The Last Brave Goodbye of the Best Generation

Long, long time ago. I can still remember … Well thirty odd years is a long time as far as electoral cycles go. And a fairly long time as far as political trends are concerned. But what needs to be remembered about Nancy Reagan and the Reagan years in general, is how mercilessly they were attacked by most in the media, as well as by many in their former hometown of Hollywood. Even if Bel Air is not quite Hollywood. And how they both responded with humor and grace. Under the constant pressure. Not only of the demands of the Chief Executive’s office, but the constant carping of academics, media, and progressive elites at the steady turning of the ship of state under Reagan. And that humor and good nature that provided oxygen for an ambitious and largely successful project, owed much to Nancy Reagan.

But they were of the best of the Best Generation: forged in the Depression and shaped by WW II, and then the dawning of the Cold War. And their sense of humor was not toxic or nihilistic, nor evasive or denying of life's harsh realities. Looking at Reagan's speech - given not at the San Francisco Convention but rather in Los Angeles and shortly before the election - in 1964, one of the many astonishing aspects of it is the explosive laughter of the audience - and it was far from a rowdy audience of today - at the incisive humor he used. It's merciless but mirthful exposure of the emerging Leviathan of the modern welfare state hit home, and still hits home. And his humor acts as a perfect rhetorical device to drive home his analysis of what was starting to go wrong in America in 1964.

What would Nancy Reagan have thought had she watched the last few GOP debates? Rather than shock - she dealt with crack cocaine's horrifying effect on youth and society, with AIDS, and then with Alzheimer's Disease without flinching - perhaps it would have been with disappointment. And concern. She knew perfectly well how ugly politics can get, but seemed to have the ability to deal with it and not be demeaned by the struggle.

So perhaps her passing is more than the end of a political era, but is also the last brave goodbye of the best generation. For those of us lucky enough to have been raised by that generation, we cannot nor should not despair. But rather turn as good-natured and as resolutely as we can to the tasks at hand. It's the damn least thing we can do to honor them. Because we can't come close to their grace, but we can take a little guidance from it.

Posted by Keeley at March 8, 2016 6:20 PM
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