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Sundance 2011: Should Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin really be lionizing Ronald Reagan?

January 23, 2011 | 10:30 pm

For someone so lauded by such a large portion of conservative America, it's surprising there's been no feature film about Ronald Reagan in the 30 years since he took office.

That vacuum -- coupled with the continued influence of the former president's policies and the ongoing invocation of his name in political rhetoric -- makes Eugene Jarecki's "Reagan" feel timely even though the late president had been out of public life since well before the beginning of this century. (It's also timely because, as Reagan supporters prepare to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday in a few days, a controversial book from son Ron Reagan has been disavowed by other members of the Reagan family.)

Jarecki begins his movie -- which premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival -- with an ironic clip of Reagan talking about the slipperiness of truth and images, and follows it with a mocking clip sequence of conservative pundits and politicians extolling Reagan. He speeds up the cuts until it becomes, comically, a jumble of Reagan-mania before it ends, hilariously, with a clip of Jon Stewart letting out a primal scream over an image of Reagan.

But this is hardly a Michael Moore-style drive-by.

Jarecki ("Why We Fight"; also a brother of documentarians Nick and Andrew Jarecki) soon gets down to more scholarly business. Following a linear chronology -- Reagan's childhood, his acting career, his involvement as a Screen Actors Guild leader, his governorship and, finally, the many highs and lows of his presidency -- Jarecki paints a complex portrait using a fairly conventional mix of talking heads and archival footage. Ron Reagan, James A. Baker, biographer Edmund Morris, conservative thinker Grover Norquist, liberal author Thomas Frank and many others pop up to talk about the truth and myths as they see them.

Jarecki spends a particular amount of time on the notable moments of Reagan's two terms, especially Reagonomics, his fight against communism and the Iran contra affair. It's a solid refresher even for the most meticulous student of history, and enlightening for the rest of us. The movie (which was made by HBO and will air on the network in February) ends with a heartbreaking moment deep in the former president's battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Jarecki's conclusion is that while Reagan is hardly the villain some on the left cast him as, he's not the godlike figure conservatives make him out to be, either. Nor, for that matter, does Jarecki  think Reagan should he be so lionized by the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck even by their own standards: As Jarecki points out, Reagan actually expanded government during his eight years in office.

And while the "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech at Berlin's Brandenburg gate has become a symbol to many conservatives of his willingness to stand down communism, Jarecki gently reminds that many conservatives at the time opposed the speech and what it stood for, as it meant engaging the Soviet Union.

The filmmaker is particularly interested in the age-old clash between a view of Reagan as an aloof and doddering leader propped up by smart advisors and a view of him as a fierce, in-control politician. (Jarecki said later that he finds that both were true, at different times and on different issues. "Everyone we spoke to had two stories," he said.)

While the movie mostly struck an evenhanded tone, when Jarecki came to the stage after the screening, he went on the offensive.

"I came into this film with an ax to grind," he admitted, wryly noting he "didn't tell HBO that." In the end, he said his mind wasn't changed despite the years of research and roughly two dozen researchers who helped him. "I didn't get seduced by Ronald Reagan's folksy thing," he said. "A lot of it was stagecraft."

The pose, while effective, particularly rankled Jarecki. "It got us to be on board with insane things."

And while Reagan was known for espousing rhetoric about our ability for new beginnings, Jarecki said he didn't buy it. The idea that "we can start life all over again," Jarecki said, paraphrasing a Reagan mantra, "moves me, even though it's full of lies."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'Reagan.' Credit: Sundance Film Festival

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People need to wake up the fact that Glenn Beck is simply another opinion pushing charlatan who is a product of mormon cult theology that he mixes with cherry picked parts of Catholicism, New Age Religions and his personal core as a dry alcoholic. He Is a pretty messed up individual. And for the record, he is a Mormon and not a Christian. The two are not the same as one is a cult and the other is a religion. This makes Glenn Beck one very twisted screwed up moron who sold his soul to the lowest common denominator of personal stupidity. And for the record…the religion of Islam has far more in common with Christianity than the mormon cult.

Glenn Beck can be summarized simply as a dry mormon alcoholic who never got the counseling required for alcoholics. Those are his only qualifications for anything in life as he never went to college and definitely knows nothing about American History or the US Constitution. Because he does not possess a single ounce of journalistic integrity, this makes him the perfect abortion poster child for Fox Network. Considering the fact that Beck’s personal views are extreme Marxist Libertarian, his form of patriotism is false and he is a person who has no real substance or depth. He is definitely not a true conservative.

As with Joseph Smith or that 5th grade graduate who started the Jehovah’s Witness Cult, this over-paid idiot (Glenn Beck) got in bed with Satan a very long time ago. It’s really all about the money as hate, lies, promotion of ignorance and fear mongering are the only marketable skills that Glenn Beck has on his side. The only way he survives is from developing and growing flock of very impressionable idiots who do not understand the difference between a cult and a religion or truth & facts versus lies.

Glenn Beck consistently demonstrates all the unstable behaviors of a dry alcoholic which include grandiosity, judgmentalism, intolerance, impulsivity, ADD, indecisiveness and blindness to truth. In short, Beck, Limbaugh, O Reilly, Hannity, Palin, O Donnell, Coulter and others like them frequently pervert truth, history, facts, religion and the US Constitution when they open their big mouths. Beck is simply part of a national league of pseudo-conservative idiots who make big money by selling lies and half truths to impressionable fools who occupy the lowest levels of society. Basically…tea baggers and registered republicans who are condemned to repeat the mistakes of history.

Screw you, it's your 40 year old liberal socialist rhetoric that hasn't" progressed"
Because regular Americans don't want it to. You have " Civil Rights" good! You have "Social Security " Broke and unfunded by the libel of elected officials" Do you wish the federal government control each citizens life? I think that notion will encourage a resistance not seen since 1779

Righteous....Well said.

OMIGOD! All the chuckleheads on the right are going to have their panties in knots over this. Reagan RAISED taxes 6 times over 8 years? Who knew? The Laffer Curve is a fraud? Good heavens!


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