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The dish on Nancy.

Gossip serves as justice in a corrupt world. In a more perfect place, Nancy Reagan would have been brought to trial for crimes against sincerity, candor and taste, and surely judgment would have been terrible and swift. The United States penal code, however, omits such offenses, so there's only Kitty Kelley to even the scales. We can all sleep more easily now that gross hypocrisy has been exposed and moralism revealed as turpitude.

In a real sense, the Reagans are getting the comeuppance they deserve. They created a myth about themselves and their "values" that had a specific purpose of social manipulation volunteerism, charity, common sense and old-fashioned morality were not just broadcast but targeted to a generation, a cultural sensibility and a political class that had very different ideas about how to behave in this day and age. Institutions-schools, foundations, corporations-responded to the Reaganite canon, which is what truly has been politically correct in America since the couple came to power.

Now the myth has been punctured, perhaps for good. Many of the revelations in Kelley's book have been known, or at least suspected, for years, but Americans and their media minders have until now not seen fit to believe them. Exposes have their historic moments, which are impossible to predict. Washington's political set knew all about John Kennedy's wicked ways (they called him "Mattress Jack") from the start, and reporters and rival candidates on the 1988 campaign trail bandied about stories of George Bush's extramarital affair(s), which Kelley also retails. But neither of those rumors made a scandal or destroyed the myth. Obviously, the time for Reagan-bashing is now ripe.

Is it just coincidence that not one but two tabloid-quality sensations are now in banner headlines? The media seemed to be suffering from post-bellum depression since the gulf war, and in the unseasonably hot doldrums of April (at least in the Northeast, where the news is made) the doings at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach and the disclosures about the Reagan White House had a tonic effect.

The Kennedys have hardly been immune from gossip, as the Reagans have, but the current crop of the clan seems to have got what's coming to it. There's a lot of hypocrisy to answer for in the myth of Camelot. It's unclear what happened after Willie Smith's skinny-dip in the wine-dark Atlantic, and someone in the party that night may have to pay with real time. But tabloid gossip will be the only retribution for the crimes against myth, modesty and mesure that by any measure have been proved without trial.

It goes without saying that malicious gossip-the kind that Nancy Reagan allegedly spread about many of her closest friends-is hurtful and unjust. But turnabout against hypocrites is always fair play, whatever their politics, and no system yet has devised a more exquisite form of punishment than the unauthorized biography.

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Title Annotation:Nancy Reagan biography by Kitty Kelley
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Apr 29, 1991
Words:481
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