Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale


I am a political junkie and a NASCAR fan-atic and these are the two heroes in the world I inhabit...which pretty much puts me totally out of step with most of those around me.

Ronald Reagan, President, the Great Communicator.

Dale Earnhardt, Stock Car Driver, The Intimidator.

They have both long passed out of reality and into the stuff of myth.

Reagan devotees have put time and money into an effort to name everything but the kitchen sink after him - airports and schools and highways and ships and mountains and money. I wouldn't be surprised if some Republicans don't have a little bronze plaque in their kitchen - Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Kitchen Sink. In fact, the new country planned by some secession enthusiasts is tentatively named Reagan.

Dale Earnhardt worshipers are much the same. To them, Dale was the epitome of daring cool and no one else will ever measure up. No matter if they pass him in poles and laps led and wins and championships because everyone knows that NASCAR has become a woosified sport compared to back in the day when men were men and Dale was the manliest of them all.

Of course, the people who love them know what they would have thought and done in every situation. Like now. Ronald Reagan would have thrown down against Putin for invading Ukraine. Forget that he didn't do a thing when Russia shot down one of our passenger planes - and when a truck bomb killed 242 of our Marines, we simply packed up and left Lebanon. Forget that Reagan's "claim to fame" as a war president was the invasion of the tiny little island of Grenada. What would Reagan's response have been to Ebola? Ask yourself how he reacted to AIDS and that will probably give you some idea. (Hint: he ignored it).

And Reagan would never have shredded our revered constitution by using executive orders to grant clemency to illegal immigrants....except he did. Reagan would never have signed a gun control bill in defiance of the Second Amendment....except he did. As Governor, Reagan would never have approved any legislation that weakened the pro-life position....except he did. Reaganites have either forgotten, or found excuses for all these actions.

In the last many years, NASCAR has created a play-off system called the Chase. Many old-line NASCAR aficionados hate the Chase. They swear that Dale would have marched into the executive offices at NASCAR and demanded that it be repealed. They boast that Dale would have refused to drive in such a travesty of a series and NASCAR would, of course, have backed down rather than alienate its most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt was before my time in NASCAR. Perhaps he was all that and more that his fans thought about him. But my belief is that he would have done exactly as every other driver has done - he would have raced and tried to win based on the rules mandated by NASCAR.

Saint Reagan. the Great Communicator, told the American people how unions were bad and firing all Air Traffic Controllers, banning them from practicing their profession again, ever, was what they deserved. Instead of being aghast at the pure brutality of his actions, we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" He told us that tax cuts pay for themselves and that if you pile the profits onto the rich, their left-overs will trickle down to the rest of us and we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" So, even though, lo' these many years later, time has proven over and over again that he was wrong, we go right on believing.

Saint Dale is to NASCAR what Ronald Reagan is to the Presidency. His ubiquitous number # 3 race car is tattooed on body parts and flown on banners and painted on the sides of campers. How many times do I hear, "Dale, would have done this" or "Dale wouldn't have put up with that" or "Current Driver wouldn't have made a pimple on Dale Earnhardt's ass"?

I don't understand this penchant Americans have for idolatry. Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton were two of my favorite presidents but I acknowledge their weaknesses while still honoring their accomplishments. Jimmie Johnson is my favorite NASCAR driver. I think he is by far the best of modern times but I don't insist that he is is super-human.

And that's the problem with deifying  our heroes. It causes us to scorn the heroes of now. No one will ever be able to live up to Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale. No pedestals will ever be high enough to reach them. And while our rose-colored glasses are focused on the past, we let the present slip through our fingers.  

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