Rescuing Reagan from the Neocons

It is said that the Reagan Revolution transformed American politics and that we continue to live under the impact of that revolution. Today’s Republicans and corporate churches bandy his name about in support of “family values” and “conservative principles.” And the Left lets them get away with it.

But revolutions are inherently progressive. Conservatism is supposed to conserve, not transform. For the current crop of corporate neo-cons, Reagan is a lot like Osama bin Laden. They much prefer to tell their listeners what they claim that he thought rather than expose them to specific information about what he did and said.

For progressives who are willing to get beyond a visceral distrust of a man who was, in his time, the ultimate corporate shill, a truer view of Reagan’s history may provide useful fodder for campaigns to drive a wedge between corporate spin-meisters and parts of the base on which they prey.

Televangelists, mega-church pastors, and the backers of Proposition Hate go on and on about Reagan’s devotion to traditional family values and the sanctity of marriage. They don’t mention that, as governor of California, Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, permitting women to make their own health care decisions. Or that Reagan signed the nation’s first law permitting no-fault divorce.

How many “abstinence only” campaigners use Reagan as a role model, without reminding their listeners that when he and Nancy were married, in 1952, she was already a few months pregnant? That’s right – in 1952, almost two decades before the “Summer of Love”; more than two decades before the women’s lib movement.

Some neo-cons use Reagan as a model of what our “Christian” nation can aspire to. Too often, this neo-conjob religiosity forgets to mention how rarely he and Nancy actually went to church. When he was elected governor of California, Reagan arranged to be sworn in just after midnight on January 3, 1967, in a private ceremony, rather than in the traditional daytime, public ceremony. The time was determined by his astrologer.

The Proposition Hate crowd love Reagan as a role model. Why? In 1978, Reagan said “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” 1978! Reagan made this statement while opposing a Republican ballot measure to throw all gay teachers out of public schools. More than 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan understood that being gay was not a choice and was not a basis on which to discriminate.

He understood then, as we understand today, that discrimination based on genetic traits has no place under the United States Constitution. It has no place in the civilized world. The ballot measure was defeated across the state, even in Orange County. Can we imagine Orange County agreeing with Reagan on the issue today?

Discrimination based on genetic traits has a long history in the U.S. Genetics was the basis for race-based slavery, for California’s anti-Chinese laws, for opposition to letting women vote, and for the Republicans’ odious, racist proposition 209. It is both shameful that Democrats originally opposed measures promoting racial equality and noble that Democrats evolved to accept and then embrace racial and sexual equality for all people.

It is equally noble that Republicans supported civil rights in the 1960s and even more shameful that Republicans have evolved to embrace racial and sexual bigotry, even as science establishes more and more clearly that such bigotry can’t be justified, except as a tool for driving wedges between groups and as a hook on which to hang strident fund raising pitches.

It is a shibboleth of neo-conjob propaganda that Washington corrupts everyone who arrives there (with the possible exception of corporate lobbyists). So it might be useful for progressive campaign managers to remind voters, particularly Reagan Democrats, of what Reagan actually stood for, before arriving in Washington. Some of Reagan’s faithful may be receptive to reminders that he actually expressed some principled stances before party spin-meisters “re-educated” him for his presidential ambitions.

Let campaigns remind people that Reagan actually railed against defense contractor waste, despite recent claims that he would have supported no-bid war contracts or sending our soldiers to fight with inadequate and faulty body armor. Let campaigns remind voters that Reagan supported Charley Wilson’s war to throw invaders out of Afghanistan, rather than escalating the colonization and corruption of hand-picked puppet rulers for that sad land.
Weapons being used against our troops there today were supplied, with Reagan’s approval, to drive out our colonial predecessors.

When Reagan first moved to Washington, he appealed to mainstream Republicans and Reagan Democrats. But he wasn’t accepted by most of the wingnuts who now comprise the corporate, neo-con leadership of the party. The very people who co-opt his name now were skeptical of him back in 1980.

One reason for their skepticism was that Reagan didn’t share their cowardice. In the spring of 1937, 4½ years before Pearl Harbor was attacked, Reagan enlisted in the Army Reserves. He suffered from near-sightedness, which limited his service ability. But he earned promotions to second, then, first lieutenant and then to captain. Reagan served until the end of WW-II. Reagan never ducked serving, as Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Saxby Chambliss, and just about every other neo-con Republican leader did.

When Reagan moved to Washington as President, he brought with him plenty of friends and co-workers from Hollywood. Many Reagan-Hollywood types remain alive and active today. As today’s neo-con Republicans rant against the liberal media and show-biz lifestyles, it may be useful to remind prospective voters who it was that brought the most Hollywood influence into national politics. It would also be useful to end the liberal silence and remind people, over and over, that Dennis Miller is not the only neo-conjob Republican eagerly slurping at the media trough while spewing hypocritical platitudes and corporate campaign lies.

One wingnut concern was Reagan’s tolerance of gays. Reagan was the kind of old-fashioned conservative who worked with gays in Hollywood and believed that people should be judged by their work, not their sexual orientation. He believed that free enterprise competition was good and that wasteful contracts were bad. This thinking isn’t acceptable to the corporate neo-cons.

On February 5, 2010, Bob McDonnell, the neo-con Republican governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation to allowing Virginia businessmen to discriminate against gays – something that had been illegal in Virginia. McDonnell, a model of the modern Republican, supported every single no-bid contract issued by the Bush administration and wants to bring that practice to Virginia’s state government. Waste and contracting fraud are “rights” of corporations, not things to be rooted out as Reagan claimed.

Mere ability to do a job is irrelevant to the new Republicans. While talking about freedom and fundamental rights, the crop of neo-con leaders have embraced open racism more intrusion into the bedroom. Virginia’s Bob McDonnell has written that even married couples should not have the right to use birth control. And on January 16, 2010, Bob Kellar, a rising neo-con star from Santa Clarita, Califirnia, just a 15 minute drive from the Reagan Presidential Library, said “I happen to believe in America. I’m a proud racist. You’re darn right I am.”

tom_hall_2.jpgKellar, McDonnell, and the other neo-conjob Republicans want freedom from Reagan’s beliefs while milking a fabricated Reagan image. They want more freedom and welfare for corporations and more restrictions on the workplace and bedroom activities of individual citizens. Progressives should reject the revisionist history of the neo-cons and remind people of who Reagan really was.

Tom Hall

Published by the LA Progressive on February 22, 2010
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About Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com