Reagan's momentous eight-year presidency covering a near-death assassination attempt, his enormous arms buildup, his diplomatic demarche with Moscow, his reformation of economic policy, his reelection, two off-year elections, and attending to guerrilla wars and terrorism worldwide, all pale in the mind of the Hollywood dramatist in comparison with these gigantic matters: Reagan was inattentive to his staff, had a bossy wife, and was supposedly hard-hearted and neglectful of the inchoate AIDS epidemic. These are major themes in "The Reagans."
Interestingly, President Franklin Roosevelt suffered the same slurs and still does, though pro-Roosevelt historians have put a sunny face on the first two slurs. The famed disorganization of the New Deal staff was a stroke of genius by Roosevelt. His impetuous wife was a liberal exemplar. As for Roosevelt's neglect of certain contemporary problems -- dealing with Hitler's Final Solution is the one most frequently mentioned nowadays -- even the pro-Roosevelt historians are critical, sounding like those now criticizing Reagan's neglect of AIDS. I would defend both Roosevelt and Reagan with the same response. They had their hands full with war and the economy.
To dramatize Reagan's alleged neglect of AIDS, "The Reagans" depict the president making a moralistic statement about AIDS victims that he never made. Even the scriptwriter admits the statement was a fiction. An even more contemptible slur included in this miniseries about a man who at the age when most are in retirement ran the largest corporation on earth is the stress the Hollywoodians put on Reagan's supposed forgetfulness.
This is high drama for a Hollywood scriptwriter -- for, you see, Reagan now ekes out his daily life through the fog of Alzheimer's disease. Actually, whenever I was around Reagan, his forgetfulness was no greater than that of most busy adults. A bestselling book of his lifetime correspondence, "Reagan: A Life in Letters," shows a sharp mind at work right up to retirement.
Yet the 92-year-old former president does have Alzheimer's disease. His wife, family and friends live with great sadness, and for Mrs. Reagan grave burdens. So what can we say in the end of CBS's broadcast just now of this anti-historical life of a great man? We can say A) the child-like mind of the Hollywood artistes ignored "the evidence," and B) CBS and the producers of "The Reagans" have publicly committed an act of remarkable cruelty.
It is on a par with claiming Roosevelt's paralysis somehow impaired his performance in office. Don't wince. In point of fact, there were primitives who made this claim about Roosevelt, and it is not surprising that the creators of "The Reagans" should come off as so many Roosevelt haters. They are philistines and ignoramuses, and haters of the first rank.