HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—American exceptionalism really comes into play with our unique ability to positively spin the lives (and loves) of the people we place on pedestals. Over the past twenty years or so, few have been so exalted as President Ronald Reagan, who is now often referred to as one of the country's greatest leaders. Hindsight, it seems, is not always 20/20, but whatever the motivation for remaking Reagan into a president worthy of adulation and emulation, it will be interesting to see what the faithful do with the revelation in a recent book that he bedded Elizabeth Taylor when she was only 15 years old.
No matter where you are from in this country, what social set you belong to, what privilege or status you invoke, when a 36-year-old sleeps with a 15-year-old, it's usually considered a crime... unless the two are married or getting married, and that was certainly not the case with Reagan and Taylor. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor: There is Nothing Like a Dame, an unauthorized bio penned by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, makes clear that the assignation was meant to be what it ended up being: a night to remember.
But it also claims that the great movie star (her, not him), whose world-class beauty was manifest at a young age, was the aggressor when it came to getting down to business. Reagan may have inappropriately invited the teen over to his place for an intimate dinner, but she apparently took it from there.
According to the London Daily Express, "[Taylor] told a close pal, 'Reagan was treating me like a grown woman, and that thrilled me. We sat on his sofa and I could tell he wanted to get it on but he seemed reluctant to make the first move. I became the aggressor. After a heavy make-out session on the sofa, we went into the bedroom."
What happened in the bedroom is not spelled out, but the clear implication is that they weren't playing chess. However, the book also alleges that Taylor lost her virginity to Peter Lawford when she was 17, so there appears to be some inconsistencies about who popped that famous cherry, and when.
Still, this is Reagan we're talking about, and the 1940s, when the prevailing code of conduct said you get married if you're going to fool around. We're not naive enough to think plenty of people were not doing the dirty outside the bounds of matrimony, but still... this is Reagan we're talking about, the major conservative politician of the last half of the 20th century, and a man literally revered by every single Republican holding any office in the land. Even if that's an exaggeration, is there one Republican holding any office who would dare speak ill of Reagan publicly? Case closed.
So the question remains: how the hell are they going to spin the fact that their patron saint came on to a 15-year-old, and that he took her "into the bedroom?" It's not close to the same as Dubya being a drunk until he was 40. Hard to spin this as a lack of maturity when the guy was 36. No, child molestation is not the sort of crime that can be easily explained away as being the fault of the teen. That, after all, is the lame excuse Humbert Humbert made in Lolita!
Maybe they'll say he was still under the spell of lecherous Hollywood and hadn't yet developed into the wise and traditional conservative that lore would have him be. Or maybe they'll simply dismiss it the way they dismiss every such fall from grace perpetrated by a political hypocrite who violates the very principles they demand of others.
Reagan is long dead, of course, and his stunning political legacy shows no sign of slowing, but only growing, as many Democrats also hold him up as the sort of conservative who would not succeed in today's hyper-partisan environment. That may or may not be true, but it certainly supports the idea that nothing short of the disclosure that Reagan sold military secrets to the Chinese could tarnish his reputation, even one that has him seducing a 15-year-old girl whose apparent fascination with him was based on the fact that he was treating her like a grown woman!
Photo: Ronald Reagan as an adult and Elizabeth Taylor when she was 15.