The local bloods are hangin’ out on the stoop, jivin’ to the beat of a ghetto blaster when this white dude shows up with a microphone, slaps a clapboard and announces, “Reagan campaign message to minority voters, take 37…” And then this block-long black limo cruises up and Secret Servicemen bound out and then—good God, it’s the Prez himself right here in the slums of D.C.! A drummer starts pounding out a back beat and the bass comes up and Ronnie starts doing this lame honky moon walk while he chants the words of a rap song:
Okay people, gotta get down,
Brother Ron Reagan has hit the ground…
Ronnie can communicate,
The cat can rap.
I even let Nancy sit on Mr. T’s lap,
Loves the needy,
Loves ’em dearly,
Love to read graffiti
If they’d only print it clearly.
Good Lord, is this really happening? Is Ronald Reagan really going after the black vote by trying to outrap Jesse and outdance Michael? Say it ain’t so, Nancy.
It ain’t so. This video is actually a satire entitled Rap Master Ronnie. It was concocted by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, composer Elizabeth Swados, who collaborated with Trudeau on the musical Doonesbury, and veteran rock music producer Jack Malken. Last spring Malken was watching the Broadway version of Doonesbury when the idea hit him: Wouldn’t it be funny if Ronald Reagan tried to address kids and minorities in their own medium? He approached Trudeau and Swados with the idea, and within two weeks they were in a studio recording Trudeau’s words to Swados’ music. When they finished the record, they decided to make a video to promote it. All they needed was a Reagan look-alike. And that’s where they ran into a rather ironic complication.
They found a perfect Reagan clone in Robert Schmidt, 65, an interior designer from Villanova, Pa. Schmidt not only looks like Reagan (“I could be his brother”), he thinks like Reagan. “I’m more like him on the inside than I am on the outside,” he says. In fact Schmidt has been a grass-roots activist in Pennsylvania Republican politics for more than 25 years. Consequently, when he was offered the Rap Master job, Schmidt played the song for the Pennsylvania Reagan-Bush Committee. “I wanted to make sure there was nothing they would object to,” he says. The committee was hardly overjoyed. “They were not very enthused,” Schmidt admits. He doesn’t specify exactly what the committee didn’t like, but maybe it was the part that goes, “We want Ron/The guy’s pure sex/ He’s the man/Who signs your monthly welfare checks.” Or maybe it was the ending, where the music fades and Ron says, “Light my fire, black people, light my fire…Papa got a brand new safety net for you.”
In the end the Reagan-Bush bigwigs allowed Schmidt his First Amendment rights. “They said, ‘It isn’t very dignified, but use your own judgment,’ ” Schmidt recalls. So he went to Washington to film the video. And now that it’s over, he actually likes the finished product (so do most music video programs except MTV, which has declined to air the video because “it’s not rock ‘n’ roll”). “I thought it was most amusing,” Schmidt says.
Apparently Trudeau and Swados agree. After finishing Rap Master, they wrote 15 more satirical songs. The result is a theatrical revue called Rap Master Ronnie that opened in a Greenwich Village nightclub early in October. “We weren’t thinking we could change anything,” says Swados, “but we hoped to bring some issues to the forefront.” The revue takes satirical swats at Reagan’s foreign policy, his cheese giveaway and his allegedly slothful style (“from nine to twelve, he’s working like a dog”). The songs, said one New York critic, “attack the Administration with a vengeance as yet unmatched by the Mondale-Ferraro campaign.”
Needless to say, Robert Schmidt has no connection with that cabaret. He is out on the hustings with a Republican road show of his own. He puts on his dark suit and his jelly bean tie and he appears—accompanied by phony Secret Servicemen and the strains of Hail to the Chief—at Pennsylvania GOP gatherings. “I do excerpts from Reagan’s speeches, along with one-liners and comments from the more conservative press,” he says. His jokes include gibes at Walter Mondale: “He’s the perfect symbol for his party—a jackass.” And cracks about Mon-dale’s running mate: “Geraldine Ferraro’s only foreign policy experience consists of two trips to the International House of Pancakes.”
Okay, so Schmidt isn’t Richard Pryor. But what does the Gipper himself think of Schmidt’s portrayal of him as a funky honky rap artist? Says a White House press spokesman: “We’ve never heard it.”