Hard to say how much the nation grieves for Ronald Reagan, but the media have been rending cloth for a week. Cable news composed sad music for the wall-to-wall coverage that squeezed out lesser stories, such as Iraqi sovereignty, pullout from Korea and a Justice Department memo sanctioning torture.
By Thursday, CNN had so exhausted opportunities for hagiography that Paula Zahn was reduced to interviewing the dead politician's shirt maker.
Reagan unquestionably was a towering figure, but how is it that 24/7 remembrance failed to remember Salvadoran death squads, James Watt, AIDS neglect and Iran-Contra? How does such a polarizing legacy get reduced to one note?
In the five days before Reagan's passing, for instance, the word "optimism" appeared in American newspapers an average of 73 times. In the five days after his death, it appeared an average of 243 times.
Maybe the vast, uncritical emotional outpouring owes itself to President Reagan's avuncular nature, the twinkle in his eye, the stark simplicity of his worldview. But there's another possibility. We mourn not Reagan the man, but Reagan the Capra-esque myth manufactured by the message experts surrounding him.
If the Presidential Death Carnival proves anything, it's that advertising works.
It's morning again in America.
Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon, 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four short years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future.
It's morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?
That, the work of the ad hoc Tuesday Team in Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, is probably the greatest political ad of modern times.
It wasn't just the copy. It was also the peaceful, reassuring piano-and-woodwind serenade and the super-slo-mo images: tractors, white-picket fences, a bride hugging her gramma, a paperboy on his bike, Americans young and old raising the flag-every one of them contented and, incredibly, every one of them white.
Even if the 1984 economy was crippled by Reagan's runaway deficits, the isolated facts were true, and in a way so was the major claim. The mini-war in Grenada had neutralized a measure of Vietnam humiliation. Ideological confrontation with the Soviets replaced Jimmy Carter's infamous malaise. The times had, indeed, changed, and this ad made it all seem wonderful. Refreshing.
It worked then-Reagan trounced Mondale-and 20 years later it resonates still. No coincidence that half the media were making the same grim pun. Morning in America wasn't just an ad; it was a utopia. And, especially in these troubled times-when political advertising consists overwhelmingly of ad hominem attacks by liars-who doesn't want to remember that?
Ad Review Rating: 4 stars