I am proud to say that I am not one of the many who foolishly succumbed to the phenomena I used to refer to as "Ronniemania". I was never naive enough to fall for that cheap "aw shucks" persona that the guy exuded like the smell of horseshit. And for the life of me I've never been able to understand this country's dysfunctional love affair with this corrupt and feeble-minded old fool. At a time in his life when he should have been tucked snugly in an assisted living program somewhere, being spoon-fed oatmeal, Ronald Reagan was living in the Executive Mansion. Having made myself clear on this subject however, I might as well come clean:
I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
This is not to imply that thirty years ago (Eek Gads! Where has the time gone!) I was ideologically in tune with Reagan and that in subsequent years I have seen the light. The sad, pathetic truth of the matter is that on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 1980 I got so falling-down intoxicated, I voted for the man just as a joke. A failed, "B" movie actor in the White House? That ought to be good for a nice, long chuckle , I thought. When I was twenty-two I took nothing seriously. Three decades later, I'm not laughing.
On that ominous night, I was a cub reporter for a community radio station that has since been Clear Channeled out of existence, W-ALL of Middletown, New York. I had been assigned the task of covering the Republicans. But by the time I arrived at their headquarters at 6 p.m. the results were a foregone conclusion and the place was empty. They had all skipped out of town to celebrate "this great victory for the American people" at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
I had no other choice but to walk across the street with my recording gear in hand to the restaurant where the Democrats were holding what can only be described as the political equivalent of an Irish wake. I was more than happy to participate in their joyful, drunken mourning. At exactly 8:45 p.m., with fifteen minutes left before the polls closed, I staggered one-tenth of a mile to the Town Hall and voted. It was in that condition that I cast my precious ballot for the likes of Ronald Reagan. Four years later I was alert enough to vote for Walter Mondale. I've been stone-cold sober every Election Day since.
Mothers Against Drunk Voters. Does such an organization even exist? It should, you know. It really should.
The economic catastrophe that we are now faced with may be laid directly at Reagan's grave. Thirty years of Reaganomics - which were only aided and abetted by Bill Clinton - have resulted in the decimation of a country that used to be a nice place in which to live. And here's the dirty little secret that, as far as I can tell, no one is talking about: The type of vigorous reinvestment in this country's infrastructure that is now so desperately needed - the kind initiated by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s - is now practically impossible because of the debt we owe Communist China. Here's another nasty little fact that everyone is ignoring: That debt is insurmountable. Isn't that a hoot?
He told us that government wasn't the answer to our problems - it was the problem. He told us that instead of improving the government we should shrink it down to the size where, in the words of Grover Norquist, "it could be strangled in the bathtub". He told us that the tax cuts he planned for a class of people who already had more money than they knew what to do with would "trickle down" to the rest of us. His rival for the 1980 Republican nomination, George H-Dubya Bush, called it "voodoo economics". It was one of the few accurate things ever uttered by the senior Bush. I'm impressed.
Tax cuts for the rich and inflated spending on the military industrial complex; Reagan promised his clueless countrymen and women that he would do both while simultaneously balancing the budget. It never happened - or at least the balanced budget part never did. Today your country is in economic ruins. You can thank das gipper. The damage that that dirty old dingbat did to this once-great nation is so immense it will never be accurately assessed - it is incalculable.
And see the debt how big it's grown
But friends it hasn't been too long it wasn't big
In early nine-teen eighty-one
The debt that's now a redwood tree was just a twig
And Nixon I miss you
And I'm feeling blue
I've lost all of my senses
I'm nostalgic for you....
-To be sung to the tune of Bobby Goldsboro's maudlin classic, "Honey"
And in spite of all this, most of the American people, including some of us smart enough to know better (ATTENTION CHRIS MATTHEWS) are still blind to his damaged legacy. A few months ago on the Morning Joe program I was shocked as I watched the distinguished historian Douglas Brinkley refer to Reagan as one of our "great" presidents. If someone as smart as Brinkley doesn't get it, it's unlikely that most of the rest of us will be "getting it" any time soon.
There is at least one segment of our society where Ronald Reagan's poll numbers are in the single digits - among black people of course. How can that possibly be? That was a rhetorical question in case you were wondering.
Ronald Reagan was the most vehemently racist president since Woodrow Wilson. This is not merely my opinion, this is a fact that cannot be contested. It can be proven by a cursory examination of a quarter century of the man's misdeeds.
When Reagan was first vomited onto America's political stage in 1964, it was as a spokesman for Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign of that year. His two main talking points (aside from Medicaid and Medicare - or as he called them "socialized medicine") were Lyndon Johnson's proposed voting and civil rights acts. Reagan made no secret of the fact that he was against equal rights for all Americans.
Fast forward to the day in 1980 when he announced his candidacy for the presidency. Of all the thousands of places in the nation where he could have made the announcement, he chose Philadelphia - and I am not referring to the city of brotherly love where the Declaration of Independence was signed - I am referring to a shit stain on the map called Philadelphia, Mississippi; the town whose ONLY claim to fame was the brutal murder of three civil rights workers sixteen years earlier. Reagan couldn't overtly wage an "anti-nigger" campaign. He had to be a lot more subtle than that. If there was one thing that Ronnie and his henchmen were good at, it was subtlety. Without actually coming out and saying it, Reagan let the bigots know that Jim Crow would be given the red carpet treatment in his White House. It was an extension of Nixon's 1968 Southern Strategy - and it worked like a rancid breeze.
At this moment in history our previous president's popularity is as low as any ex-president since Herbert Hoover left office in 1933. That is as it should be. But why all the teary-eyed nostalgia for Reagan? People need to understand that everything George W. Bush did to us - Ronald Reagan tried to do to us - and would have had his party controlled both houses of congress. Fortunately that never happened.
As I said a couple of years ago, what needs to be remembered is that Ronald Reagan was essentially a mask, with a twinkle in its eye and a fine Irish smile. Remove that mask and what is revealed is the twisted, hideous smirk of George W. Bush. That is the real face of the so-called "Reagan Revolution".
On February 6, 1911, 100 years ago, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. Unlike most of the country, however, I didn't spend this day looking back on his presidency with any teary-eyed nostalgia. I won't celebrate the life of Ronald Reagan.