Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where do Illinois’ favorite sons stand?

It seems this was “presidential” week for those of us from Illinois.
The Great Emancipator versus ...

It began Sunday with the 100th birthday anniversary of Ronald Reagan, who was born in Dixon, lived briefly in the Hyde Park neighborhood (back in the days when anyone resembling Barack Obama would have been chased out for having the nerve to think he belonged there) and went to college in Eureka.

NOW, IT ENDS Saturday, which is the 202nd birthday anniversary of Abraham Lincoln – who in so many ways is the anti-Reagan. He was the Kentucky-born and Indiana-raised man who came to Illinois for an adult life; compared to Reagan, who left our state upon finishing his education and never lived among us again.

Which may be appropriate, since many of the members of the Grand Old Party who are most determined to venerate the memory of Ronald Reagan often come across as the ones most ashamed of the other nickname by which the Republican Party was commonly known – the “Party of Lincoln.”

Now in the interest of disclosure, I’ll admit that I didn’t vote for Reagan to be president in 1984 – the first election cycle for which I was old enough to cast ballots. I’m also not so old that I have forgotten those years some three decades ago when Reagan was a real-life, flesh-and-blood human being.

Which is why I find some of the Reagan love that we hear these days to be on the side of absurd. He wasn’t a unifying figure in life – many of his policies were meant to get in the face of certain segments of society, many of which have long memories.

I’D ARGUE THAT the people who are most eager to celebrate him now are the ones who have the attitude that everybody who isn’t exactly like themselves ought to just shut up and go away!
... the Great Communicator.

It also is why I got a bit of a chuckle that last week’s wintry weather that dumped 20-plus inches on us in a day actually managed to throw out of whack some of the Reagan rhetoric that would otherwise have been spewed.

It was because of the storm that the Illinois General Assembly cancelled its activity for the first week of February. Which is why they were unable to cast a vote in advance of the Sunday festivities that took place across the nation (and even included a video tribute played at the Super Bowl – the same one where Christina Aguilera showed us how little she knows the lyrics to the National Anthem).

That vote would have proclaimed Feb. 6, 2011 to be Ronald Reagan Day all across the state. It would have given countless GOPers (and maybe a few of those urban Democrats whose interest in the party has always been tied more to labor unions rather than social issues) a chance to go on the record as saying something wonderful about Reagan.

INSTEAD, ALL WE got was a belated resolution passed this past week. Too little, too late.

That, and we also got those reports in the Chicago Sun-Times about the Hyde Park structure where Reagan lived with his parents and brother back when he was 3 years old. It is on the verge of being torn down because the University of Chicago wants to expand its hospital, yet some people are determined to think of this as some sort of sacrilege against the memory of Reagan (or maybe they're deluded enough to think they can erase the presence of the one U.S. president who actually lived and worked a significant part of his life in the neighborhood).

As though a deteriorating building where a near-infant Ronnie lived some 97 years ago is worthy of the same “National Park” treatment that befalls the Lincoln home and surrounding blocks in Springfield.

I could make a smart-aleck comment about some Park Ranger of the future showing us the exact steps upon which papa Jack Reagan used to stumble home drunk (the former president himself admitted to childhood memories of his father’s troubles with alcohol), although I’ll be the first to admit it would be rude.

ALMOST AS RUDE as some of the rhetoric we hear these days from segments of our society when Lincoln’s name comes up these days.

While I will be the first to admit that the vision of Lincoln as “the Great Emancipator” who “freed the slaves” out of a sense of benevolence is a myth, the vision that Lincoln was a tyrant who was interested in crushing the Southern states’ desire to secede because it would have created a nation much more desirable than the United States when it came to international commerce is just absurd.

I’m not making that view up. Jim Tobin, the head of an anti-government activist organization that for decades has been spewing rhetoric bordering on the ridiculous, used his group’s newsletter to publish a pair of essays this week under the headline’ “Rain on the Lincoln Parade.”

He’s not in a celebratory mood on Saturday, as Tobin wrote that he’d like to see the notion of Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday wither away similar to how many people no longer think as much of the idea of celebrating the birthday anniversary of European explorer Christopher Columbus.

“LINCOLN’S BIRTHDAY SHOULD assume the same course, as more people understand his unnecessary war, civil rights abuses, favors for the politically-connected and tax-increase policies,” Tobin wrote.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I doubt Tobin speaks for the bulk of Illinoisans on this subject – or any other. But there is a rising degree of research passing for serious scholarship determined to take apart Lincoln, usually to advance the image of his detractors by people of today whose causes come across as a disgrace if one believes that Lincoln was a noble public official.

For Lincoln was the official with a vision of a unified country to whom we can debate whether his actions meant to keep us unified went too far. Reagan wasn’t a unifier. Not by any means. Bringing our society together is not the desire of a man who would say of the “left” of the 1960s they, “look like Tarzan, walk like Jane and smell like Cheetah.”

That is a Reagan line that always struck me as being ironic, since Reagan’s own career as an actor wound up being dominated by his association with a chimp named Bonzo.


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