The right to an obituary

The right to an obituary

: Ronald Reagan is eulogized and memoralized and buried. And some around the world don’t understand how we do this here. Some don’t understand why we — his political friends and foes — can remember only the good at a time like this and nevermind the “buts.”

But that is how we do it in America. We believe in a right to an obituary that pays tribute and remembers the good and says a fond farwell. So that is what we gave Ronald Reagan, (almost) all of us.

That is what I want. I always said when I worked on newspapers that the only fringe benefit I will ever get for having worked there is a nice obit. When I go, I expect obits to run wherever I worked: in Chicago and San Francisco and New York and Detroit and even Burlington, Iowa (perhaps that’s why I worked so many places, to get so many obits). I hope for the courtesy of an obit in even The Times. And I expect that when they briefly run through my checkered career, they leave out the black squares and omit the customary word “troubled” before the phrase “launch of Entertainment Weekly,” for example. I wish for a few nice words from family and friend.

That is how we say good-bye in America. I’m shocked when I read British obits that rehash the nasty bits in a life. I’m surprised when people expect us to dredge a life as we say farewell. That’s how others do it. That’s not how we do it.

Farewell, Mr. President, and rest in peace. Thank you for your service.

  • e.r.


  • Rall, Franken, et al didn’t get the memo, Jeff.
    It’s gonna be the Summer of Legacy.
    Hope Kerry & W don’t get too scorched in the process!

  • Justa Note

    Yeah. Whatever.
    That may be how it has been in America, but times are about to change. Reagan and the Reagan wannabe W have contaminated the varnish.

  • Well, I thank God every day that we’ll always have enough sh*theels around to let us know when those times are changing.

    Sunday, June 6, 2004
    by Greg Palast
    You’re not going to like this. You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. But in this case, someone’s got to.
    Ronald Reagan was a conman. Reagan was a coward. Reagan was a killer.
    In 1987, I found myself stuck in a crappy little town in Nicaragua named Chaguitillo. The people were kind enough, though hungry, except for one surly young man. His wife had just died of tuberculosis.
    People don’t die of TB if they get some antibiotics. But Ronald Reagan, big hearted guy that he was, had put a lock-down embargo on medicine to Nicaragua because he didn’t like the government that the people there had elected.
    Ronnie grinned and cracked jokes while the young woman’s lungs filled up and she stopped breathing. Reagan flashed that B-movie grin while they buried the mother of three.
    And when Hezbollah terrorists struck and murdered hundreds of American marines in their sleep in Lebanon, the TV warrior ran away like a whipped dog

  • Right

    Media met its match
    By Mark Steyn
    All weekend long across the networks, media grandees who had voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, just like all their friends did, tried to explain the appeal of Ronald Reagan. He was “The Great Communicator.” He had a wonderful sense of humor, he had a charming smile. Self-deprecating. The tilt of his head. Twinkle in his eye.

  • Jaybird

    I was going to post an entire column written by someone else in the comments that was totally better than those two columns that covered Reagan’s victories while making oblique mentions of the issues that his critics had but with lively prose, quotations from everyone from Thatcher to the Dalai Lama, and with a closer that will have you laughing even as you sigh as you remember loved ones of your own that have passed away.
    But I can’t find it.
    Anyway, it was a lot better than those two.

  • The Telegraph does good obits – e.g. the one of Ray Charles today (yesterday?)

  • daudder

    sorry jeff, but while you should be respectful, you should not be expected to change your opinion of someone because they have died. (you know freedom of speech, opinion and all that stuff that we hold so dearly)
    many of the obits ahev been whitewashing of reagan’s life and achievements, not factual recollections (and while that may be fine at a funeral, it is not appropriate in newspapers and on newscasts)

  • Nobody’s asking you to change your opinion of Reagan. Nobody’s asking you to like him, even, or support his beliefs.
    What our culture asks, or has asked until recently, is that you respect the passing of an American of prominence. Respect a human because you are part of humanity.
    This was not the time for pointing out how you disagreed with the man. It was not the time for rejoicing in the passing of a political opponent. If your life is so driven by vengeance and the need to triumph that you feel the need to point out a man’s flaws on his death (or worse, cheer), then I wonder what it will take for you to ever find any peace.
    It seems, reading some of these responses, like Reagan died as some sort of political ploy, or like he wasn’t human. I suggest we relax… he was, at worst, a human you disagreed with.

  • Franky

    “he was, at worst, a human you disagreed with.”
    This was a man who encouraged and justified some of the worst atrocities in the 1980s: the savage barbarisms in Central America. This is not a difference of opinion on taxes or abortions, but the brutal killings of tens of thousands of people. I don’t rejoice at his mourning, but I won’t weep either. For this to be so conspicuosly omitted by commentators and the bobbing heads who appear on cable news during this last week speaks very lowly of how we live.

  • Anonymous

    I probably meant “passing” instead of “mourning”

  • Anonymous

    AS Lifted from ChinaDaily:
    Of courage and President Reagan
    Thos.P.Jackstraw Updated: 2004-06-11 08:32
    “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” — Ronald Reagan, announcing his Alzheimer’s disease, 5 November, 1994.
    I think he knew he wasn’t the brightest guy around, but he had a way of putting together a good team — a Republican trademark, something he no doubt learned from Nixon!
    I like Reagan because he was not intimidated! He faced life straight on, I think. He goofed up a lot, and he laughed at himself! But, he didn’t let the think-tank geniuses get the better of him all the time either — something Nixon and LBJ could have learned from him! He had the courage to stand by a fiscal policy that was not well tested and tried, despite the grueling amount of time it took for things to change. It culminated in one of his phrases during the Presidential debate in his re-election bid, wherein he simply retorted, “… ask yourself if are you better off now, than you were four years ago?” — he was reelected.
    He had a wild untried idea for recovering the financial mess the US was in, he simply doubled the national debt (the debt that will never be paid, BTW — this is a smoke and mirrors device of the confidence game, I think!) and lowered taxes; the banksters, industry and the stock market all eventually bought the pitch and the wonderful thing about ignorant confidence is that it and the economy seem to move forward together, lost in fantasy and make-believe!
    But Reagan was a showman! The Panama thing was a disaster! Grenada was a joke? The CIA and the arms deal thing was not just a reflection of a poor and undeveloped foreign policy, but of poor grade administrative construction, both of which appear to persist to this day! He appeared more interested in trying to create an image of American resolve and pride towards the world, an image that he could pitch, rather than having any good creative ideas to solve the real crisis in the world. The break up of the Soviet Union and the removal of the German Divide were not things that really should be attributed to Reagan, just to his watch!
    He was a good guy, had some good team players that knew how to run business things, he was a good pitch man, but he tried to too hard to create an image that was not always founded on the creative genius and discipline of listening and acting from one’s real heart, he let his desire to pitch a message of vanity get the better of him, I think. But he had the courage of his convictions! Of that alone, he has bound a great and genuine honor! Thank you, Mr. Reagan for trying to give us your best!

  • Brian H

    I think the sweetness-only obits are a spin-off from funeral service sermons in which one pays a priest/minister to try to persuade God to overlook the deceased’s faults and let him/her in anyway.

  • Jim C.

    British obits include the nasty bits? Shoot, I thought it was universal to, as the Romans said, “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (“[say] of the dead nothing but good”). Some would alter that to “De mortuis nil nisi bunkum”.

  • “I think” the man died and Jeff tossed up a post reflecting on such. When the hell did that mean “slam useless columns into the comments” became acceptable?
    (And take your finger away from the refresh key to see if you incited a riot. You’re in the ephemera here.)

  • Jeff, The way newspapers work these days, you can get whatever you want in your obituary, provided you are willing to pay for it. The local rag charges $14 a column inch to people who wish to construct their own history for posterity. Better start saving.

  • Mike

    Alright. For those who didn’t quite get it earlier, a refresher.
    During the official mourning period for a president, simple, common decency requires that only positive comments be made and that disparaging remarks held in abeyance. This shows respect regarding the passing of a prominent citizen and respect for the office held. It is as much for the dignity of the republic as it is respect for the family’s grief.
    Of course one could continue saying all of the nasty comments that is normal for political discourse, but that would be churlish and prove to the world, without a doubt, that one is an ill-mannered lout, a boor.
    Oil is used to reduce friction in machines so that they don’t break down and explode; manners and politeness is the lubrication of societies.
    Carry on.

  • Angelos

    As are lies both little and white, and big and black. No you don’t look fat in that dress, for example. Or, we didn’t authorize the violation of international laws of war.
    What’s disturbing is the very phony whitewashing.
    I think the British obit, with the master of them all being the Economist, is the way to go.
    But we’re to concerned about feelings and self-esteem here.
    A straightforward editorial obituary can cover his popularity AND the cloud of Iran-Contra, his marvelous oration AND his gaffes; it can discuss in a purely historical time-line fashion his start as b-list actor, his progression from union to local to national, etc. It can be an all-inclusive mini-biography.
    It can do this without being either a hatchet job or an hagiography.
    The past 8 days of deification have been simply disgusting and disengenuous. The inflated accomplishments especially.
    He was an important political figure, regardless of your personal politics. He was old. He’s now dead. It’s not a tragedy. It’s the way things work. Acknowledge, move on.