Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mythologizing Reagan

I find it very interesting to watch modern figures get mythologized and ossified by my own contemporaries. That has happened for two people--Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan. I've complained plenty about King and the master narrative of the civil rights movement, a narrative that simplifies and depoliticizes King so that everyone can feel happy about themselves. Oddly, I haven't written a full condemnation of this on the blog it seems, though I have touched on it here and here. Maybe I'll get to that soon.

The creation of a Reagan to fit the modern conservative movement is expected. His mythology will be complete when Democrats create their own Reagan too. Obama has done some of this, but it's incomplete. Right now though, literally as I write, conservatives are completing their Reagan mythology. Though not without reality intruding, as David Silbey usefully points out:

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, is becoming somewhat re-radicalized. "Ronaldus Magnus" has come to be an avatar to the American right.

This has led to the eliding of some of Reagan's actions, actions which do not fit well with current conservative orthodoxy. Thus, for example, Rush Limbaugh, confronted by a caller pointing out that Reagan raised taxes, could essentially refuse to believe him. The Reagan of today could not be seen to raise taxes, give amnesty to illegal immigrants, compromise with the Democrats, or negotiate with the Soviets. Thus, those aspects of his Presidency get written out. What is left is a saint for the right wing, updated for current positions. One who got a fair number of streets, also.