Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dementia: the Reagan Administration and Right-wing Policies

President Reagan had Alzhemier's disease (a form of senile dementia) during his second term (1984-1988.) Some people reported symptoms earlier.

Let's look at this for a minute: for at least half of Reagan's term, the chief executive was incompetent to be President, though perhaps only at times. The country was rudderless. And there were plenty of people in the government who liked it just fine. They could do whatever they wanted and know that they would never be called to account for it.

When the histories are written, perhaps Reagan will be the mad president. I am put in mind of the history of mad kings and emperors. A quick consult with my wife, something of an expert, gives me the names of Henry VIII and George III. And, yes, the people around them were quick to take advantage, implementing self-serving, often disastrous policies.

On Reagan's dementia:


john_burke100 said...

Ludwig of Bavaria, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Ferdinand ("I am the Kaiser and I want dumplings!") of Austria... the thing is, those guys were cited to support the case for republican government, but then you get a Reagan (not to mention a gonif like Nixon.)

Raven Onthill said...

It only works if Congress is willing to reign in a popular monarch, er, President, and they usually aren't. What does seem to work, better than anything else, is the tradition, now law, of resigning after two terms, established by George Washington who in doing so turned down a throne. The USA can endure eight years of bad rule.

I am not so sure that Ludwig was mad, BTW, but terribly unsuited to being King. In fact, looking over your examples and checking them in Wikipedia (perhaps not a reliable source) and the Britannica I'm not sure that any of them were mad. Ivan Grosny (which might be more correctly translated as Ivan the Awesome) was a brutal man, prone to fits of anger. This seems to have partly been the result of childhood abuse, but that also is not madness, and you could say the same about much of the Russian nobility. Ferdinand I of Austria had severe neurological disabilities which caused seizures, but seemed to have been capable of keeping a diary, so perhaps not mad, either, though not capable of being an effective king. He ultimately abdicated in favor of his nephew Franz Joseph.

It is odd. The USA, despite its republican political order, seems to have much the same problems of "family" dynamics in its highest office that the old monarchist states did. "Family" iconography – roles – seem to dominate political thought. Thus, though since 1980 at least, the Republican Party has been fiscally irresponsible, they have the rep of responsibility and, while all the wars won in that same period have been under Democratic Presidents, the Republicans are the ones with the reputation as great military leaders.

Perhaps the predominance of family (tribal?) iconography in our thinking prevents us from recognize madness when it occurs.

Raven Onthill said...

Followup thought: we seem incapable of recognizing when someone does not match the role we imagine them playing, hence incapable of removing an incompetent ruler, or abandoning a political party that has taken leave of its senses.