Janet Reno, 78, Has Gone To The Big Dance Party In The Sky
One of the best "Good Sport" appearances on SNL evar
Janet Reno, America's first female Attorney General -- and the longest serving A.G. of the 20th century -- died early this morning at the age of 78 from complications of Parkinson's disease. We always thought she was the very essence of nerdy cool, and she was at the center of some of the biggest events of the '90s, including the siege of Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomer investigation, and the decision to return Elian Gonzales to his father in Cuba.
We had actually forgotten that Reno was actually Bill Clinton's third choice for A.G. -- he wanted a woman for the job, because History, dammit -- but his first two choices, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, both turned out to have hired nannies who were illegal immigrants. Reno, a prosecutor in Florida, had no kids and no nannies, ever, so she got the job, after recommendations from Hillary Clinton's brother Hugh Rodham and her friend Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children's Defense Fund. Edelman was particularly impressed with Reno's record on prosecuting child abuse and child support cases.
Trivia fact from the Washington Post obit: When Bill Clinton nominated Reno to be attorney general, he called attention to her insistence on buying new cars at the sticker price, to avoid even the slightest appearance of getting special favors.
Almost immediately after being sworn in, Reno had to deal with the standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas, a gun-humping cult of crazies who believed their leader, David Koresh, was the Messiah. The cultists had killed four federal agents who had tried to serve a warrant, and after a weeks-long siege, Reno, believing children were being abused by Koresh, gave the FBI the go-ahead for a raid on the compound. A fire broke out during the raid, killing the nearly 80 cultists inside, including 23 children; rightwing outrage over the raid (and conspiracy theories that the FBI had deliberately set the fire, because federal agents love killing people) helped drive the growth of the militia movement, and "inspired" Timothy McVeigh to commit the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. A lot of the political crazy and paranoia we're still dealing with today grew out of Waco -- as did the FBI's decision to go slowly in dealing with this year's takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which ended with only one rightwing idiot committing suicide by cop. Reno told NPR in an interview before she left office, "We'll never know whether it was a mistake or not, in one sense [...] But knowing what I do, I would not do it again. I would try to figure another way." Nina Totenberg's piece remembering Reno is awfully good; give it a listen:
A couple of things to love about Janet Reno, from Huffington Post's obit: In a New Yorker profile, Reno acknowledged she didn't always love one of the bigger parts of her job, so she blew off steam by cutting down trees with a chainsaw, saying it was "more soothing than dealing with Congress.” And when rightwingers hinted she just had to be a big ol' bulldagger, what with being tall, single, and having short hair, she blew them off, too: “the fact is, I’m just an awkward old maid with a very great affection for men.”
If she were A.G. today, she'd probably be facing her 39th House investigation for Waco.
Then of course, there was Will Ferrell's version of her on Saturday Night Live, where he portrayed her as the host of Janet Reno's Dance Party, the final episode of which the internet has conspired to hide from us, but which featured the real Reno crashing through a brick wall, dressed in the same blue dress and pearls as Ferrell's version of her, to commiserate on the end of the party:
"Oh, Janet," he says to the real Reno, as he mourns the end of the skit's run, "what do you do when you get sad?"
"I just dance," Reno replies, commanding the orchestra, "Now, hit it!" as she breaks out her best moves to "Twist and Shout." It was her last day in office.
Reno went on to a failed run for Florida governor (they got Jeb Bush instead, the lucky duckies) and to work with the Innocence Project, which is about as awesome a job as we can imagine for a former prosecutor. She was a class act all the way, and whatever you do, don't make your pre-election exhaustion any worse by looking at what any wingnut websites are saying about her today.
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