Ronnie and Ray - A Comparison of Legacies

The past week saw the deaths of two giants in American popular culture. Each, however, reached their lofty status in very different ways. Each made great use of their talents, but in contradictory manners.

You'd have to be living under a rock or in blissful isolation not to have noticed the interminable tributes and ceremonies in honor of former President Ronald Reagan. A week long orgy of idol worship and myth reinforcement finally culminated in burial on a Friday. I was half expecting the man to be resurrected the following Sunday, giving new meaning to his patented motto of 'Morning in America.'

The fanfare, pomp, and ceremony coupled, with the pathetic fawning of the flag waving sheeple, made for a week-long prayer service to worship our District masters. The militaristic displays were daunting. Reagan had more guns guarding him in death than he ever did when in office.

In retrospect, it's laughable to see Reagan's watered down ideas and agenda considered 'revolutionary.' This fact indicates the degree to which Americans have adopted a slavish attitude. It has become 'normal' to consider the interests of The State superior to that of the individual.

I have no qualms with those who knew the man personally and mourn his loss. Not being an acquaintance, I must view the man's life as to how he affected me, through his actions. This influence occurred when he assumed power over my life when becoming chief and commander of the United States Government. Viewing Reagan's death in this context, I mourn his loss about the same as I would mourn the death of any other thief or murderer. How is Reagan any different? His crimes are identical even when they are shrouded in pleasant, nationalistic rhetoric and an engaging smile. The fact is, regardless of sentiments expressed to the contrary, Reagan was party to the theft and murder committed by the organization he chose to lead. The fact that this observation is not obvious testifies to the effectiveness of skilled propagandists and state-sponsored, fraudulent education.

Let's strip off the veneer and lay bare the facts. Reagan was just another tyrant who put the interests of the communal nation state over that of individual liberty. Observing how his words (and rarely his actions) said otherwise tells us he was a much better actor than people give him credit for.

There was no such misrepresentation in the works of Ray Charles, the music legend who passed away at the age of 73. He bared his soul for all through his music. The essence, origin and inspiration of a man's art cannot be concealed. It cannot be disguised as something it is not. The music you hear is the truth, warts and all.

Charles, as we all do, had his personal faults. He struggled with drug addiction and failed marriages. But I think it's safe to say he never stole, nor murdered. You can't say the same for Reagan. He lead an enterprise which profits and feeds its growth by thievery and death. Charles was held accountable to his mistakes and shortcomings by suffering financial loss and family breakup. Reagan, as an agent of the State, escaped any such responsibility for his mistakes (at least in life), though they certainly be of greater severity by negatively affecting a far greater number of people.

I think Reagan would have been far more effective if he had used his keen communication skills as a pesky outsider, exposing the beast and its innate appetite for consuming liberty. But, of course, the allure of power and the prospect of the monopoly of force is a temptation that few can resist. The result, as always, is corruption, failure, and/or death. To his credit, Reagan survived the 'death' probability (assassination attempt) but his compromises to Leviathan's desires killed any chance of meaningful change. Some claim that Reagan should be given credit for at least 'trying.' But 'trying' to change the inherent nature of The State by joining and leading it makes as much sense as stopping the Mob by becoming a godfather.

Ray Charles not only resisted conformity in his chosen field of music, he became an innovator, refusing to be restrained by restrictive standards. He refused to be typecast to a particular genre and explored all categories of music. I recall him saying in an interview, 'There's only two kinds of music--good and bad.'

Even in death, Reagan lost his identity to The State. His body was hijacked from his home, shipped cross country and held hostage in the den of The Beast. The entire event reeks of a final consummation where one is successfully stripped of his individuality, divested of all humanity and made one with the collective. 'Yes, he is one of us--his mind, his heart, and now soul, belong to us.'

Ray Charles need not fear a loss of identity after his death. He made his mark in the free marketplace by being only who he can be--himself. Imposters and copycats are not long tolerated in the music business, where originality is the foundation of long-lasting success. Nor do those who merely mimic others have any chance of a flourishing career and timeless legacy--the measure of 'Brother Ray's.' This identity, this truthfulness of self, cannot be masked even when the artist's body no longer breathes. The body of his work lives on and cannot be corrupted by mythology, the way a politician's body of work (crimes) can be covered up and glossed over with deceptive legends and revisionist history.

Here's a man, Ray Charles, who despite his physical handicap and rough upbringing, spent a lifetime contributing art and the joy, smiles and inspiration it brings. What a great example of societal contribution achieved through the pursuit of individual self-interest. His offering to us all was his music, a contribution that could freely be accepted or ignored. Reagan's credited contributions (real or imagined), by way of State-created edicts, was mandated acceptance by (supposedly) free individuals and backed by armed force.

Any of a thousand orators could have effectively performed Ronald Reagan's acceptance speech for the Republican nomination. Could anyone possibly duplicate Ray Charles' soulful, stirring rendition of 'America, the Beautiful' at that same event?

Reagan is often credited with bringing down the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall--even though definitively proving this cause and effect is impossible. If Reagan can truly be recognized for initiating these events, it can be rationally argued that this action, in time, would have occurred with or without his help. If Ray Charles had not been born or did not have the will to pursue his God-given talent, would 'I Got a Woman' have ever been written? Ronald Reagan cannot legitimately make a claim of equivalent uniqueness.

Reagan built his political legacy using the hammer of The State. This creates an inhospitable climate to initiate positive change, particularly in the area of human freedom. Ray Charles' talents could only have prospered in an environment favoring artistic creativity and peaceful persuasion. If his ideas were not worthy of acceptance by his public, his career would have languished and died.

Reagan's actions and resultant contributions, requiring political and State intervention, will be analyzed for decades to come. Following this time, historical analysis may give a very different perspective on his beliefs and accomplishments. Ray Charles' contributions involve artistic creation. 'Art' is defined as 'the use of skill and imagination in the production of things of beauty.' Beauty is timeless. The very nature of art requires it be so. Charles' art, his legacy, will hold up to future scrutiny. Will Ronald Reagan's?

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Columns on STR: 22

Roger Young is a freelance photographer in Texas and has a blog.