Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Thoughts on the Gipper

I come to bury Ronald Reagan, not to praise him.

Even the most liberal democrat cannot deny Ronald Reagan's skill as a politician. He had a vision and a strong set of principles from which he would not deviate. Unfortunately, his vision and principles left many in our nation behind.

If you watched the funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capital Building, did you notice a rather pale complexion to most of the mourners? Did you see many people of color claim that Reagan was their "hero"? Didn't think so. Eight years of massive tax cuts for the wealthy white folks and massive cuts to social programs didn't endear him to many minorities.

Listening to the praise heaped upon Reagan tries many people's patience. He was lauded as a brilliant communicator and a visionary who made the country feel good about itself again. Unfortunately, he only made maybe one quarter of our country feel good about itself. As for the others, they're still waiting for the "trickle down" to reach them.

Conservatives argue that he brought an end to the Cold War, but Mikhail Gorbachev had much more to do with that.

Conservatives argue that he brought us out of a recession. Ask George the Elder what it was like trying to pay the bill for Reagan's tax cuts and defense build up. Poppy never knew how right he was when he characterized Reagan's economic policy as "voodoo economics" during the 1980 Republican primary campaign.

Conservatives argue that he saw American as a "shining city on a hill". Unfortunately, it was more like the "gated community on a hill". Most couldn't get past the security booth. His policies and beliefs worked well for big business (especially defense contractors -- Halliburtan anyone?), but left the rest (a majority) of the nation with catsup as a vegetable and a drug policy of "Just Say No".

The seeds of Enron and Halliburton were sown during the Eighties with the Savings and Loan scandal. The conditions that fostered the Rodney King riots developed in the Eighties with the cuts in social programs for the inner cities. Some would argue that he saw the best in us as a nation, but really he brought out the worst. Greed. Bigotry. Intolerance.

Conservatives argue that he had the ability to rise above the every day issues to see the big picture. Unfortunately, on his way to immortality, he tended to overlook things like the Constitution, Civil Rights and compassion. In speaking of former President Reagan, Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that Reagan gave "hope to the oppressed." What hope did he give to the people of Flint, Michigan, which became a ghost town as a result of Reagan's deficit spending?

Now that the pomp and overkill of the State/Hollywood funeral has faded, it's time to recognize Ronald Wilson Reagan for what he was: a man who saw the city on the hill, not the millions who were denied entry to that city. A man who made the country feel good about itself rather than facing harsher truths. A man who brought the country out of a recession only to create a larger one.

A man of style, not substance.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

What it's all about...

After trying to explain to my naive students (is that redundant?) why people want to come to this country ("Why can't they just stay in their own country?" was one bright comment), I thought back to my recent trip to D.C. and the things I experienced. I started off at the Holocaust Museum and then worked my way around the mall in a counter-clockwise direction.

This is what America is all about.

It's about a game of cricket on the Washington Mall.

It's about German tourists in the Holocaust Museum.

It's about a Vietnamese family visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

It's about Japanese vendors at the Roosevelt Memorial.

It's about the dozens of languages spoken outside the gates of the White House.

It's about Muslim taxi drivers driving past the captial building.

It's about walking into your Senator's office for a quick chat.

It's about southerners and African-Americans touring the Lincoln Memorial.

It's about Republicans marrying Democrats.

They all come here because, for the most part, we tolerate (with the possible exception of open sexuality) just about anything. Where they are coming from, very little is tolerated.

We're hip deep in the manure pile that is an election year, and the accusations are flying around like little children at Disney World. Four years ago, the election was decided by nine men and women who ruled that Florida's votes would not be recounted. The current president actually lost the popular vote but still won the election. Yet the system prevailed, power was transferred and very few people lost any sleep. Ho-hum.

Even the most devestating attack on the mainland in almost 200 years hasn't truly phased us. How much has your (with apologies to those who lost loved ones on 9/11) daily routine changed?

Not much bothers us, so who is going to pay attention to a few extra people crossing the border?

Someday, maybe my students will understand this.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Answer the questions now

Ever watched a movie with a five year-old? There were fewer questions in the Watergate hearings.

"Who's that? Why is he doing that?"

"What's her name?"

"Where is she going?"

It's maddening. But these are the easy questions to answer.

Recently, we watched Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. We skipped over the more violent scenes. Ah, the joy of DVD.

"Are they bad guys?" he asked as the Black Pearl floated into view.

The world of a five year-old is nostalgically simple: there are good guys and bad guys.

When we watch a sporting event on television, he wants to know, "Who do we want to win?" We always need someone to root for; it's that simple.

Good guys and bad guys. Winners and losers. Now I have a question: When will I have to tell him that life's not that simple?

Perhaps the worst part of children playing video games (he's playing Jimmy Neutron vs. Jimmy Negatron right now) is not that their minds get exposed to senseless violence or that they could be spending the time reading instead. Maybe the most dangerous effect of video games is the reinforcement of the idea that there are good guys and there are bad guys and it's just that simple.

It's easy to explain to my son that the violence he sees is make believe and that he shouldn't act that way in the real world. How do I explain George W. Bush? Joe Horn? Michael Jackson ? (he recently saw Jacko's picture on the TV and said, "She looks mean." How could I argue?) Are they good guys or bad guys?

The police are good guys right? Professional athletes? Catholic priests? Um, well...sort of.

What's harder, telling a child the truth about Santa Claus, or explaining that some police are bad guys? "But, Dad, I thought you said only good guys were allowed to have guns?" Um, yes...but...

My son still has no idea about 9/11 or Saddam Hussein. He doesn't know about O.J. Simpson or Rodney King. He doesn't know about Monica Lewinsky or Bill Clinton.

How long can I keep him in this state of absolutes? How long do I dare?

At some point, I have to explain that strangers are not to be trusted.

I have to explain that if someone touches him and he doesn't like it, he needs to tell us.

I have to explain that Mom and Dad are not going to live forever.

I have to explain that it's not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad.

Then comes the hard question. "Well, how will I know who's good and who's bad?"

I guess that's where we really earn our money as parents. We have to give them the instincts and judgment to determine this on their own. But what do we say? We can't tell them not to trust anyone, but we have to tell them to be wary of strangers. How does a stranger become a friend if you don't trust them?

There are no easy answers to these questions.

I guess I should cherish these simple days and his simple questions. I'd better answer them, or he'll stop asking me questions and turn to someone else when he needs to know where babies come from or what marijuana is. Or why that priest is being arrested. Or why some people have so much money and others are starving.

Hopefully, I'll have a few more years to find the answers.