One of my favorite films, “The Last Castle”, was directed by Rod Lurie in 2001 and stars James Gandolfini and Robert Redford. Gandolfini plays the role of Col. Winter, an evil and egotistical warden at a Marine Corps correctional facility. There is a scene between Winter and prisoner Yates, played by Mark Ruffalo:
Winter: Tell me, how does a man like you get into West Point?
Yates: My father won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Winter: Oh, well, I guess in your case the apple really does fall far from the tree.
Perhaps that’s also a fitting commentary for Ron Reagan Junior.
The younger Reagan is an intense liberal who is making the circuit promoting his new book “My Father at 100”. The title references the fact that this nation is approaching Reagan’s 100th birthday on February 6. Recent promotional appearances have included the Colbert Report, the View and Good Morning America. Last night, he appeared at the Neurosciences Institute of UCSD. If you went to to see him, the cost was $25 to attend. If you missed it, you might want to watch an upcoming interview with 20/20 that will air this Friday night. All this activity is aimed at selling a book, which Ron describes as follows:
“My Father at 100″ offers a running account of the journeys its author made, beginning in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, and then following the footsteps of his father’s early life. We see lineaments of a tale that is now history: the bog Irish ancestry; the birth in a “small second-floor apartment above a bakery in Tampico, Illinois”; the acquisition of the nickname Dutch (his drunkard father said he looked like a Dutchman); the heartland upbringing in Dixon, Ill.; the dashing lifeguard years in Lowell Park; the college career as football player and tyro actor; the seemingly reckless decision to take a shot at Hollywood. These familiar landmarks are glimpsed, however, from a perspective made surprising by intimacy and a sense of often-puzzled filial love. “He was seldom far from our minds, but you couldn’t help wondering sometimes whether he remembered you once you were out of his sight.”
It’s that last line that is somewhat telling of a son’ s halfhearted criticism of a father who is no longer alive to defend himself. The verbal slights offered in several of Ron’s recent interviews seem to be an odd mixture of emotional rejection blended with ideological disagreement.
“My father always thought that if he had five minutes alone with anybody, he could convince them of this point of view. I think it was endlessly frustrating to him that at least some of his offspring didn’t seem to be vulnerable to this persuasion”.
“(My father was) warm yet remote… reflexively guarded”.
Reagan also goes on to characterize his father as someone who refused to acknowledge parts of his life that didn’t follow the script.
“(If) it distracted from the story… (it was) all but lost in the editing room”
None of this is really shocking. Many fathers and sons have complicated and often conflicting relationships. But Ron went one step further. In the book and in recent interviews he has gone out of his way to suggest that his father had Alzheimer’s disease during his first term as president.
“There was just something that was off, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“It wasn’t like oh my God he doesn’t remember he’s president, you know, it was just-I had an inkling something was going on.”
“Nowhere in the book do I diagnose him with Alzheimer’s while he was in office, I just added that that was one of the things I worried about”.
Those statements might work as a “tease” in order to sell a book about an ordinary celebrity; however, many people in this country revere Ronald Reagan as a great leader and president. To suggest that he had Alzheimers or dementia during his first term will understandably cause some to fire back.
Half brother Michael Reagan:
“Ron was an embarrassment to his father when he was alive and today he became an embarrassment to his mother”.
Reagan biographer, Edmund Morris:
“(Reagan’s daily diaries are) clearly expressed and well-written” at the end of his presidency as at the beginning. I never saw any signs of dementia. What I did see was a very old man and a very tired man.”
“I was the moderator of that debate (between Mondale and Reagan). It was in 1984. It was an hour and 40 minutes. That’s a long time. And maybe he stumbled over one answer or so forth – but I don’t remember. (He spent) an hour and 40 minutes to answer questions and answer questions from the panel, and he was with it.”
“I probably saw more of president Reagan in those years than either of his sons. He was not really close to them. And I did interview after interview. I did not see any signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s or whatever until after he left office. Now, this morning Ron Reagan, who was a very pleasant fellow and I like him a lot, was on Good Morning America….he sort of disputed what he said. He said he didn’t say that (referring to allegations of Alzheimer’s)”.
“I said exactly the opposite. I did not see symptoms of dementia or anything like that one was in office.”
“… his half brother says he said all of this is because he’s trying to sell books”.
I originally planned to write this piece using a tone of strong contempt for Ron Reagan Junior, but after doing a little research this morning, much of my disgust has given way to a sense of sadness. It must have been very difficult growing up with a larger-than-life father. Anyone who has studied history, even casually, knows of the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan Senior. A quick review of Wikipedia, however, paints a much smaller picture of the son.
- Born May 20, 1958.
- Expelled from a private prep school under allegations that he was “a bad influence on other kids”.
- Dropped out of Yale University in 1976 after one semester.
- Self-described atheist.
- Launched a syndicated late-night television show in 1991 called The Ron Reagan Show. It was canceled after a brief run.
- Served as a “chief political analyst” for KIRO Seattle until his show was canceled August 8, 2007.
- Debuted the Ron Reagan show on Air America, September 8, 2008. Air America subsequently filed bankruptcy in 2010.
- Hosted shows on the Animal Planet Network.
- Occasionally co-hosted on MSNBC (not to be confused with the Animal Planet Network)
Looking at the short list above, it’s fair to conclude that none of the son’s media opportunities would have presented themselves without the legacy of the father. Perhaps Ron Reagan Junior did not get enough attention from his dad growing up. That’s a very common tale, but it’s sad to see someone publicizing the most intimate details of this family as a form of therapy. It’s even sadder when you consider that he’s trying to make a buck off of the sacrifice, service, vision and leadership his father gave to our country.
You may remember that John Hinckley used a loaded revolver in an attempt to stop the Reagan back in 1981. He failed. Ronald Reagan survived the gun shots, served two terms as President of the United States and left office with a country stronger than he found it. Now that his legacy has been written, it is sadly ironic to witness his own son using a book promotion tour in order to take a few potshots aimed at diminishing one of America’s great conservative figures. But I guess money is money.
Yes, sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree.