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Douglas O'Rourke: Chasing Ronnie

Chasing Ronnie

by Douglas O'Rourke

LOS ANGELES, June 14, 2004 ( -- It was mid-1974. Nationally, the Republicans were watching Nixon drown amid Watergate. So why were all these Sacramento rich guys smiling and joking? At the California Republican State Convention that year, you'd have never guessed anything was amiss. It was the Great Holy Feast of the True Believers. "No matter what the Media does to Dick Nixon, we'll be back! We'll always be back!"

A freelance assignment had suddenly and ironically gained a young Kennedy Democrat full access to this "Traveling Republican Road Show." It was mostly "Men as Dull as their Suits." Pretty Boring.

Except for meeting Ronnie Reagan. His wife Nancy called him that, and it was very touching.

He had a good, firm handshake. What to say to an icon? The geek inside took control and blurted out, "You were a lot better in "Santa Fe Trail" than Errol Flynn." A light went on in Ronnie's eyes.

He loved the movies and warmly recalled rich moments of the old studio days, until his handlers came to move him on to the next grip and grin. Very charming old actor, politics aside.

He was six years yet from the White House. As a film star, he was always better than his material. As a President, he started a conservative revolution that continues to this day, although in a very different, some say corrupted, form.

He certainly didn't seem back then like a guy who'd trust big chunks of U.S. foreign policy to an unknown Marine Officer with a zest for foreign intrigue. History will be long sorting out this complex man, his public years, and the deeds done in his name.

The actor Ronald Reagan exploded on film in a touching performance as the dying George Gipp in "Knute Rockne All American" (1940). He was so cute, so young, and so angelic in the film's most tender moment, he was forever typed as a 'Nice Guy.' You cheered him tricking the Nazis, again saving Errol Flynn's bacon when they were shot down in "Desperate Journey" (1942) . He was so really compelling in "King's Row" (1942) and "The Hasty Heart" (1949) you could forgive him that 1951 movie with the chimp.

Whatever your views of Mr. Reagan's politics, his widow's courage in fighting for him and all those with Alzheimer's has been very gratifying and earned her wide praise.

Mr. Reagan's passing was exactly what the Cheney-Halliburton folks needed -- A Real Red, White & Blue Republican Hero, to energize their stalled campaign.

They must chase Ronnie's shadow. Bushthink: Everybody loved Ronnie. He was a great Republican. We were like brothers. He knew I was right on Iraq. Ronnie wanted me re-elected. I'm the new Ronnie. Everybody sing, "Give me that ole time revision!" It all makes sense if you believe Fox News is news.

The Reagan funeral became the ultimate Bush infomercial. They proceeded to out-Riefenstahl, Leni herself. In just a week, people who'd never even heard of Mr. Reagan were tired of seeing him on TV. To some it was a Norman Rockwell moment. To others, a hypocritical pagan ritual on steroids, artfully mixing Wagner and Sousa. Center stage was Ollie North himself, the super patriot droogy who nearly got Ronnie impeached, dinning out on it all once more.

That smiling Reagan of 1974 recalled the dashing Reagan of his World War Two thrillers. The guy looked a winner. He blended his roles and real life, becoming a complete 'Man of the West.' In that long ago gathering, with Republican fortunes near bottoming out, even top guys like George H.W. Bush flew in from Washington, just to duck Watergate and be among friends. That August, it turned out Nixon WAS the one. A lot of upstanding folks went to jail. "No matter what the Media does to Dick Nixon, we'll be back! We'll always be back!"

And so they are...

The Bush folks, the true Sons of Nixon, are currently sweating a pile of stuff, including the pending High Court rulings on Mr. Cheney's secret energy buddies and the terror prosecutions, over 800 troops dead in Iraq, Mr. Chalabi and the leaked Iran code, the 9-11 Report, voters pissed at high gas prices, the CIA Report, Mr. Rumsfeld and the not-WMD, betrayal of Joe Wilson's CIA agent wife via Robert Novak, and now, Mr. Ashcroft won't hand over the goods on prisoner torture to Congress, exercising some unknown form of 'Neocon Privilege.'

It's not all bad news. The Bush policy of paying off Warlords in Afghanistan has allowed local opium poppy farmers their best harvest ever.

Expect the worst sort of election campaign. The Neocons are pretty ruthless folks. Some of them see Watergate and Iran-Contra not as serious crimes, but just operational failures. They MUST win...

Even as more bad stuff is leaking, the Cheney-Halliburton people are already positioning their Fall PR. "We had to attack Iraq." "They hid their A-Bomb." "The liberal media lied, and we lost public support..." "Please, just give us one last chance to fulfill Ronnie's golden plans in Iraq!" "Please don't let Ronnie's dream die!"

If they can pull this one off, then maybe America has the leadership it deserves.

Ronnie was always a lot better than his material.


Douglas O'Rourke is a writer in California and can be reached via

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