Bomb Falls on Frisco
WHERE'S THE REST OF MET by Ronald Reagan and Richard Hubner. Duell, Sloan, and Pierce. $5.95
Right from the moment he was born, there have been two opinions about Ronald Reagan. "I think he's perfectly wonderful," sighed his mother. Reagan spends the next 300 pages of his autobiography heartily concurring. But Reagan's father disagreed: "For such a little Dutchman, he sure makes a lot of noise." After floating through this book's endless stream of vacuous anecdotes and self-indulgent witticisms, I came to the same conclusion.
Ostensibly a ghostwritten political promotion for his California gubernatorial aspirations, Reagan mentions nary a word of his political ambitions until the last couple of pages. But he slips in a sentence now and then so we know he's really qualified. Take his long experience as a lifeguard for instance. "Life guarding provides one of the best vantage points in the world to learn about people," says Reagan. "During my career at the park I saved seventy-seven people." Funny thing though, all the "victims" accused Reagan of trying to play the hero. Ronnie admits it. In football, he recalls, "the lure of sweat and action always pulled me back to the game--despite the fact that I was a scrawny, undersized, underweight nuisance, who insisted on getting in the way of the more skillful." Forty years later, he hasn't changed much.
Apart from occasional pseudo-political comments on something like Communism ("Perhaps like the measles it will always be with us") Reagan's book consists of a series of sentimental vignettes. We see Reagan as a child carrying his drunk father in off the porch, as a high school boy beating out his best friend for a girl, as a Hollywood actor on the set of countless grade "B" movies, recounting funnies about the stars.
Actually, it's all rather engaging for a while, because Reagan's ghostwrites in a sassy, colloquial style that cries, "Look at me." But it's overdone, and soon becomes too cute and too flippant. Even in serious moments, such as the single paragraph summary of his divorce from actress Jane Wyman. Reagan parodies his suffering "if you hit us we bruise, if you cut us (forgive me Shakespeare) we bleed."
A political epiphany (which occurred at a meeting of an organization known as HICCASP,) made Reagan a zealous conservative. But his is a political philosophy tending towards statistical distortion and logical absurdity. Claiming, for example, that every participant in the Job Corps costs the government $4,700 yearly, Reagan states, "We can send them to Harvard for $2700 a year. Of course, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting Harvard as the answer to prevent juvenile delinquency."
It's awfully easy to pick on Ronald Reagan, and I might get to feeling sorry for him, if I weren't convinced that he possesses a masochist's love of suffering. Just look at the evidence. Back on the gridiron, Reagan had "a collection of the largest purplish black bruises possible. More than once I must have been a walking coagulation." Still, he reminisces, "those were the happiest times of my life." In politics, Reagan found himself "misrepresented, cursed, vilified, denounced and libeled. Yet it was by far the most fascinating part of my life."
Even the book's title is morbid; it comes from the movie, "King's Row" in which Reagan, discovering that both his legs have been amputated, utters the anguished line, "Where's the rest of me?" And the first chapter begins "with a close-up of a bottom as the newly born Reagan gets whacked into consciousness.
One must conclude that Reagan is entering the California governor's race in search of a similar experience. I only hope that California voters know how to oblige him.