From time to time, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo refers to the nation as a family. To him, that's a good thing, suggesting warmth, love, closeness and a sense of shared responsibility. To me, though, every time Cuomo mentions family, I think of my friend's uncle who ran off with his brother's wife. The last thing we need is a country that's like a family. We had that once. It was called the Civil War.
Now we have the Reagan family to prove my point. In an interview, Nancy Reagan admitted that she and her step-son, Michael, just don't get along, that there's an "estrangement" that has existed for three years. To this, Michael has reacted with hurt and shock and the usual chagrin. One only wishes he had reacted with silence.
But he didn't. Instead, he called a press conference and granted interviews. He said he wasn't even invited to the ranch in Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving. "What timing for the first lady of this country," he said of Mrs. Reagan's pre-turkey remark. Referring to the fall Mrs. Reagan took just before the election, Michael said, "Maybe the bump on the head was more serious than we thought." He added that he was thinking of writing a book about his relationship with the Reagans. I can hardly wait.
There are those, and they are legion, who fairly chortle at the Reagans' going at one another in print. The First Family, after all, has been holier than thou when it comes to promoting family values. Indeed, the whole conservative movement has been pretending that God has given it the family as something of a ward. It must protect and succor it. It must pass legislation buttressing it. It, and not un- American liberalism, cares for the family and its cherished, traditional values. No one has expressed this better than Ronald Reagan.
But so what? The family is the one area in which hypocrisy in unavoidable. No matter how good your intentions, your family somehow gets away from you. Relatives just don't behave as they should -- that is, how you would want them to. Every family is a collection of people connected not just by blood, but by mutual antagonisms, and no outsider can ever tell who's right and who's wrong.
Almost every family is a repository of feuds and hostility, of scandals that make "Dallas" seem like "Father Knows Best," of vows broken and promises breached, of people brought together not out of choice, but out of circumstances -- because someone married someone else and God only knows why.
Thanksgiving and even Christmas remind us that families are a mixed blessing. There are more fireworks around this time of year than on July 4th, sometimes on the weighty issue of whether mashed or sweet potatoes shall be served at an otherwise festive dinner.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm sick of families making us a part of their fights. That holds for Christina Crawford, whose mother, Joan, may have been the world's most awful mother, but I didn't want to know it. It holds also for Gary Crosby, who in a book told us things about Bing that I could have been perfectly happy not knowing.
What made it all so much worse is the guess -- nay, the certainty -- that if Joan and Bing were still around, they could have made a parent's case against their kids. These things are unknowable. They should, at the very least, be unmentionable.
It would have been best if Nancy Reagan had simply told her interviewer that she was not going to talk about her family -- that she would extend her husband's vaunted 11th Commandment ("Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican") to her own family. But all she did was acknowledge that she and her step-son did not get along. To that weak shot, Michael responded with a Big Bertha of a press conference, interviews and now a threatened book.
Maybe there's no stopping Michael, and we can all sit back and watch the First Family act like any other. I'm sure he thinks he's justified -- and what kid has not wanted to call a press conference to tell the world about his parents? But the whole thing is unseemly and tells us nothing we either need to know or do not know already.
Michael, Nancy, your country gives you a choice: either make up or shut up, but either way, close the window. The neighbors are listening.