Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Art of the Possible: Finale A Novel of the Reagan Years by Thomas Mallon

Finale, A Novel of the Reagan Years by Thomas Mallon, is a fact/fiction combination of historical sketches and imagined experience. The story begins in 1976 and ends in 1996 covering events that preceded Ronald Reagan’s election as president until his increasing decline related to dementia. The span of 20 years seems short in the historical scope of American politics, but the detailed description of daily maneuvering and decision making illustrates the stress on the man who would be president and the players and “mice” who inhabit the District of Columbia arena.

The list of people in the novel is so extensive that a cast of characters is presented before the first chapter. People are listed and identified as historical figures and fictional characters. There are only nine fictional men and women listed, but they play a vital role connecting the people and advancing the story. 

It is the connection of the characters that is the force that drives the reader through the detailed interactions, direct and remote, with Ronald Reagan that affect the moods of his consistently dissociative personality and his public thoughts and statements. The constant daily attempts to influence the course of American history by people of various talents and motivations impinge on Reagan’s movements and decisions. This is a confirmation of George W. Bush’s statement during an interview while he was in office that the President has very limited personal power to determine the course of government domestically or on the international stage. Whether Reagan and his acolytes are campaigning to retain control of congress, trying to make advances in the war on drugs, attempting to legislate control of the AIDS epidemic, engaging in the battle of translated words in the Cold War, seeking nuclear arms control offensively (developing “Star Wars”) or defensively (bargaining with Gorbachev in Reykjavik), pushing for international human rights, competing with China for trade, there is not very much that can be accomplished by the titular head of our country within the limits of our Constitution. 

This fascinating novel is a great story of minions and movers attempting to make sense and profit from political events. They try to meet their individual needs and desires, as they influence world history at various levels related to their direct and remote connections with Ronald Reagan and by implication other heads of state. The historical record shows that the rest of us really do not have a good or accurate understanding of the art of the possible, and we form opinions and take actions (vote) based on very limited and always skewed information. The novel reveals the one common denominator of the people who seek to engage in politics at the national level is their full living engagement and passion in the process of politics.