Flavia Montiero Colgan | REAGAN'S LEGACY: A COIN OR A CURE?

It's no surprise that the conservative movement exalts Ronald Reagan as its ultimate hero. But the utter disregard, if not contempt, it has shown toward his widow is both shocking and revealing. What does it say about the conservative movement itself that it can be so tone deaf even when it comes to its favorite icon?

This past week, the right-wing Club for Growth announced a half-million dollar ad run comparing George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan, using some of the best footage available of the Gipper in action. But wait. One problem. "No one has requested the permission to use his image in an ad, nor would we feel it appropriate to give such permission at this juncture," states the Reagan family spokesperson.

This isn't the first time the Right has steamrolled Reagan family wishes concerning ways to honor the former President. Over Nancy Reagan's objections, arch-conservative Grover Norquist launched something called the "Ronald Reagan Legacy Project" a few years ago, making waves with the suggestion that Ronald Reagan's face be added to Mount Rushmore. That ludicrous proposition may have passed on, but not before spawning many more of the same. Norquist's website suggests putting Ronald Reagan on the $10 bill and the dime, constructing a Ronald Reagan Memorial on the National Mall, and erecting a statue of him in every county in the United States. Not to mention the goals he's already achieved: renaming Washington National Airport and the largest Federal building in the Capital after Ronald Reagan.

Oh, the irony! Renaming an airport after the man who fired air traffic control workers; putting the great government-cutter's moniker on the largest center of government bureaucracy; mobilizing to raise Lenin-like statues for the man who dubbed the USSR, "the Evil Empire! " What's next? The Reagan "Just Say No" Crack House?

"I do not support this proposal and I am certain Ronnie would not," said Nancy Reagan about the effort to put his image on the dime. The author of the legislation gave an "aw, isn't that cute" response to her protest, then proceeded to co-sponsor yet another initiative putting Reagan on the $10 and $20 bills.

It's not just when she protests that Republicans swat Nancy Reagan away like a pesky fly. Since research first unearthed the power of stem cells to aid in the cure of dozens of diseases, including Alzheimer's, Mrs. Reagan has begged her husband's party to support critical research into therapeutic stem cell cloning.

Mrs. Reagan speaks bravely of the pain she and the former President went through in the years leading to his death. Alzheimer's begins with mild memory loss and slowly progresses to the loss of virtually all memory and control of bodily functions. Mrs. Reagan's honest description of the anguish of a long and gradual twilight is perhaps one of her greatest contributions.

But the Republican Party has chosen to sentimentalize Nancy Reagan's pain and use it for political gain, rather than match her bravery with research. Despite the fact that Nancy joined hundreds of scientific, medical, and religious authorities in asking that he do otherwise, President Bush banned productive research in stem cell technology.

Nancy Reagan commented again earlier this month "Science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with answers that have so long been beyond our grasp. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this. " But that is exactly what the Bush administration and Congress have done.

Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York, a Democrat, finally proposed using the Reagan name on an initiative that would please Mrs. Reagan herself: a bill to lift the ban, the Ronald Reagan Memorial Stem Cell Research Act. A senior Republican aide immediately scoffed the idea was, "unbelievably shameless. "

The last ten years have steeled Mrs. Reagan and her family to the suffering millions of American families face every year from Alzheimer's. The Republican push to idolize Reagan on coins, currency and county courthouses, rather than honor him by funding research to cure the disease that killed him, is shameful.

Ronald Reagan's greatest legacy may well be the no-nonsense approach of Nancy Reagan to his illness and her response to conservative boondoggles: just say no to empty gestures, and say yes to our capacity to improve quality of life through science. *