Did Political Heroes Save Us?

APRIL 6, 2011

The April 5 edition of Capitol Morning Report included an intriguing entry. In honor of the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth (Feb. 6, 1911), Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, is holding an essay contest. It’s quite simple: in 1,000 words or less, you have to explain the importance of one of Reagan’s quotes or speeches.

This could be from any time in Reagan’s life — his two terms as California governor, his two terms as U.S. President, his time spent as president of the Screen Actors Guild, whatever. First prize gets $500 and second prize nets $250, with all the money coming from Hagman’s campaign coffers.

To be fair, this is one of the best uses of campaign contributions I’ve seen. Hell, I even considered entering it, though I don’t live in the 60th Assembly District, which is mandatory for all entrants. And the quote I would have written about probably isn’t what Hagman’s office is looking for: “We were not trading arms for hostages, nor were we negotiating with terrorists”, from page 512 of “An American Life: The Autobiography,” by Ronald Reagan, 1990.

I’ve always been fascinated by doctrinaire Republicans like Hagman. They are government officials who venerate Reagan, another former government official, when explaining their distrust of government.

“President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth,’” Hagman wrote in a July 15, 2009 op-ed on ChinoHills.com. “The President’s words are just as true today as when he said them many years ago given California’s inability to eliminate any outdated bureaucracy to help solve our $26 billion budget shortfall.”

Reagan himself raised taxes as governor of California and never eliminated a single program or department as U.S. President. Yet Republicans trip over themselves as they drop to one knee at the mere mention of his name (which, by the way, now adorns one of the largest aircraft carriers ever built as well as a hundred other structures around the world).

Indeed, the Reagan Legacy Project’s ultimate goal is a building named for Reagan in each of the nation’s 3,141 counties.

It is a most fitting tribute: naming all levels of our government, perhaps the most bloated and sprawling in history, after the so-called champion of small government. Though it’s not quite as spectacular as the tribute the men who brought us Spiderman and Strawberry Shortcake are paying to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The man who was recently in charge of the world’s eighth-largest economy will be turning himself into a cartoon character,” reported Entertainment Weekly, the new go-to news source for all things Arnold, in its April 8 issue. “And not just any cartoon character, but the Governator, a sunglasses-wearing superhero with an Austrian accent who’ll be at the center of an ambitious, kid-friendly multimedia comic-book and animated TV series codeveloped by no less a hero make than Stan Lee [Andy Heyward, who produced the Shortcake, Care Bears and Inspector Gadget cartoons is also involved].”

A name on a building is one thing, but getting your likeness used in a comic and cartoon series is virtual immortality. Never mind that Schwarzenegger didn’t really do anything as governor — comics are about fantasy.

Now if Stan Lee really wanted to go off the deep end, he would have set the comic in 2005, during the height of Schwarzenegger’s term of office, rather than after Arnold left office. Imagine that for a moment: a superhero striding the Capitol halls, thwarting disaster with a wave of his hand. Even Arnold doesn’t buy that.

“There were times people were upset with me for not being able to do certain things as governor,” Schwarzenegger told EW. “They felt I was the Terminator. They thought I was going to take care of things like in the movies…. I tried to tell them that it was more complicated than that.”

This, of course, is an older, more mature Schwarzenegger than the one who held up a broom at a Sacramento campaign rally in October 2003 and promised to clean up state government.

Words like that seem hollow now, but only if you think about them. It’s much easier to just repeat the words and ignore the deeds (or lack thereof) and then it’s very easy to imagine Ronald Reagan as a pivotal figure of history or Arnold Schwarzenegger as a superhero.

-Anthony Pignataro

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