Strange now to think of Ronald Reagan as a man from California. The great Reagan story, the mythic long-ago when California crowned Republicans, unfurls in his presidential library and museum, a mountain shrine just thirty miles from L.A. Reagan’s grave is here, ringed in flowers and light. The California Republican Party might be in there, too.
The museum is a deeply weird place, but that’s more to do with the Russians. Who remembers these Bolshevik goons? Andropov? Chernenko? Grim and doughty, the pygmy Caesars of their collapsing Empire. Still, there’s a pang of nostalgia for their forthright, upright evil. But did they have terrible hair! So unlike Reagan, whose coiffure was epic, whose smile was a radiant weapon. Conservative argue Obama floated to power on his sublime toothiness. Maybe so, but Reagan concocted the spell.
How Reagan spanned his moment. Check the museum panels chronicling the 1984 election. The map is absolutely mad. Vermont, Oregon, Illinois, New York, every other region, almost every other state, Reagan reaped it all. It’s a one-nation map. At a time of venomous partisanship, when purists on left and right snake bite each other until all that’s left of national purpose is a stain on marble floors, there’s a melancholy enchantment with Reagan’s sea-to-sea victory. No doubt, Reagan more imperfectly human than the Saint Ronnie of his cultists. That’s not the point up here on the hill. Get caught in the feeling. Feel on way or another about the man, the feeling he evokes is still wanted. A shared country is still wanted.