It's not necessary to have an opinion about everything, but it sure is fun to try. And by "opinion" I mean analysis, critique, an arguable and defensible position and not that thing everybody's got one of and, boy, do they all smell bad. And, while I am at it, no, it's not a small world after all, friends, despite the cloying idiocy of that ride over at Disneyland. It's a big world, with plenty of small people, many of whom smell bad indeed. Which brings me, this Sunday morning, to the late GOP uberdude Tom Fuentes, Tom L. Phillips of Regnery Publishers, the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and Ronald Raygun himself, all by way of the nifty Reagan Ranch 2013 Calendar published by the Young America's Foundation (YAF), all of which I consider this week because, as Sir Edmund Hillary remarked to Tenzing Norgay, it was there (and so I took it!)
It's a castle.
To begin. You'd be forgiven, by me at least, for confusing one YAF (the foundation) with the other YAF (as in "YAFers"). ReactionLand is in fact a little world of its own, a big one posing purposely as small, as we're reminded daily in reporting on the phony "grassroots" Tea Party and the Koch brothers and contributions mailed to vacant and completely un-staffed offices in Arizona and to anonymous P.O. boxes. Not to mention all the dough solicited (and received) by individual spin-off fundraising outfits, so that my own elderly father's mail includes perhaps three appeals a day from sound-alikes, each with a variant on a name, theme, mission, a multiple choice mash-up of veteran, American, disabled, freedom, protect, defend, like that.
They all want America back. Atavistic, ahistorical or, worse, history-hostile, they are always on the wrong side of, well, everything: civil rights, social justice, consumer safety reform, women, peace, liberation. My own favorite real-life personal moment with the brown shirt "conservative youth" wing of the right-wing army (founded by William F. Buckley c. 1960) occurred in the mid-1980's when, attending a demonstration against South African apartheid an in favor of University of California divestment, I was both appalled an delighted (you get used to it) by the sight of four or five white boys right out of Central Casting marching respectively for and against the above.
One proudly displayed a hand-written sign reading, yes, "Hang Nelson Mandela," consistent with the ostensible "anti-communist" mission of the children and grandchildren of John Birch. Somewhere today that fellow--unbelievably, my own age--is showing his own child a snapshot of himself at that rally, cursing Mandela still and recalling, fondly, the "invasion" of Grenada, the contras, Euromissiles, tax cuts, nukes, and the firing of air traffic controllers. Good times! And planning, no doubt, a family visit to Rancho del Cielo, a project all these years later of, as it should be, the YAF, which RR liked to give speeches to.
Some kind of serendipity-doo then, this convergence of me getting my hands on the brand new calendar from the Foundation (sponsor of the original YAFers) and the recent passing of Tom Fuentes, not to mention the scuttlebutt about a possible ascension to new pooh-bah by the young TJ Fuentes, scion to the OC political mob controlled by his late father, whose position on the local South County community college board is open.
By the way, for a truly mean, historically accurate and yet not even close to comprehensive consideration of the elder Fuentes, read my OC Weekly editor's righteous eulological rant here. And for more connect-the-dots fun at the expense of the local GOP, check coverage byDissent the Blog, OC's self-described (they're not shy) "fairest blog in the land," where they are really quite unfair to the gang of lying termites who chew at the beams of public education infrastructure, generally getting fat on taxpayer money after, of course, running and being elected on "fiscal conservative" policies meant to saw out the legs of same from below.
But I digress. As we flip together (quickly, please!) thorough the months and pages of the calendar, with photos of Ronnie on a horse, let's consider how we got to this place and time. Or let's skip the calendar, except to highlight the horrors. The "humor" of the Gipper on display, in the form of a whimsical "jackalope" mounted on the ranch house wall, Ronnie with his boot up after signing a big tax cut, the instruction to fly the flag on only Christian holidays (Jewish and other traditions apparently not patriotic enough), the full-color photos of the old B-movie actor and FBI snitch with his dogs, horses, pond, chain-saw, all of it adding up to a story--but of what, exactly? And how are the supporters of the YAF themselves anything but bored by a blurry shot of Reagan driving his red Jeep, dog in the back seat?
How, you ask? Why, friends and admirers of the power of the word, through the helpful interpretation of this awe and affection-inspiring scene in startling yet somehow reassuring prose, a juxtaposition of poetry and politics which appears in caption below it: "Ronald Reagan hauls material in his red Jeep, which is still at the Ranch. He wanted to be remembered as the President who made Americans believe in themselves and in our nation's greatness again."
And he is! I feel great just remembering it all now.
That's October, by the way. (Don't forget to display our flag on the 14th, Columbus Day. I am kind of dismayed, frankly, to report the absence of flag flying opportunities in April and August. That is way fucked up, patriots!)
So, to get right to it, after all that: Fuentes is dead. His son, TJ, works, it seems for Tom L. Phillips, owner of Eagle Publishing. Eagles owns Regnery, which prints the collected works of the whole nutty gang: Haley Barbour, Anne Coulter, Ted Nugent, Michelle Malkin, David Horowitz. Wow, what a lineup. And they feature a "Conservative Book Club," too. Phillips, naturally, supports the reactionary Claremont Institute (Papa Tom a board member) and, of course, the Young American Foundation and its namesake the Young Americans for Freedom, a member of which was that long-ago and yet so cherished young-adult nemesis of the Bibliofella himself, remember? And what about that terrorist for whom he recommended public execution? He became the first elected president of a democratic South Africa.
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I can't get enough of this stuff. All this fun from one pilfered wall calendar. For more, go over to PublicEye.org a web presence of Political Research Associates, the excellent non-profit research team having lots of fun doing the hard work of studying the Righties, as well as their kissin' cousins the white supremacists, Holocaust deniers (see Dissent archives for Frogue, Steve, former South Orange County Community College District board member) and Know Nothing paramilitary types (see Minuteman Militia). And do check out Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers, PRA author Jean Hardistry's excellent history of one of the Right's most hilariously scary splinter movements, a bunch of praying and singing and weeping egomaniac misogynists playing Taliban wannabee in football stadia. Don't get me started. Or do!
Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers, Jean Hardisty, 304 pps., $20.00
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.