Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Winning One for the Gipper
The Tiffany Network Folds



So, let me get this straight: CBS has cancelled the centerpiece of its sweeps
package
--a $9 million, two-part, made-for-TV-movie about former President Ronald Reagan
and his lovely wife, Nancy--at the muscular request of the Republican National
Committee.



Now, it's one thing to go around naming every public works project imaginable after
the patron saint of voodoo economics (Poppy Bush's phrase; not mine), but to
mess with sweeps? To get in the way of that orgy of over-the-top first-run
programming that comes our way a mere three times a year? How dare they!



But seriously, folks; am I the only one who finds this episode a little bit scary?
CBS's sin seems to have been its portrayal of the former president as befuddled
and the first lady as controlling--hardly the stuff of scandal. And certainly not new
information. (Remember Kitty Kelley?)* Yet because the movie was the least bit
derogatory, the RNC got it yanked. And it's those last five words that should have
you quaking in your boots.



To think I've spent the last two years worrying if John Ashcroft was going to
kneecap my librarian into revealing my borrowing habits, when I should have been
worrying about RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie deciding for all of America what we
can and cannot view in our living rooms.



The beatification of Ronnie



The veneration of Ronald Reagan by the soldiers of the right has come to know no
bounds. A byproduct of that veneration seems to be an unbridled lust for smiting
one's enemies
. Whom, you may ask, constitutes the enemy? Why, anyone
who does not share in the veneration of Ronald Reagan.



Former Rep. Bob Barr, of let's-take-down-Bill-Clinton fame, threatened to withhold
funding from the District of Columbia
in retribution for the leisurely pace at which
municipal officials approached replacing the sign at the National Airport subway
stop after the Republicans tacked Reagan's name in front of "National".



Gillespie apparently threatened CBS with sponsor boycotts if the movie ran. The
common elements in these two situations? Worship of Reagan and hatred of all
things Democrat. Washington, DC, is a Democratic city. And the leading man in
CBS's biopic is worse than that; he's married to the doyenne of the Dems'
Hollywood left. To Republicans in Reagan rapture, therein lies the scandal--the
specter of James Brolin, spouse of Clinton-Gore champion Barbra Streisand,
portraying the befuddled savior of the free world.




It just gets curiouser and curiouser. There was a time when I had thought it
couldn't get no more curious than the scene I stumbled across in San Diego on a
blazing summer day some seven years ago.



If I were a rich man



For the regular journalist, the quadrennial political conventions are exhausting
marathons of the predictable mixed with the surreal. For the irregular journalist,
such as yours truly, the adventure is generally spent entirely in the surreal
zone.



This was particularly true in 1996, after having spent the primary season covering
the religious right for several liberal publications, including Mother Jones. (Were I
able to, right here I would provide a link to my 1995 magnum opus of a cover
story on the religious right for MJ, but for some reason they have taken it down
from their Web site. Feel free to e-mail them, webmaster@motherjones.com, to ask them to restore all 7,000 words of it. It's a primer that's going to come in handy soon.)



I found my way to the 1996 Republican National Convention courtesy of Ms.magazine, where I had begun my idiosyncratic career in journalism.



Throughout the convention, I remained focused, for the most part, on the religion
angle, since the place was awash in the righties who were threatening to walk
with Pat Buchanan should he decide to run as an independent.



A counter-protest had been planned by a coalition of liberal religious groups and,
together with my then-husband, Barry, I set out in search of them in that gorgeous
park that sits in the middle of San Diego. We walked and walked, yet heard no
strains of "Kumbaya". We were parched, exhausted, schlepping notebooks, a
tape recorder and Barry's full photog rig when we came across an oasis of sorts.
It was a park pavilion, and we were certain that within they would have some
water.



Alas, it was closed. For a private party. We inquired of the young ladies staffing
the guest list table, please, miss, a ladle of water?



"Are you members of the press?" one asked.



We nodded our weary heads in assent.



"Then go right in," she said.



We walked through the pavillion and into a courtyard where we were greeted by
Steve Forbes and his lovely family. Five daughters, I believe, and his wife.
Several hundred of Steve's closest friends were there to help him celebrate the
founding of his "grass-roots" political action group, Americans for Hope, Growth
and Opportunity
. (Barry quickly dubbed it "Americans Hopin' for a Gropin'
Opportunity".)



Well, damned if we hadn't fallen through that rabbit hole again. Men at carving
stations served delectable meats. Acres of hand-made European chocolates were
laid out in neat rows on white-clothed tables. Champagne made the rounds in the
toweled hands of waiters.



And at the center of it all was an enormous, truly fabulous ice sculpture of Mount
Rushmore
--with the addition of Ronald Reagan between Jefferson and
Roosevelt.



Some yards in front of the table, a lone violinist stroked her instrument. She was
an older lady, dressed in a long summer dress and a smirk. She kept playing the
same song over and over:
"If I Were a Rich Man".


# # #


* Where's Addie? Could she be somewhere in the three pages of
acknowlegements in Kelley's tome, Nancy Reagan? And for what?

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