John Leo

Note that homosexuals are not mentioned in the quote, and Morris adds that "to be fair" Reagan made no distinction between homosexual and heterosexual sex in the "illicit" comment. Reagan has no track record of insulting or penalizing gays. He and Nancy had many gay friends in Hollywood. Whatever his beliefs about "illicit" sex, it is not defensible to have Reagan saying in effect that gays deserve to die. The two producers of the miniseries, both openly gay, should have been more careful about this, but apparently they couldn't resist projecting onto Reagan what some mean-spirited people really do believe.

The slur against Reagan surely reflects AIDS as an issue in the culture war, as well as the charge that Reagan didn't deal with AIDS aggressively because it was mostly killing gay men. There's no evidence for that charge. It would be fairer to say that Reagan, like many conservatives, thought that halting the AIDS epidemic depended less on vast government programs than on stopping the irresponsible personal behavior that spreads AIDS (unprotected sex, sharing drug needles). People ought to be able to criticize Reagan's position without calling him a murderer of gays, as the group ACT-UP repeatedly did during the 1980s and playwright Tony Kushner more or less did last week.

The problem here is that the Hollywood left is probably as incapable of doing a fair docudrama about Reagan as Richard Mellon Scaife would be filming one about the Clintons. Alessandra Stanley, the TV critic of The New York Times, put it mildly when she wrote that the producers of the Reagan miniseries "appear to have sacrificed showmanship to self-righteousness, adopting a preachy, liberal agenda."

Even when dealing with fumbles by the Reagan administration, the script manages to be over the top. The Reagan team shamefully tried to scant the poor by classifying ketchup as a vegetable in school lunch programs. This is handled as unsubtly as possible by having Judy Davis, portraying Nancy Reagan, shrieking at the Reagan character: "Ketchup is a vegetable! It is not a meat, right? So IT IS a vegetable!"

Davis said she hoped the script would teach Americans to scrutinize their leaders more carefully. Maybe the lesson is more obvious: Now we scrutinize our politically loaded TV dramas more carefully.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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