I skimmed through a draft of Mike Rosolio‘s Reagan last December, and liked it a lot. So did Will Ferrell, who is now attached to play Ronald Reagan in a film version that Ferrell will co-produce with Gary Sanchez Prods. If and when it gets made with a decent director in charge (no helmer is currently attached), Reagan could turn out to be Ferrell’s most substantive film ever. Which is a low bar, I agree, but still.

The conventional description is that it’s basically about a dementia-afflicted Reagan during his second term. (The script begins in September ’84 and ends after the 40th President has left office in ’89.) Reagan is out to lunch a good half the time, but finds a new confidence and clarity of purpose when an intern named Frank persuades the former actor that he’s playing the part of a U.S. president.

Reagan climaxes with the Iran-Contra scandal, which resulted in Reagan more or less admitting on TV that he didn’t remember approving the scheme.

The point or payoff of Reagan is that all U.S. Presidents are totems, players of roles, figureheads, and that the guys who really run the show are the permanent, behind-the-scenes players. In Dr. Strangelove General Jack D. Ripper declared that “war is too important to be left to politicians.” There’s a similar view espoused in Reagan: Democracy is too important to be left in the hands of the public.

President have term limits, lose elections. But the people behind the scenes do not. Americans needed a face, a voice. So they elected an actor and didn’t even think about it. But during President Reagan’s second term the guys behind the scenes (Nancy Reagan among them) more or less told him what to say and what to do. That’s not the entire thrust but its close enough.