That Reagan Sunset

Nothing is random. That masthead photo at the top of the page, which has been up there since early March 2007, is not just a sunset, it’s a political sunset. It’s sunset on June 12, 2004, looking northwest from Mulholland Drive out back, on the day Ronald Reagan was finally laid to rest, far off in the distance in Simi Valley. No, you couldn’t see that solemn business from here, but the light was good that day, and it was the end of an era after all. It was a sad business.

Those who were hippies in the sixties, or pretend they had been hippies back then, now that it’s too late to matter, saw that day differently. They said that day was finally Bedtime for Bonzo – referring to Ronald Reagan’s somewhat forgettable 1951 movie, the one where he plays an earnest psychology professor who doggedly tries to teach human morals to a chimpanzee. It’s a comedy, even if pretty lame. There’s nothing solemn about it at all, and that was, after all, Ronald Reagan’s lifelong political role too. He spent his political life making severe conservatism seem sunny and optimistic and hopeful, no matter how many lives were destroyed so that the rich could remain rich, and get even richer. It was always Morning in America, in that shining City on the Hill, or it would be if we got rid of as much government as possible and let a totally unregulated free market rid us of the black and brown and yellow losers who didn’t have the common decency to just die. Feminists bugged him too, as did labor unions, and when the AIDS epidemic really took off in the middle of his presidency, he wouldn’t say one word about it. One doesn’t talk about such things, and there are no gays. Well, what happened with is friend Rock Hudson changed that, but the idea was that all this was deeply moral, but of course this was no more than teaching human morals to chimpanzees, his party, the Republicans, always searching for plausible justifications for policies of exclusion and contempt for others, the wrong sort of people, as everyone knows.

That movie was instructive. Perhaps a chimpanzee can convincingly mimic behaviors that seem vaguely moral, but it’s not the same thing. The professor failed, as did the president in this case. People caught on. All the plausible conservative justifications for rather nasty stuff only mimicked morality, and the long slow sunset for the party began. The first George Bush – who freely admitted he was bad at that “vision thing” – couldn’t win reelection to a second term. Rejecting the Reagan model, he was selling competence, such as it was, not human morals. No one was buying, and after eight years Bill Clinton, we got the second George Bush, with his simple cowboy morals, and two impossibly long wars that many have said represent the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, and state sponsored torture, and the disaster that was Katrina, followed by the near-total collapse of the economy. It turned out that cowboy morals also had nothing to do with actual morals, which might have allowed for different outcomes. There’s also a reason a popular website in those years was called The Smirking Chimp – like in the old Ronald Reagan movie. Reagan was the professor and the second Bush was the chimpanzee, who sort of mimicked moral behavior, for a time. That was not, however, a comedy.

Later heirs of Reagan, as they fancied themselves, couldn’t do much better. John McCain’s moral stance was that he was a hero, not for anything he had done in battle but for enduring many long years as a prisoner of war, and he was angry, and as president it would be all-out war with any nation on earth that even looked at us funny. Voters weren’t impressed with that moral stance after Iraq and Afghanistan, and Romney fared no better with his forty-seven percent comment, and telling us all that he rather liked to fire people, and corporations are people too, my friend. That’s human morality?

No, it wasn’t even a good imitation of morality, and one thing became obvious. There would never be another sunny and optimistic Reagan for that party. Obama, who had once said he admired Reagan, as one of those very rare transformative presidents, was the one who was talking about fairness and decency, and policies to insure such things – the real thing. For the Republican Party, however, it was that long slow sunset that started on that June afternoon out here all those years ago.

They don’t believe that. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is now out there in Simi Valley, near his gravesite, and one Republican politician after another flies out here to speak each year, to show that the earnest professor taught them well, or trained them well, and that they are the next Ronald Reagan. Last year it was Chris Christie, and this year it’s Bobby Jindal – the Republican governor down there in Louisiana, and one of the least popular governors in the nation. Only Rick Scott in Florida is more despised by his state’s residents, although Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania is working on beating them both at that game, and the less said about Chris Christie the better.

Republican governors are an odd lot, and Jindal is one of the odder ones. His attempt to end his state’s income tax and derive all revenues from a hefty sales tax on everything, letting the rich entirely off the hook and sticking it to the middle class and the poor, went down in flames – but he’s approved state funds for schools that teach creationism, and that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster thoroughly disproves evolution. He’s a religious fellow. He’s also probably the only governor in America who has ever assisted in an actual exorcism, as the devil is real, as you know. No one ever told him that’s only a movie – like the Reagan Bonzo movie. Oh well.

That makes Jindal an odd choice to fly out here and speak at the Reagan Library, as Reagan never indulged in much of that famous Religious Right God-Talk. He was all about who has the money, and who gets to keep it, and doing something about those damned communists. The religious right gave Reagan a pass, assuming he was on their side. Close enough was good enough for those times, but times change, and this year Jindal needed a hook, and he found one:

In a Thursday night speech at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will warn of a “silent war” on religious liberty in America and urge states to pass laws designed to block overreach by the Obama administration.

The 4,500-word address, shared first with POLITICO, touches on several hot-button issues, including same-sex marriage and contraception. Jindal, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate trying to woo social conservatives, argues that liberals will use the mantra of anti-discrimination to force people to violate their religious beliefs.

“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”

“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

He’ll be the next to teach human morals to a chimpanzee, because the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether government can force those Hobby Lobby craft stores to cover contraception through their health plans is a battle for religious liberty, and if we don’t watch out, liberals will pass laws that force churches to perform same-sex marriages, against their will, and he was really upset with that New Mexico Supreme Court ruling last August, holding that a wedding photography business violated the state’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. He knows what’s happening. Everyone is ganging up on Christians. We’re vastly outnumbered and being slowly eliminated – and we have to fight back! It’s the standard stuff – “Will churches in America even be able to remain part of the public square in a time when their views on sin are in direct conflict with the culture and when expressing those views will be seen as hiding hateful speech behind religious protections?”

Yeah, yeah – we’ve heard this before, and Reagan would probably squirm a bit, listening to this speech, but he’s dead now. Jindal argues what Reagan would never argue, because it bored him, that now’s the time for social conservatives to take a stand. No gay marriage! No abortion! No birth control! Sin is sin, and Bobby Jindal won’t stand for it.

Of course he’s facing evil bloggers like BooMan:

You could accurately describe me as a secular liberal who has little patience for the religious right. I support female reproductive autonomy and the right of gay couples to get married and be treated as spouses under the law. I think people should be able to get the kind of health care coverage they want, not the kind of health care coverage their whack-a-doodle religious nutcase employer deems acceptable to God. If it were up to me, I’d solve the whole religious conscience problem with health care coverage by abolishing employer-supplied health insurance entirely.

We’re not there yet, and in the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse explains the problem:

Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of nuns who offer end-of-life care to the elderly poor in the United States and more than two dozen other countries. As a nonprofit religious organization, the order is exempt from the requirement to provide contraception coverage under its group health insurance plan. Ordinarily, that would mean that the organization’s “third-party administrator” would have to pick up the cost. But because the Little Sisters’ administrator, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, which handles insurance for hundreds of Catholic organizations, is also a religious organization, it, too, is exempt from the mandate. It could choose to offer the coverage, but it has announced that it won’t do so.

In other words, there is no chance – none – that the Little Sisters will ever have to have anything whatsoever to do with birth control. All the government is asking the order to do is sign the standard one-page form that sets the exemption machinery in motion. Here is the language:

“I certify that, on account, of religious objections, the organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services that would otherwise be required to be covered; the organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity; and the organization holds itself out as a religious organization.”

That’s it. There is no government investigation of the merits of the religious claim – or of the unfounded belief that some of the contraceptives to which the nuns object can actually terminate what the medical profession regards as an existing pregnancy. The administration has made clear that it will accept the Little Sisters’ self-certification at face value. But they do have to sign – just as someone who objects on religious grounds to registering for the draft nonetheless is required by law to show up and register as a prerequisite for claiming conscientious objector status.

They won’t do that, because even that is a sin, and in the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru, argues that the nuns have the actual provisions of the Affordable Car Act on their side:

Page 2 declares that the form is the “instrument” that triggers the requirement that a third-party administrator provide contraceptive coverage. The nuns don’t want to take any action that (they believe) involves them in facilitating immoral acts, which includes causing other people to perform immoral acts. Signing the form would (in their view) do that. Note, by the way, that houses of worship, which are truly exempt from the administration’s contraceptive mandate, do not have to sign any such form to get that exemption.

So, signing the form that exempts you from performing what your god says is an immoral act, obviously causes other people to perform those immoral acts, or might cause them to one day, maybe, and you won’t be part of that – or something. What about a letter, not an official form? The Obama folks suggested that, but no dice. The nuns will fight this all the way up to the Supreme Court. Follow their logic. If religious freedom means anything, it means insisting that what you refuse to do, because of your deeply held religious beliefs, not be done by anyone else either, no matter what their religion, simply because you’re not doing it. And if you can stop someone else from sinning, that hypothetical third party, their not-sinning then might cause someone else to sin, so you have to stop the fourth party to all this from sinning too, and so on and so forth, even if the party four or five or six times removed doesn’t held your religious beliefs at all. Your religious freedom here matters more than theirs? No, they’re not saying that exactly. They just won’t sign the official form. That’s a sin. Got it?

And the Republicans wonder why the sun is setting on them. It’s not Morning in American any longer, and it gets even odder in Kansas:

Denying services to same-sex couples may soon become legal in Kansas.

House Bill 2453 explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.

It passed the state’s Republican-dominated House on Wednesday with a vote of 72-49, and has gone to the Senate for a vote.

Such a law may seem unnecessary in a state where same-sex marriage is banned, but some Kansas lawmakers think different.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explains:

The bill, written out of fear that the state may soon face an Oklahoma-style gay marriage ruling, will now easily pass the Republican Senate and be signed into law by the Republican governor. The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every arena of life.

If that sounds overblown, consider the bill itself. When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations – movie theaters, restaurants – can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees. As I’ve noted before, anti-gay businesses might as well put out signs alerting gay people that their business isn’t welcome.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to barring all anti-discrimination lawsuits against private employers, the new law permits government employees to deny service to gays in the name of “religious liberty.”

That’s a bit troubling:

Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples – not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government.

But wait, there’s more:

The law’s advocates claim that it applies only to gay couples – but there’s no clear limiting principle in the text of the bill that would keep it from applying to gay individuals as well. A catch-all clause allows businesses and bureaucrats to discriminate against gay people so long as this discrimination is somehow “related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.”

This subtle loophole is really just a blank check to discriminate: As long as an individual believes that his service is somehow linked to a gay union of any form, he can legally refuse his services. And since anyone who denies gays service is completely shielded from any charges, no one will ever have to prove that their particular form of discrimination fell within the four corners of the law.

Stern goes on to quote a state legislator out there thundering on about how discrimination is horrible and hurtful and has no place in civilized society, and this bill will end all that – no one will now be able to discriminate against deeply religious people, whose religion demands that they treat certain others as if they were they were the scum of the earth. That’s only fair, isn’t it? Everyone is ganging up on Christians. They’re vastly outnumbered and being slowly eliminated – and they have to fight back. They have no choice. That was what Bobby Jindal was saying too. One might wonder about some hypothetical religion that demands that those who don’t convert to their faith in whatever specific doctrine be killed, immediately, and gruesomely. Should they be exempt from laws about murder and such? If religious freedom means anything, the answer is obvious yes. Luckily, there are no such religions. No, wait…

All this might make you miss sunny Ronald Reagan. He could put a wide and warm Irish smile on any sort of exclusion and nastiness, and make it seem moral, and ethical, and even logical, if you didn’t think too hard about what he was actually saying. But he’s gone, and out back tonight, up on Mulholland Drive, it’s dark as it nears midnight here. Across the hills, out in Simi Valley, Bobby Jindal has finished up by now, after his stab at being the next Reagan. It’s not going to happen. That sun set a long time ago, years ago, actually. It was Bedtime for Bonzo after all.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to That Reagan Sunset

  1. Rick says:

    I guess the idea in Kansas is that they’re pretty sure this law will someday come before the Supreme Court, and may even be ruled unconstitutional, but what the hey, no harm in trying, right? After all, the worst that can happen is it just makes all those heathens and their fellow travelers in Washington work harder than they might have otherwise. Got to keep those libs on the defensive!

    This Kansas thing obviously reminds us of that Catholic bishop controversy from a year or so ago, and for good reason: It has a common element, that being that members of some religious group or other seem to be claiming there’s somebody committing unconstitutional religious discrimination against them for not permitting them to discriminate against the religious beliefs of certain sinners who don’t agree with them — or at least they will claim that, once the federal courts someday step in and tell them to cut the shit.

    And while I imagine these Kansan Republicans are not specifically modeling their behavior on any imagined assumptions of their hero, Ronald Reagan’s, own beliefs on homosexuality — although he probably thought homosexuality is a choice, and that those sinners should just stop doing that — they might still be surprised to hear Reagan’s own thoughts about his good friend, Rock Hudson, long before he died of AIDS:

    “Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, said that when she was very young her father casually mentioned Hudson’s sexuality. This occurred when she was watching a movie starring Rock Hudson with her father. In the film, Rock Hudson was kissing an actress (most likely Doris Day) and Davis said it looked awkward. Reagan calmly said that Hudson would prefer to kiss a man because, ‘some men are born to love a man and some women are born to love a woman.’ “

    In fact, both Ron and Nancy Reagan stayed friends with Hudson right up until his death.


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