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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Lying in State

On one of my message boards, we're talking about Reagan's funeral. And I was writing this, and I realized that it got off topic, so I decided to post it here instead:

When someone dies, the nature of memorializing and mourning means that we start looking at the summation of a life. A lot of Reagan debate has run fallow for a while (we as a nation have had plenty on our minds, after all) and we're seeing it all rush back so fast now. People are still really really angry about a lot of the things that happened during the Reagan years. So it's brought all that to a head.

I've actually enjoyed a lot of the debate I've been hearing on the news over the past week -- there's been a lot of respectful acknowledgement of Reagan's accomplishments, without downplaying his less-accomplished moments. I've learned a good deal more about that era of history than I had before (tinted heavily by a six-year-old's hazy recollection of things). And that's always a good thing.

The only thing that's really annoyed me over the past week is the fact that Clinton, a former President and a man who's spoken quite eloquently on Reagan's achievements, has not been invited to speak -- neither has any other former Democratic president. It's not that I have a sekritfangirllove for Clinton or anything (he's not my type), but I know I'm not the only one who thinks it wrong that a state funeral, an occasion for nonpartisanship if ever there was one, has been transformed into a campaign event for Bush. It's not fair to former President Reagan, it's not fair to his family, and it's not fair to the people who called him President for eight years.

I forget where I heard this quote, but I liked it: "When you're elected president, you go from being a representative of a party to a representative of the American people." Because this is what I always liked about The West Wing: the way it honored the traditions, the symbolic actions, the significance of the office. I mean, over two hundred years ago, men died for the right to elect their own leader, to not have edicts passed down by a government across the ocean that had no room for their voices. They weren't saints by any stretch of the imagination, and the various justifications for the revolution are a lot more complicated than what the teacher said in the third grade. But it was still a thing that was done.

When the politics get petty, this is what I think about. Because not inviting one former president to speak in honor of another, because of party affiliation, just feels wrong somehow.

There are reasons to like the two-party system. This is definitely not one of them.

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