[Dolly:]For years, one of my favorite movies was Hello Dolly. It was a go-to movie when, as they say, I felt down and out. Then I ran across an article about the brutal unsolved murder of one the co-stars, just a few years after the movie was released. The movie never felt the same again. Although the murder had nothing to do with the movie, the young shining face with the dazzling dance moves no longer seemed as joyous and free.
Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out
Strut down the street and have your picture took
Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about
That Sunday shine is a certain sign
That you feel as fine as you look!
Dolly & Ambrose:
Beneath your parasol, the world is all a smile
That makes you feel brand new down to your toes
[Dolly, Ambrose, Cornelius, & Barnaby:]
Get out your feathers, your patent leathers
Your beads and buckles and bows
For there's no blue Monday in your Sunday...
No Monday in your Sunday...
No Monday in your Sunday clothes!
Wait, you say. You title mentioned Reagan? Right, getting to it. Republicans point to Reagan as their role model. They fall all over themselves to claim his mantle. The part of the Reagan myth they most treasure is the message that government is the problem. They have spent the years after Reagan in what they see as faithful adherence to this message. It has morphed from message to pledge to mandate to creed. The quest for smaller government has morphed into a loathing for government.
What they missed from the Reagan legacy has been the so-called sunny optimism. Do a Google search for sunny optimism and guess what- there is Reagan early in the search. It may have been an act, he was an actor, after all, but he made people feel good about life in general. His policies were disastrous; and, in fact, he was not terribly popular as a president. But his demeanor was pleasant and people felt good about it.
Bill Clinton remains a popular figure. Yes, his policies were better than those before him and those who came after him. But he was a sleazy philanderer and people still loved him. Is it because he is smarter than the average bear (he is, no doubt)? Is it because he worked with the opposition to get things done (he did, so did Reagan)? No, it is because of that big smile and the sense that he is having such a very good time.
The GOP has done much damage in the post- Reagan years. Unfunded wars, the building of the surveillance state, the unitary executive; the list goes on. But, to my mind, the most pernicious legacy of the GOP is the poisoning of the American Spirit. Their loathing of government, their seething hatred of Obama, their relentless negativity, the shouting, the fighting, the grim determination to shut down all things government have infected the popular square with anger and depression.
Lately there have been several articles about the serious decline in the number of people voting in midterm elections. Invariably it is attributed to the belief that your vote doesn't count. The relatively strong turnout in the Obama years is attributed to minority turnout for a black candidate.
Partly right and partly wrong. I think Obama stirred something deeper than race. He stirred a feeling of optimism. That we could find our better nature and act on it. The decline in voting is indicative of a deep disillusionment. Not only do we believe that our vote not count, but neither does our optimism. The sour, the mean, the angry, the unpleasant keep winning. This is the Reagan legacy. The GOP only remembers a fragment of his message.
11:58 AM PT: This is not a tribute to Reagan. As I said, he was a disaster. What I am saying is that the one thing from his mythical reputation that the GOP does not emulate is his optimism. Note, I said MYTHICAL reputation. My point is that the GOP has become a negative, sour, ugly, nasty throng and that their mood has infected the populace and turned our national mood into a sour unhappy place. Just like the murder of one its stars ruined Hello Dolly for me, the GOP negativity has ruined the electoral process for much of the electorate.