PUT HIM ON THE TEN-DOLLAR BILL
by RIP RENSE
(June 11, 2004)
I didn't share his vision, but I
have to say he was a great gentleman who inspired the nation---even the
world. His leadership was undeniable, and his impact on peace cannot accurately be
measured. It is no stretch to say that his courageous 58 years of public service(!) will
be felt for decades to come. Yes, he was a credit to his country. That countless millions
mourn him today is testimony enough to his importance, no matter what one might think of
his work, his words, his legacy.
That's why I have decided that, yes, his image
belongs on a ten-dollar bill.
You might disagree, feeling that his
accomplishments do not merit an honor traditionally reserved for our "Founding
Fathers" and most hallowed presidents. Place him in a pantheon with Jefferson,
Hamilton, Washington? Well, why not? It's true he had a vastly different style and impact
than such beloved American figures, but then, he would have been the first to admit that
he was no Abraham Lincoln.
Ironically, it was Diane Sawyer, a
person for whom I have exceedingly low regard, who said it best, last Sunday morning in a
special edition of "Good Morning, America":
"A giant oak has fallen in the forest of
What an apt phrase! Of course, Diane was
talking about the late president, Ronald Wilson Reagan. I'm talking about the late great
Leadership? Ask anyone in his
band. World peace? What does more to engender happiness, and break down cultural and
national barriers, than music? As for being an inspiration, well, how many people do you
know who grew up black, dirt poor, sightless, yet created art cherished in every country
on the planet?
Putting Charles on U.S. currency
would be a breakthrough; making him the first African-American, and first
physically disabled person, to hold such an honor. What a tribute to
American ideals, courage and character!
|Ray was a star who believed in peace, and Reagan
was a star who believed in "Star Wars."
Those who are pushing to have Reagan's
face on the ten-spot are just, pardon the expression, blind. Reagan seemed an affable,
well-intentioned fellow, but he couldn't sing to save his life, and I never once saw him
at a piano. And I'll take the Raylettes anytime over Reagan's back-up singers. I mean, Ed
Meese, James Baker, Michael Deaver, Don Regan, Howard Baker? Are you kidding?
But let's not be frivolous here.
I must admit that Ray cannot match Reagan's
achievements as president. After all, he never bypassed Congress and the Constitution to
secretly sell arms to Iran in order to free American hostages, using the profits to fund
Contra "freedom fighters" credited for killing over 30,000 in Nicaragua, and to
support terrorist death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Ray never directed the Department of Agriculture
to classify ketchup as a vegetable, as Reagan did in September, 1981, in an attempt to
slash $1.5 billion from the federal school lunch program. Ray didn't ignore the AIDS
crisis for the first six years of his presidency, under-funding federal programs to fight
it because "maybe the Lord brought down this plague" and "illicit sex is
against the Ten Commandments." Never mind that AIDS killed 50,000 during that time,
including women and children.
Ray can't claim to have cut taxes for the rich,
or to have slashed social programs to the extent that mental hospitals shut down,
releasing their patients to wander. He didn't preside over the worst recession since the
Great Depression, the tripling of federal debt, or the birth the great American shame of
homelessness---which created a vagabond population equivalent to Atlanta. And trust me,
Ray had nothing whatsoever to do with funding and backing Saddam Hussein against Iran, and
supporting Islamic radicals in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union (including a fellow
named Osama Bin-Laden.)
Ray didn't bust any unions, either, as Reagan
did with the striking air traffic controllers---thus playing with the safety of millions
of people who use commercial airliners. And he certainly did not support Apartheid in
South Africa. Ray never accused trees of being responsible for air pollution, nor paid
tribute to fallen Nazis in a German cemetary. And he did not turn down the greatest
nuclear disarmament deal in Cold War history to hang on to a fairy tale defense system
known obnoxiously as "Star Wars."
Nope. Ray can't compete with that record.
But Reagan can't compete with Ray's
record. Any of 'em. I'll take "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Born to
Lose," "I've Got A Woman" over any of Reagan's movies---hell, over any of
his speeches, for that matter. People will still be playing Ray singing
"Georgia" and "What'd I Say" when most Americans have forgotten how to
spell "Reagan" (assuming that they know now, a dicey proposition.)
The Great Communicator? Compared to Ray
Charles? Hit the road, Jack.
Of course, both men overcame hardship. Reagan
was the child of an alcoholic father, and Ray went blind at the age of seven. Reagan was
out of work for two weeks during the Depression, and Ray was destitute. "Even,"
as he said, "compared to other blacks, we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up
at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground."
Education-wise, though, Reagan probably
has Ray beat. The 40th Prez was a star athlete and drama student at Eureka College in
Peoria, Illinois; Ray attended St. Augustine's School for the Deaf and Blind in Florida,
as a charity case. Reagan learned to act; Ray learned Braille and typing and
basket-weaving. He picked up piano, more or less, just by listening to a neighbor playing
it on the other side of the wall.
Ray avoided military service because he
couldn't see; Reagan avoided combat because of nearsightedness. (Call that one a draw.)
What about initiative? Well, Ray figured out
math and its correlation to music, learning to compose and arrange in his head. Reagan
figured out the correlation between liberal actor friends in the Screen Actors Guild and dirty
commie-rats. He turned away from his FDR/Democratic roots and testified against
fellow entertainers for the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Ray went on to make millions of people of
all races happy, and win 14 Grammies.
Reagan went on to make millions of mostly white
Americans happy, and win elections as Governor of California and President of the United
Ray shot heroin in the '60s. Reagan sent
National Guardsmen with bayonets against college kids protesting Vietnam and various other
things at UC Berkeley. (Call that one a draw, too.)
Ray was a star who believed in peace, and
Reagan was a star who believed in "Star Wars."
Ray sang "You Don't Know Me."
(Okay, not fair. You can't compete with that.)
Reagan said, "Facts are stupid
things," and Ray said, "I knew being blind was suddenly an aid. I never learned
to stop at the skin. If I looked at a man or a woman, I wanted to see inside. Being
distracted by shading or coloring is stupid. It gets in the way. It's something I just
Reagan saw a shining city on a hill. Ray saw
childhood images of his mother, who told him, as his sight vanished, that he was going to
have to be tough, and make his mark on the world. (I'd give the edge to Ray, there.)
Ray played organ, saxophone, and clarinet.
Reagan played opposite a chimpanzee in
"Bedtime for Bonzo."
With all due respect to the charming, gracious
late president, this is no contest.
My money's on Ray Charles, and I'd like to see
Ray Charles on my money.
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