The only surprising thing about seeing a retro campaign shirt for Reagan/Bush in an outdoor supply store in 2017 is that a Democrat wasn’t equally represented in the store’s apparel selection. Where was the retro Clinton/Gore or Carter/Mondale poly-cotton, blended, tagless, light-weight, vintage-styled tee? I honestly do not mind seeing the shirt for sale, but it does strike me as odd that a business would not be mindful as to represent the political counterpart in shirt form so that potential non-Republican customers would be included. Immediately I’m informed about the political leanings of the store’s owner and I am far less likely to shop there again.
I ask my wife why? Why has the ghost of Reagan been romanticized so much? Was it just Reagan’s grandfatherly persona or his reassuring delivery? Will he not be remembered for his part in escalating the nuclear arms race with the USSR or for the Iran Contra Affair? Was it trickle down Reaganomics? Was it his war on labor and union busting that led no employer to feel any obligation to their employees?
True, Clinton and Carter have had legacy problems. President Obama will as well. Every president has and will, but I don’t romanticize those issues. Bill Clinton’s legacy is waning due to his post presidency persona, but the economic boom during his presidency was unparalleled. While Carter may still be remembered for his weak economic disposition, he was the only president to successfully negotiate peace between Israel and Egypt. His post-presidency will certainly be met with respect due to his tireless humanitarian work through Habitat for Humanity and The Carter Center.
Why are unions, to this day, viewed entirely as un-American entities? Thanks to unions we have a 40 hour work week, weekends and child labor laws. Of course unions can have problems, but what they truly have given us is collective bargaining.
As a middle school student, I remember my father was constantly worried about losing his factory job in textiles. He was never given a raise and always said the the only thing that “trickled down” was the piss from the politician’s legs. Crude, but relatable. A union would have benefitted the employees of his company.
Since the fall of unions, income equality has increased and the middle class has decreased. There is a direct correlation. Even Reagan was twice elected as the president of Hollywood’s largest acting union, The Screen Actor’s Guild. Reagan was a former actor who had played in no less than seven westerns. Maybe the love given to Reagan was for the swagger seen on the silver screen, like other populist candidates, they are relatable as personas and not real politicians.
The same week as the visit to the outfitter, I picked up a copy of the DC animated movie, Justice League: A New Frontier, from my local library. It’s a 2008 interpretation of Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel of the same name. I had been revisiting the work of Cooke, as he died last year from cancer at age 53. I quickly reread the collected edition of his series and once again was in awe. The New Frontier, I had forgotten that the term had been used by newly elected president John F. Kennedy during his acceptance speech in 1960. The story in the comic series takes the viewer on an adventure over two decades and ends in 1960 with the formation of the Justice League on the last full-page panel. It’s symbolic and powerful.
Diving in a little deeper, I learned that in early comic history, the heroes lived in their own separate worlds. Stories did not intertwine. There wasn’t a shared universe that one might see today in many of the blockbuster hero films. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman live separately and never have the opportunity to exchange a glance, a quip, or to aide each other in the defeat of a villain. Each was emblematic of mythic story telling where the hero was fighting by themselves against the evils of the world, as seen in classic literature like Beowulf and Odysseus. Superman was the savior from another world. Batman had no Robin, and Wonder Woman was the single Amazonian who had left home. The single hero against all odds was even seen in modern storytelling like the Westerns that helped Reagan become a well known name.
During WWII, comics became increasingly popular, not only with children, but with servicemen. The men and women of our nation joined together to fight a common cause, Facism. It was not the journey of a solitary warrior and with that, the comic stories followed suit. To the amazement of readers, their favorite characters now inhabited the same universe. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all worked together. We’ve gone from the singularity of Beowulf to the collective efforts of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to every reader’s delight.
Author Salman Rushdie is quoted as saying that he knew how great America was by the inclusiveness of the characters seen in the Justice League comics he read as a child. As long as you were good hearted, you could be a member of the Justice League, too.
Here is where it comes full circle. Former DC Comics writer and editor, Mike Friedrich, said:
“My [current] job is a labor organizer. I talk to people about how they can achieve more by working collectively than they can do as individuals. And I learned that by reading and writing the Justice League.”
It is my opinion that Reagan’s eventual legacy will be seen as mixed, and he will ultimately be remembered for quotes like, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It evokes leadership. It evokes power. It also conjure the image of singularity and unilateral action, much like the cowboy characters that he portrayed. Little reverence is given to Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the dismantling of the USSR by the general public. Reagan would not have been successful without his Soviet counterpart.
What the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties need to do now is remind the American people that we can work together to avoid being trampled upon. We need to make sure that those fears are allayed so that the people of our country are not comforted by an authoritarian bully. Years from now I would rather not hear another country’s leader telling us to tear down the wall that we have built.