say no."

The big difference is that Mitch is a misanthrope bound and determined to stonewall the government from operating at all until there is a fellow Republican in the White House.  For the first four years, he did everything in his meager power to make Obama a one-term president.  Failing at that, he turned his attention on getting a Republican majority in the Senate, taking advantage of the great number of Democratic seats that were up for re-election in the Red States.  He may have won a few battles but it appears he has lost the war, as not only does this current election cycle favor the Democrats in the Senate, but the Republicans run the very real danger in seeing their worst nightmare selected as their nominee in November, which will all but insure a tidal wave of support for more moderate legislators in the general election.

What Mitch fails to realize is that Republicans do not make up a majority of the electorate.  They barely make up one quarter of the electorate.  Granted, there are a lot of conservative-leaning Independents who would probably vote Republican in a general election, but the idea of a Trump candidacy will probably tilt many of these voters over to the Hillary side, as she more closely represents the conservative values of Reagan than any of the Republican candidates today other than John Kasich, who Trump and Cruz have vowed to freeze out of the nomination process at the GOP convention.

Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen.  According to Paul Ryan, everything is in play if no GOP candidate attains 50 per cent plus one of the Republican delegates in the primaries, and both Trump and Cruz are well short of that mark.  It is very likely to be the first "contested" convention since the 1976 Republican convention, when Reagan eventually ceded his delegates to the incumbent Gerald Ford after a bitter, protracted round of primaries.

This was the first time many of us saw Nancy Reagan, outside California.  Unlike Reagan's first wife, Jane Wyman, Nancy did not have a memorable Hollywood career or a hit television show.  Her greatest role was as Ronald Reagan's wife, one she carefully honed over the years, eventually to take full responsibility for their well-being when dear old Ronnie was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994.

Far from being the soft-spoken petite lady she presented herself as in public, she was a very tough women in the White House.  Just ask Donald Regan, who found himself butting heads with Nancy and eventually was sacked as Treasury secretary.  Nancy was convinced that Regan was dragging her husband's administration down the toilet, and she was determined to salvage Ronald Reagan's great name.   Many felt that Nancy was instrumental in having Regan removed.

Her official role was in Reagan's anti-drug campaign.  She presented a kinder, gentler face to this war on drugs by promoting a "just say no" campaign that enlisted the support of famous celebrities, including Mr. T, who played Santa at a 1983 White House Christmas, much to Nancy's delight.  Meanwhile, the Reagan administration launched a vicious battle against drugs that saw a clampdown on individual rights before the law, which made many Americans wonder who was the real bad guy here -- the government or the drug dealers?

Nancy's feigned naivety echoed that of "Reefer Madness" from the 1930s.  Marijuana wasn't even a schedule 1 drug back then.   I doubt Nancy was so naive, as both her children had experimented with drugs and were openly defiant of her authority, but this just made her well-meaning admonition all the more touching to American families who were going through the same thing.  It was hoped that the 80s would undo the permissiveness of the 70s and that we would all go through a mutual aid fellowship together like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Throughout their life together, Nancy was Ronald's confidant and protector.  Even the Alzheimers was officially diagnosed years after he left office so that there would only be speculation whether it first appeared while he was still President.   To the end, she stood by her man and for this she is warmly remembered by all those who loved Reagan.

When the Republican candidates convened at the Ronald Reagan Library for the CNN debate last September, they all paid tribute to Nancy.  Unfortunately, it didn't make any of them look more presidential standing before Reagan's Air Force One, although it does seem kind of quaint now given the Republicans had so many choices at the start of this campaign, only to see it come down to two men Ronald Reagan probably never would have approved of.

This election cycle represents the culmination of the Reagan era, at least for Republicans.  We thought that might have been the case with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, but he too evoked Reagan on the campaign trail and throughout his term.  Of note was this commemoration ceremony for Reagan's centennial on June 2, 2009.  Obama had very many nice things to say about Reagan, and Nancy responded in turn.  Michelle also approached Nancy for advice on how to conduct herself as First Lady.  In an odd way the Reagan legacy had been co-opted by the Democrats, including a major attempt to get Reagan's signature immigration and reform control act updated to the 21st century, one which the Republicans categorically rejected.  Obama's record has been compared to Reagan more than any other past president.

There is a wistful nostalgia when we look back at the Reagan era, forgetting much of his embattled legacy from the Iran-Contra Affair to his War on Drugs to his blown opportunity to accept a nuclear disarmament deal with Gorbacev at Reykjavik Summit in 1986.  This was a guy who also ushered Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority into the political limelight, the predecessor to the Tea Party movement we see today.  Reagan was a front man for a conservative movement that many of us didn't fully understand at the time, but are aghast at its offspring.

The Ronald Reagan Library, which Nancy Reagan lorded over for decades, is the keeper of the Reagan flame, which burns eternal in many conservatives' minds but for reasons as diverse as his Hollywood roles.  Not surprisingly, Nancy Reagan's funeral was held at the library with many dignitaries on hand to pay their respects.  Mr. T was also on hand for ceremonies.  As was Michelle Obama, although many conservative pundits questioned the President opting for the SXSW Music and Film festival instead.

I would like to see voters just say no to the Reagan legacy in November and finally move on with a new era in American politics. Unfortunately, that probably won't be the case.  Who keeps this Reagan flame alive is now a matter of debate.  The Republican candidates who remain all think they personify Reagan's legacy in one form or other.  Yet, there was a rumor floating around that Nancy supported Hillary.  Even though it proved to be false, it isn't much of a stretch to say that Hillary better represents the Reagan Legacy than do any of the Republican candidates.  Depending on her Republican opponent in the Fall, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Hillary embrace that role.

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