What Really Happened 30 Years Ago Today

Thirty years ago today I stood on the corner of Connecticut and Q in Washington DC and watched a Presidential motorcade roll up the Avenue to the Hilton. As I always did in those days, I waved to the Raygunner in merry jest, one finger prominently displayed. I went back to my office to work and in a few more minutes sirens were blaring. John Hinckley had shot the Raygunner.

What happened next, of course, is history. Within minutes of Raygun’s arrival at George Washington Hospital’s emergency room, a team of comedy writers was called in to put the right spin on the President’s condition. Here is what they came up with: “Hope you guys are Republicans.” Which is what we now believe is what Raygun said to the doctors before surgery.

In the meantime, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger (“Bring in the Jew,” Raygun used to say) contacted a college friend who worked in anamatronics at Disneyland. Not a month before, he had told Weinberger about a fabulous project at Disney, then undergoing its final tests, to build a robot that was so realistic it could serve drinks at a Hollywood cocktail party. (“Wow,” Cap thought at the time, “more useful than Ronnie.”) Disney called it humanoid animation, a project it started in the 1960s with an animated Abraham Lincoln. Disney planned to introduce the device at Epcot Center that summer. Future man was going to be a tour guide.

Now, Weinberger had other ideas. Sitting in the hospital with a dying President, watching Corporate plans for world domination slip away and  knowing  that the liberal policy wonk Vice President George Bush would derail the Raygun Revolution before it began, Weinberger declared: “We are going to animate the President.”

No one knows exactly what Disney was paid. Some say $5 billion came from a secret Pentagon fund that was later used to arm the Mujahadeen. Disney may have had to give up all rights, in perpetuity, so many believe that figure was low. Some believe as much as $20 billion was initially demanded, and it is known that the State Department was very helpful in locating the first Disney in Europe.

In any case a deal was done, and programmers from the Rand Corporation and technicians from Haliburton spent three days at Disney getting a crash course in operating and maintaining the amazing machine. The Disney engineering staff is said to have been at first pleased, but puzzled, and then defiant when informed they were to give up their baby. Many, being expendable and a threat to the secrecy of the project, latter disappeared.

Two weeks later the new Raygun was introduced to the nation, fully oiled up and ready for a shake down cruise. The only person who really knew any difference was Nancy Reagan, who was once heard to exclaim, “Better than my old dildo.”

After the Raygun retired, money for maintenance was scarce. The machine was allowed to get Alzheimer’s and fade away. There was a moment during the Clinton years when the Corporate Leadership became concerned that the new President was too liberal and threatened to bring Raygun back to the battlefield.   But Clinton, ever sensitive to the machinations of the powerful, put his money on NAFTA and made an abrupt right turn into the closet with Monica Lewinski.

It is here worth noting that there is a rumor that Disney intends to acquire Madam Tussauds and introduce a marvelous new animation technology. Will Raygun walk once again?

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