There they go again, trying to whitewash the legacy of Ronald Reagan. As his centennial approaches, Republicans are trying to make us remember what THEY want us to remember about Reagan. Mainstream Republicans argue that the Tea Party is disgracing Reagan’s legacy. But they’re forgetting how Reagan created the template and blueprint for them. The Tea Party is following the Reagan playbook at every step.
Since his death, Ronald Reagan has been lionized and canonized by the American media. Perhaps the greatest myth, and one of the greatest spin jobs in history, is the notion that Reagan’s foreign policy brought the collapse of the Soviet Union . Communism was a flawed political-economic theory whose weaknesses caused it to collapse upon itself. Communism was an ideology built on lies, corruption and the abuse of the very workers it espoused to honor. By accelerating the arms race, and draining American resources for greater needs, Reagan is falsely given credit for bankrupting the Soviet economy. The Soviet political economy had been bankrupt for 70 years, and the military infrastructure was “painted rust.” Sure, Reagan outspent them. But at what cost to us?
The Gipper, The Great Communicator and the Father of the Conservative movement has been lionized as “the sunny guy who brought us ‘Morning In America.'” He is fondly remembered as a genial man and effective governor and president. Effective at what?
What am I not remembering here? What are THEY not remembering here?
Reagan and his cadre never were good sports. I remember The Great Communicator as being the master of double-speak, namely of accusing the opposition of his own sins. Reagan and his boys paved the way for all the excesses of both Bush administrations; “excesses” is a euphemism for a lot of bad things:
Reagan was the first president to brazenly place foxes in charge of the hen houses at the Cabinet level. Reagan Attorneys General Edwin Meese and William French Smith viciously attacked the very civil rights and equal protection laws they were charged with upholding. Until Reagan, affirmative action was a sacred program that gave hope to impoverished Americans. Under Reagan’s watch it became fashionable to punish people for being poor.
Under Reagan, James Watt and Ann Burford Gorsuch were placed in charge of the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agencies. Their legacies were to auction off the precious natural resources they were charged to protect. Watt gave us the side show of ethnic jokes that managed to offend blacks, women and Jews in one spiel. Gorsuch gave us the Superfund scandal. Remember?
Under Reagan, school lunch programs were severely cut back or eliminated. Ketchup was declared to be a vegetable in order to satisfy nutritional requirements.
Under Reagan, pre-natal medical and nutritional programs for low-income and working mothers were ended. Children died as a result; so did some mothers before they could give birth.
Under Reagan, more high-level government officials were indicted than in any administration in history
Under Reagan, the bizarre fantasy known as “Star Wars” was given billions of dollars and legs. More than 25 years later, it is still walking and soaking up even more billions to protect us from a threat that no longer exists. But it’s great campaign fodder, so it lives.
Under Reagan, most Federal job training and employment programs were ended.
Under Reagan, food stamp allowances were reduced and the new requirements made many needy people ineligible.
Under Reagan, the Legal Aid Corporation was eviscerated. This enabled unscrupulous landlords, corporations and utility companies to abuse consumers, with the confidence that the people they’re stealing from wouldn’t be able to get effective legal assistance to fight them.
Under Reagan, the US went from being the world’s largest creditor to being the largest debtor nation. Until Reagan, a balanced budget was a sacred cow of the Republican philosophy. Under Reagan, the federal budget suddenly became a tool to eliminate the many programs that Roosevelt and LBJ initiated to help people get fed, find housing and jobs, and get medical care. This ushered in the mean-spirited conservative agenda; they eliminated programs they didn’t like by eliminating the revenue through tax cuts and budget cuts. Out of this evolved Newt Gingrich’s now dubious “Contract With America” and the mean-spirited, draconian policies of both Bush Administrations.
Under Reagan, the US military became a tool of political jingoism not seen since Theodore Roosevelt. Superfluous excursions in Grenada and Panama , among other countries did a lot to boost ratings, but not much for national security.
Under Reagan, ketchup became a vegetable. That’s always been my favorite. Reagan’s cutbacks in the federal school lunch program elicited criticism that there was no longer funding to provide a “balanced diet” to schoolchildren, including fresh vegetables. Reagan argued that ketchup is a vegetable because it is red and comes from tomatoes. The “liberal” media yucked it up about that one for few days and then forgot about it as soon as the next outrage got their attention.
Under Reagan, we had our first American president honor Nazi war dead at Bitteburg , Germany .
Under Reagan, it suddenly became dangerous for Americans to travel abroad to countries where we had previously been welcomed. US Foreign Policy under Reagan manifested a profound ignorance about geopolitics, the balance of power and other issues. This led to an epidemic of American diplomats and businesspeople getting kidnapped or killed, including one of my undergrad professors, Mr. Adolph (Spike) Dubs.
Under Reagan, it became OK to sell military supplies to a declared enemy (Iran) and use those profits to prosecute an illegal war ( Nicaragua ), and oust other popular elected officials (El Salvador). Under Bush Jr., it became OK to re-hire the people who enabled that scandal into sensitive national security positions.
Under Reagan, it was considered acceptable to have made a deal with the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in advance of the 1980 Election, in order to ensure that the American hostages would remain in captivity until after the election. What could be more unconscionable? Reagan used American lives as political fodder before he was even elected. They were released the day he was inaugurated.
Under Reagan, the American ayatollahs were also empowered. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other religious right-wing ideologues were brought into the policy-making fold. That led to the ongoing agenda to eliminate a woman’s right to choose a full range of health care options, and not just abortion. It led to censorship of textbooks that didn’t give equal time to creationism as the theory of evolution. It’s not unfair to argue that Reagan’s giving political legitimacy to Falwell and Robertson, was the precursor to Bush Jr.’s “Faith Based Initiatives” that so brazenly dishonor our separation of church and state.
Under Reagan, the need to humor and dignify the religious right led to years of denial and inactivity, while the AIDS crisis reached epidemic proportions. Since AIDS was considered a “gay disease”, Reagan didn’t dare utter the word for his first six years in office.
Under Reagan the Camp David plan for peace in the Middle East came to a grinding halt. Clinton re-started the process to great acclamation and hope, and Bush Jr. let it die again. Is there a pattern here? Reagan turned a blind eye to Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians, demonized the leaders of a legitimate national liberation movement and ended any pretense of dealing with Israel and the Palestinians in an evenhanded manner. He enabled the hate mongering and brutality of Manachem Begin, Benjamin Natanyahu and Ariel Sharon. The US response to Israel ‘s incursion into Lebanon was to do and say nothing, even when Sharon enabled the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982.
American Middle East policy was notably uneven under Reagan, supporting Sharon ‘s illegal settlement campaign and saying nothing when the Israeli Army committed atrocities against Palestinian civilians. Israel has a right to defend itself and must do so. But expanding the settlements into Palestinian territory, pirating water and agricultural resources and collective punishment do not serve Israel ‘s interests. Reagan supported these counter-productive policies more than any other American administration.
One lasting memory shall always be seeing Reagan running for a helicopter with his hand cupped to his ear, pretending to strain to hear a reporter’s question. He would then shake his head dismissively; flash a big smile and exit to the parade wave. He might as well have been saying, “I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote.”
For various reasons, I took Reagan’s agenda very personally. My completing a Master’s degree at the University of Michigan coincided with Reagan’s taking office in 1981. In those first 3 months:
The job I had been offered through the (CETA) Comprehensive Employment and Training Act was eliminated because Reagan ended the program as “wasteful, liberal spending.”
My access to legal counsel to fight an unscrupulous landlord was suddenly ended when Reagan cut the budget for the Legal Aid Corporation by 90%.
My access to medical care ended because the clinic I had gone to in Ann Arbor closed due to a cut in Federal funding.
My access to government assistance with staggering utility bills was eliminated.
I was punished by Reagan for having just finished grad school without a trust fund or job to fall back on. I actually had secured a job, but that was eliminated a week before I was scheduled to start, when Reagan de-funded the CETA program. In the meantime, billions were spent on weapons programs that were obsolete before any actual hardware was produced.
Before Reagan, there really WAS a compassionate brand of conservatism. There was also a Ripon Party, a “liberal” wing of the Republican Party that advocated a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility. They got kicked out of the Republican “big tent” under Reagan to make room for Falwell and the Moral Majority.
Indeed, children died from widespread malnutrition engendered by Reagan’s policies. People froze to death because they could no longer get help to pay huge bills that had suddenly spiked. People were wrongfully evicted from their homes because they couldn’t find the legal resources to fight bad landlords. Morning in America ? It was mourning for many people.
Reagan cut off the disability allowances for 1000’s of Americans in need, and left “Centers for Independent Living” to struggle. He also “de-institutionalized” 1000’s of mentally disabled Americans; thus planting the seeds for the current explosion of the homeless population. The gifts of the Reagan legacy keep on giving.
Oh my gosh! I almost forgot to mention the Savings & Loan scandal and Reagan’s de-regulation of the banking and securities industries. Oh yes, those little gifts to the geriatric millionaires in Tiburon and Malibu who served as Reagan’s “informal circle of advisers.” What did they wrought? This opened the door for merger upon merger upon mega-merger, de-regulation of de-regulations, and the financial catastrophe of 2008-10.
Reagan’s deregulation stripped away the barriers of both vertical and horizontal integration, enabling companies to buy companies they know nothing about, only to break them up, sell off the parts and wreck thousands of careers, lives and dreams. It has allowed companies to buy up entire sectors of a production, distribution and marketing process. Anti-trust laws used to prevent such things, but Reagan decided it was good.
Merger upon merger limits consumer choices and gives corporations undue power to control the marketplace. Don’t like the increasingly limited programming choices in the radio market? Thank Reagan. Don’t like the dwindling number of mom and pop businesses that were run out by Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and the like? Thank Reagan.
Reagan introduced the notion that the corporation knows what’s best for the rest of the world, and that what’s good for them is good for everybody. That’s how we got here.
Most notably, Reagan paved the way for the mendacity, secrecy, wrongful claims of executive privilege and mean spirit of both Bush Administrations. Let us remember the Reagan legacy more clearly than they want us to. Let us remember that both Bush presidencies, and the framework of the Tea Party is a twisted evolution of ideas that began by throwing bones to the religious right, and evolved to letting the inmates run the asylum.
H. Scott Prosterman
16 February 2011