One day after Ronald Reagan’s weeklong memorial services concluded, former President George H. W. Bush leapt out of a plane. All kidding about the former President’s death wish aside, his parachute jump Saturday did reflect on the Reagan state affairs in an interesting way.
The jump celebrated Bush’s 80th birthday and had been planned for some time. Bush nevertheless openly mused about calling his jump off out of respect for Reagan. Only after hearing from “sources close to Reagan’s family” that Reagan would have wanted such a celebration of life, he went ahead with it as planned.
His son, George W. Bush, said about his dad’s planned jump, “The 80-year-old dude, who tomorrow will strap on a helmet, zip up a suit and launch forth from a perfectly safe aero-space vehicle, arms spread, back arched yelling at Father Time: ‘Take this, you old man!'” This summed up the stunt rather well and showed how much it contrasted the somber and ceremonial affair that the nation had focused on for most of the week.
Yet, that he even considered calling off something he had planned since he had made a similar jump celebrating his 75th birthday gives an indication of how much the coverage of Reagan’s death has been over-hyped.
Reagan was the commander in chief for eight years. For this time he was the highest official of the United States. A funeral with full state honors was more than warranted for these reasons alone.
But since announcing in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s, news about his ailing health came rather regularly. His death, at the age of 93, therefore did not come as much of a surprise — it had been expected for almost 10 years.
Judging by how CNN responded — with archived footage — the media also was not caught by surprise when he passed. In April 2002, CNN even posted his prewritten obituary (along with canned obituaries for Vice President Dick Cheney and Pope John Paul II) to their Web site by mistake. It was clear it was more of a “when” question about his passing than a complete surprise.
Why the media responded with the complete overkill of coverage is therefore rather puzzling. It is not like former President Bill Clinton unexpectedly dropped dead on his book tour; Reagan’s death was a long time coming.
Not belittling his passing, the question remains as to why both Newsweek and Time Magazine devoted their covers (incidentally using the exact same photo) to the passing of a president which, according to an Associated Press poll from 1987, was rated “out of touch with what is going on in the government” by half the population when he left office.
It appears to be yet another example of the “with us or against us” mentality of extremes which has snuck into all areas of our daily lives after Sept. 11. The method of looking at everything in black-and-white terms established by the White House since then did not help in this case. News outlets had to go with the flow and supply non-stop coverage or risk accusations of being “un-American” or pursuing a darkly veiled partisan agenda.
Instead of a dignified sendoff, what ensued was a media circus surrounding who was viewing the casket when and how they felt about it.
The question was not if Reagan had done great things during his presidency. He almost certainly had and at the time was perceived as a strong leader at home and abroad. But he also had made errors in judgment. The Iran-Contra affair, which not only violated international but also U.S. law, and the unprecedented budget deficit are the major ones, but there are others.
All these mistakes went unaddressed in most coverage, thus dehumanizing Reagan.
This undermines the legacy of Reagan rather than honoring it, since one of his strengths was to reverse or correct course when a policy was obviously not working.
But maybe I am just reading too much into Bush Senior having second thoughts about leaping from a plane at 13,000 feet. It is a pretty scary concept, so perhaps he just got cold feet and was looking for a good reason to call it off.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and an Oracle Opinion editor.