Lovers of good food and of good literature will recall "Babette's
Feast" by Isak Dinesen (author of "Out of Africa"),
made also into a haunting motion picture. In it, the sense of wonder
conveyed by the perfect harmony of food and drink, born of true
artistic inspiration, transformed its recipients almost against
their will. The puritans of the remote Norwegian village where the
story is placed had contracted with one another to deny any and
all response to the meal about to be served, but to no avail. An
apparent miracle took place - "taciturn old people received
the gift of tongues," writes Isak Dinesen, "ears that
for years had been almost deaf were opened."
Such was the impression watching CNN's "Larry King Live"
devoted to letters from Ronald Reagan to his wife, Nancy, recently
published by her ("I love you, Ronnie," Random House).
The letters were read and discussed on the show by the host with
Katharine Graham, owner of the Washington Post; Mike Wallace, veteran
of CBS's "60 Minutes;" and Merv Griffin. They took turns
in reading the letters; they choked as they attempted to comment.
The twilight existence to which the writer of the letters has been
sentenced might have added to the emotions of the hour. But it is
safe to assume that the reaction would have been similar under any
People received the gift of tongues.
Ears that for years had been almost deaf were opened.
The letters are beautiful. They attest to love so complete, so
unconditional as to be deserving of the word "perfect."
The words carry the soul of their author so faithfully as to be
deserving of the word "art." Americans of all ages, severely
coarsened during recent decades, would be well-served to read them
as we contemplate our course for another century.
The participants on "Larry King Live" did. And the boldness
with which each of them has long exercised power as if by divine
right, melted away before our very eyes.
One after another, they read the letters that had impressed them
most. Merv Griffin, of course, in the manner of the old friend who
knew anyway - the others as if awakened from years of sleepwalking.
For the man whose sincerity of feeling, whose beauty of soul, whose
deep humanity spoke from those letters has been mischaracterized,
denounced and reviled mercilessly before, during, and since his
two terms as chief magistrate. Whatever Reagan's new-found admirers
did not do themselves, they condoned, encouraged, supported. From
ridiculing his words as those of a mere actor reciting script, through
dismissing his ideas as infantile, to painting him as a bloodthirsty
warmonger and the enemy of children, of the sick, and of the needy.
I have long wondered about the near-insane hatred that has surrounded
this most American of recent presidents - this thoroughly decent,
totally honest human being whose actions were governed by rock-steady
beliefs. In all the years, only two reasons seemed plausible.
In first place, given the continuing obsession with the so-called
"Hollywood 10," communist sympathizers simply cannot forgive
him for testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
The other was his determination that the United States be as powerful
as it is capable of being, and that the world be rid of the Russian
Empire. More people in our midst than we realize mourn the passing
of the Soviet Union, final phase of the Russian Empire. And, amazingly,
many still are obsessed with the blacklisting in Hollywood of persons,
some gifted, who, at the time, were agents of a hostile power -
whether paid or unpaid.
Be that as it may, anyone watching the show in question would have
his faith restored in the power of redemption. Larry King, Katharine
Graham, Mike Wallace, revealed themselves as Romantics responding
to genuine humanity like Americans are known to do.
But why would intelligent, powerful opinion-makers take so long
to recognize the obvious?
Is it possible that exposure to political ideas based on hatred
does terrible things to otherwise decent human beings?
Love, that thoroughly overused - and mostly misused - word, defined
Ronald Reagan's relationship not only to Nancy, but to everything
that mattered. His love for America was infectious. His love for
all the people who live here could only be missed by those who had
been blinded by a sinister force.
Indeed, only the presence of a sinister force could account for
the outpouring of hatred toward Ronald Reagan and his legacy - hatred
so untypical of Americans. That sinister force permeated the body
politic of this nation in the form of an ideology that preaches
envy, promotes jealousy and, yes, incites hatred. It turns women
against men, young against old, black against white, the less successful
against the more successful. It is all the more insidious because
it dresses up as "caring and compassion for the oppressed,
the exploited, the disenfranchised," while it does irreparable
harm to the very same.
After partaking in Babette's Feast, the villagers could not recall
what they had eaten or drunk and, eventually, slid back into their
old, miserable ways. Will the same happen to the participants of
CNN's "Larry King Live," or will their future actions
reflect the new plateau of perception they displayed the other day
for all the world to see?