These aren’t good times for the Republican’t Party. Only 20 percent of Americans self-identify themselves as GOPers (compared with 38 percent who call themselves Democrats), and polls show that Republican’ts are losing ground with practically every national demographic group. Only 11 percent of Republican’ts are Hispanic (while 85 percent are white conservatives), and the party’s chance of attracting more Hispanics--the fastest-growing ethic group in the United States--are significantly endangered by the losing battle some high-profile conservative activists are waging against President Barack Obama’s first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. The GOP has turned into a Southern regional party, and even onetime presidential candidate Mike Huckabee warns that it’s at risk of becoming as “irrelevant as the Whigs.”
So you can understand why members of today’s fractious GOP might be inclined to cling desperately to the myth of Ronald Reagan. They see the 40th president as somebody who brought the country together, brought down the Soviet Union single-handedly, and held down taxes (none of which is quite accurate). And in the absence of any charismatic leader to counter President Obama (Dick Cheney? Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Huckabee? Fuggitaboutit!), they continue to hold up Reagan as their philosophical standard-bearer. It doesn’t matter that he left office 20 years ago and died five years back.
The latest manifestation of this hero worship was today’s unveiling of a seven-foot-tall, bronze Reagan statue in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. As I have reported before on this page, the California Legislature voted in the fall of 2006 to replace one of its original two sculptures in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall with this one of the former B-movie actor turned Golden State governor. The Reagan likeness will join one of 18th-century missionary Junípero Serra. So who gets the boot to make way for Ronnie? Thomas Starr King, a 19th-century minister and orator who is credited with keeping California from becoming a separate nation during the Civil War and helped save Yosemite National Park. King’s statue, the work of renowned San Francisco sculptor Haig Patigian, was placed in Statuary Hall back in 1931. According to Wikipedia, it will be moved to “the second floor of the rotunda at the state Capitol in Sacramento.”
Maybe there, people will have more respect for the contributions King made to history.
READ MORE: “Dear Wingnut, Ronald Reagan’s Dead. Time to Move On,” by Glenallen Walken (Salon); “Sotomayor a ‘Racist’? Really?” by Gene Lyons (Salon).