Sunday, June 6, 2004

The death of Reagan
There's nothing quite like working with a skeleton crew on a Saturday night shift at the paper when big news happens. I saw this morning on that President Reagan was in poor shape, and thought to myself, wouldn't it be typical if he died today and as acting editor of the paper I had to scramble to deal with that for Sunday's paper? Of course, that's what happened, and the last 8 hours or so were quite interesting, but in the end I think we put out a "good sheet" as my editor would call it.

We had to balance the wire coverage and local reaction to the death of Reagan with our already-planned gigantic D-Day anniversary package I've been working on all week, as well as various other breaking and already planned news. It's like putting a puzzle together to figure out how everything is going to fit. I even managed to whip out a little brief editorial commentary on Reagan's death for the paper today.

I'm a big presidential history buff, too, so I take a clinical interest in the analysis and pomp that goes with the death of a president. He's only the second one to die in the past 30 years, and the first in 10 years. The death of a president is probably as close as we come in America to treating our leaders like royalty, down to the lying in state and ceremonial mourning day.

It's a curious thing. I have to admit I pretty much am on the opposite side of everything Reagan's policies stood for, but I never quite felt the visceral dislike for him I do for our current president. Maybe it's because I "grew up" with Reagan, the first president I really remember vividly (Carter I recall only as a set of disembodied teeth). Through junior high and part of high school, he was "the" president, and so I've always viewed him more as icon than man. He could be great -- I still maintain his reaction to the Challenger explosion was one of the finest speeches ever delivered by a president -- and he could be awful. But he was a unique president, comforting in his vagueness for some reason. I think of Reagan, I think of his honey-toned voice and impeccable timing. The substance of what he said always slid off, less important than how he said it. He was a kind of hollow vessel, and you could see what you wanted in him. There was always something a little unknowable about him, a little machine-like. He was the perfect president for the glossy 1980s, and despite the inevitable canonization that will happen in coming days (remember when Nixon suddenly became a great tragic hero after his death?), Reagan was deeply flawed, but also unforgettable in his stage-polished, showman's way.

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