These days, in the midst of the GOP pre-show, candidates frequently clutch the podium, going teary-eyed as they pronounce the name of Ronald Reagan. If only we could go back to those halcyon days when The Gipper brought down the Berlin Wall as Gorbachev looked on. He cut taxes, stopped The Cold War, and was one of the Greatest Americans.
The deification of this (probably senile in office) old man, with his undyed hair and cowboy smile, has reached almost Lenin-like proportions. You half expect to see soon-to-be-wed couples marching past his mummified corpse at the Reagan Library in Simi (an old Soviet tradition with Lenin).
How did Ronald Wilson Reagan, B-Actor and 50’s Communist Witch Hunter, become a revered saint, his golden halo reflecting “The Shining City On The Hill”? Let’s look at the facts and the myth.
In the 50’s, Reagan named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee with the true zeal of a McCarthyite. In the early 60’s, he made this pronouncement: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.” He also supported the racist Goldwater for President in ’64.
When Medicare came about in ‘61, Reagan told citizens that the bill would mean the end of freedom in America. “We will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this [write in], and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” No doubt, seniors receiving health benefits has impacted all of our freedoms. And if everyone gets them, My God, might as well have Trotsky as President!
While Governor of California, he sent in the National Guard to quell the disturbances at Berkeley. One person was killed when he sent the CHP (?!) in in ’69. What Erik Estrada could do to put down a riot was anybody’s guess. The juggernaut that became Reagan wasn’t evident in ’76, when he lost the nomination to Gerald Ford, a President so bland that even his golf balls won’t sell on Pawn Stars.
But let’s get to the heart of the matter: the vaunted Reagan Presidency of the 80’s. I vividly remember the air traffic controller’s strike, when he busted the union and had them all replaced. . State mental hospitals were shut, leading to an exodus of the mentally ill to swell the homeless population.
I recall “trickle down ( aka, “voodoo”) economics”, still a hallmark of the GOP, which posits that if only the wealthy get tax cuts, the rest of us benefit too. I felt no benefit then and I’m certainly not feeling it now. Reagan also reduced taxes on capital gains – and I’m going to bet that the poor generally do not own a stock portfolio. But they might be on food stamps or disability — both of which Reagan cut. Deregulation of industry and massive deficit spending became the order of the day as the national debt climbed to $2.85 billion. The S&L crisis, which wound up costing us taxpayers $87.9 billion, was directly caused by deregulation of the thrift industry. Notables like Senators John Glenn, Alan Cranston, and yes, John McCain defended Charles H. Keating, a small-time crook who treated his S&L, Lincoln, like his own personal account. Keating actually went to prison, but not before looting investors of $3 billion. Has a familiar right, doesn’t it? (all but the prison part).
Reagan was the one who appointed Alan Greenspan to head the Fed. This is the guy who professed astonishment that Wall Street execs wouldn’t regulate themselves. His Ayn Randian bubble burst bigtime when he learned, in 2008, that CEOs are greedy! They do not have the public welfare in mind!! He’s probably locked in his NY penthouse, mumbling as he rereads Atlas Shrugged, looking for clues about The Virtues Of Selfishness.
It was Reagan who led a war against America’s most virulent enemy, that superpower menace – the island of Grenada. Thankfully, they surrendered before other Caribbean nations had to be bombed. He jacked up the defense budget to heretofore unknown heights, kindly supplying weapons and training to that benevolent, anti-Communist force: Afghanistan. And a then-obscure guy named bin-Laden. He did succeed in bombing Libya, but managed to injure only Gaddafi’s adopted infant daughter. The Madman himself was allowed to endure for another 25 years.
His SDI “Star Wars” defense plan must have made George Lucas gag. A bad 50’s pulp scheme to surround the US with anti-nuclear X-rays, it was derided by the leading scientists of the day as ridiculous. (Dr. Carol Rosin, an associate of Wernher von Braun.; Ashton Carter of MIT, Hans Bethe, who worked with Teller on the A-bomb, etc.)
The Great Communicator could be surprisingly tone deaf politically. In, ’85, he insisted on visiting a German military cemetery which contained graves of the Waffen-SS. Reagan proclaimed these men, among the most vicious of Hitler’s attack dogs, as “victims,” seemingly equating them with those of the Holocaust. Maybe he thought that all the Jews were Communists.
Nancy Reagan – besides wearing red Adolfo suits and augmenting the White House china –embarked on a ludicrous “Just Say No” drug tour. As if simple denial was going to cure the age-old scourge of addiction, and a mere refusal of heroin was enough to rescue the junkie! Considering that today, we are making Mexico rich with the sheer breadth of our craving, it looks like we should have said just say no to “Just Say No.”
I won’t reprise in detail the whole sad affair of Iran-Contra, except to say that if Reagan didn’t know what his entire staff was doing, he should have. This was the dirtiest political scandal since Watergate, enlivened by a buxom Fawn Hall and a ramrod straight Ollie North, who would do anything for this country: including the funding of Nicaraguan.fascists.
We have Reagan to thank for the appointment of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. This Constitutional “originalist” became infuriated when his fellow justices ruled that we cannot execute the mentally ill. Guess the Founding Fathers didn’t get to this in their 18th- century document.
So there is all this: escalating the national debt; proposing crazy Star War schemes; lowering taxes on the rich; fighting wars with tiny islands; enabling the S&L debacle; and selling arms to Iran to secretly fund the Contras. This is the Reagan Legacy.
Yet this man so captured the national imagination that my close relatives – a lifelong Democrats – actually voted for his reelection. Every February 6th in California is “Ronald Reagan Day.” The Myth continues to play, in the living rooms of America, whenever a candidate invokes the spirit of Reagan. As John Ford wrote in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. “ And we do.