Ron Reagan's Pere Pressure
By Richard Cohen
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page A21
I have a friend who is always alert to the expropriation of the dead for selfish reasons. Specifically, she has special scorn for people who excuse themselves from attending a funeral by saying that the deceased would have understood. I am with her on this matter and want to state here and now that no one is excused from attending my funeral. From somewhere, I will be taking attendance.
This brings me to Ron Reagan, who, to the great glee of virtually the entire Democratic Party, will speak at the convention in Boston. This will supposedly add a soupcon of drama to a perfectly predictable event in which -- I'm going out on a limb here -- John Kerry will receive the party's presidential nomination and John Edwards will be his running mate.
Reagan will speak about stem cell research. This is not his area of expertise -- what is? -- but he feels strongly about it, and bully for him. Specifically, he is appalled by President Bush's restrictions that limit federally funded research to stem cell lines that existed as of Aug. 9, 2001. That's the date Bush promulgated his edict in what was his first major televised speech -- a dramatic and stirring call for ignorance.
As you probably know, Ronald Reagan long suffered -- if that's the right word -- from Alzheimer's disease. I wonder about the word "suffer" because, as far as we can tell, the person with Alzheimer's may not be aware of his condition while his loved ones, the caregivers, most certainly are. They are the ones who have to devote much of their day to the care of someone who cannot be cured. With Alzheimer's, death is a certainty -- and a slow one at that.
As you also probably know, stem cell research holds out the prospect of a cure for Alzheimer's -- as well as other diseases, such as Parkinson's. The possibility that a cure is out there and yet, because of Bush's edict, will be delayed or not reached at all is pretty hard to stomach. That the suffering of a Parkinson's victim should continue one day more than is necessary is unconscionable. Bush maintains that the stem cell is a human being -- an extension of the antiabortion argument to the point, really, of inanity.
So I applaud Ron Reagan for his determination to fight Bush on this score. But he is doing so by expropriating the status of his father for his own purposes. He proceeds with the supposedly tacit permission of his mother, but, as is always the case with the Delphic Nancy, she has so far said nothing one way or the other. In her case, we are supposed to think that silence is approval.
Ron Reagan also proceeds as something of a medium, channeling his father's unknowable views on such matters as Bush's very public religiosity. At Reagan's interment in Simi Valley, Calif., for instance, he said, "Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man, but he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians -- wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage."
Let's leave aside the implied accusation that Bush is publicly religious not out of conviction but "to gain political advantage" and question the appropriateness of the statement -- at the burial and citing the dead Reagan. And let us also concede that if Ron Reagan were not his father's son, not only would he not have been at that funeral -- by virtue of what achievement? -- but no one would have paid him any attention. He had, as he well knew, expropriated his father's fame and stature for his own purposes.
It is the same with stem cell research. Once again, Ron Reagan will be speaking solely because of his name and because, by implication, he is articulating his dead father's convictions. Maybe he is -- I would like to think so -- but there is no way of knowing where Ronald Reagan would have stood on stem cell research. He was not, to say the least, a rigorous thinker and might well have wound up in Bush's corner. Who knows?
What I do know is that Ron Reagan is going to speak at the Democratic National Convention because his name is Ron Reagan. He is not a famous Democrat and he is not a well-known ethicist or medical researcher. He will be there just to stick it to the GOP and Bush and to suggest, as do the selfish when they would rather golf than attend a funeral, that they have the permission of the deceased. There's a term for this sort of thing.
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