Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Reagan Delusion

"As Democracy is perfected, the office (of president) represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts' desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."  HL Mencken, 1920

Former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford once referred to Ronald Reagan as an "amiable dunce," but Reagan's not the "downright moron" I was referring to. At least Reagan had principles. But there is a direct line leading from Ronald Reagan, to George W. Bush, to Sarah Palin. His "Trickle Down" economic theory was mocked by his then political rival and future Vice President. G.H.W. Bush, as "Voodoo Economics." But his most glaring error, the "Big Lie," was his pronouncement that, "Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." Thus began the era of public distrust of government to solve problems, and the embryonic stages of what is now the Tea Party movement.

I was astonished that Reagan was ever elected in the first place. After a career in "B" movies and a stint as a shill for General Electric and Chesterfield cigarettes, he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, where his impact was felt during the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee witch-hunts of the fifties. Appearing before the committee, Reagan blamed labor unions for "Communist infiltration of Hollywood," and this was when he was still a Democrat. He switched parties in 1962, arguing that the "Democrats had left him." Conveniently, this was in the heart of the Civil Rights era and Reagan had political ambitions to follow his fellow "hoofer" and Republican, George Murphy, into the California Governor's office. Having never held political office before, Reagan won the Governor's race on a "Law and Order" platform in 1966, just in time to preside over the worst period of social unrest since the Civil War.

Reagan assumed state office with all the paternalistic and patronizing attitudes of the "War and Whiskey Generation" concerning the impertinent hippie protesters. After an anti-war demonstration at Berkeley where police used deadly force to suppress the protesters, Reagan said this about restoring order on California college campuses: "If it takes a blood bath, let's get it over with now."  He later attempted to explain that he was only using a "figure of speech," but consider that Reagan's daughter, Patti, was an anti-war activist and quasi-hippie. Would he wish for a "blood bath" if it included his own child? As a Vietnam War objector, I was revulsed by the blind ignorance that prevented the rabid right from understanding that these young people protesting in the street were not "Communist agitators," but their own children. Reagan parlayed his bellicosity into a commodity and was marketed and sold by the GOP as the old cold-warrior who could restore our tough guy image in the world after the impotent Jimmy Carter refused to turn Iran into a nuclear, glassine sandbox.

It was no accident that Reagan began his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the location of one of the civil rights era's most gruesome and murderous crimes. It sent a message about which side of the racial divide he was on and further capitalized on Nixon's "Southern strategy" of 1968, where the GOP actively courted white southerners disaffected by the civil rights legislation of the Johnson years. It was a foreshadowing of the heartless budget cuts the Reagan administration would make in social programs, and the mindless, unlimited cash machine they would offer to the military. "Government is the problem" is a good campaign slogan if you intend to be a reformer, but Reagan ran up the highest deficits in history, ramped up the arms race, and secretly sold weapons to the very regime that had held our diplomats hostage, in order to arm anti-government rebels in Nicaragua. Does that sound like less government to you?

Even Reagan's "aw shucks" speeches for which he was best known were a construction to burnish his uber-patriot image. The "Shining city on a hill," and "It's morning in America," weren't Reagan's words, they were Peggy Noonan's. Yet despite the sunny rhetoric, there were consequences to the abandonment of the poor and helpless. It was during Reagan's term that the rise of inner-city and ghetto gang membership exploded and began to establish franchises in other major cities. Reagan's term saw the creation of violent rap music and the spread of gun violence. And it was in Reagan's term, during his "Just Say No" campaign against drug use, that crack cocaine first hit the streets of California and spread into a nationwide scourge. There is now no question that the CIA planes that delivered arms to the Nicaraguan Contras, returned home filled with cocaine. The San Jose Mercury newspaper first reported that crack cocaine was invented, manufactured and distributed in urban areas by the CIA, but they were forced to print a retraction when their sources recanted.

The conservative "Just Say No" policy on drugs during the Reagan era is their same policy on nearly everything today, especially when it comes to "family values."  In fact, Reagan was the first to recruit right-wing activist Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell as presidential advisers, a post previously held exclusively by Billy Graham. And the eternal Republican talking point that Reagan "ended the cold war" is like crediting Pat Boone with the invention of Rock n' Roll. He deserves credit for his consistent anti-Communist stance, as do Lech Walesa, and Vlaclav Havel, and many others, but since the Wall fell on his watch, he gets bragging rights. He also deserves credit for being a much better actor than I thought. He nearly fooled all of the people all of the time, and left it to his successor to accept the consequences for raising taxes. Nonetheless, he succeeded in convincing an entire generation of the false notion that government is an intrinsic evil that must be restricted. The result is the GOP of today. They want smaller government and less governmental intrusion until a BP oil rig blows up in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, all the former proponents of "small government" find themselves standing on a metaphorical rooftop, holding on to a big sign that says, "Help Us!"


Anonymous said...

One of your best ever, Randy. I'm ready to read the thin arguments to this now......

Anonymous said...

I loved this column!!!

But, just to be fair -- Peggy Noonan did not come up with that "shining city on a hill" piece. It is derived from the Bible (Matthew) and was first used in the New World in 1630 by Puritan John Winthrop before landing in Massachusetts Bay. It has been cited repeatedly by politicians since then. (Read Sarah Vowel's "Wordy Shipmates" for more about Winthrop, Puritans, and separation of church and state -- excellent)

Aurabass said...

In one of life's great ironies Reagan gained office over Southern Baptist Sundsy school teacher Jimmy Carter on the backs of the cultural south led by Southern Baptist churches.
After reading AMERICAN THEOCRACY by Kevin Phillips
I am not at all sure this current situation isn't inevitable on a much deeper level than I had thought. The book is quite scary in what it portends for the future of this country as it is.
You hit the nail on the head in so many ways with this Randy and if you add the information in Phillips book to the idea you may see even more danger in our future.

Anonymous said...

No comment!

Anonymous said...

This video completely exonerates the attack by the Iraelis upon the ship that was purportedly carrying humanitarian aide to the Palestinians. After a search of the ship, behind the food, etc., the Israelis uncovered all kinds of artillery and ammunition.

There were howls of protests against the Israeli's use of deadly force by very obvious anti-semites. The fact that what this video reveals was not front page news is a testimony to the corruption of the American mainline media. I am cynical enough to believe that the suppression of this revelation can be traced back to Obama who is manifestly pro-Muslim and anti- Israel regardless of his bullshit to the contrary. How much longer will Israel tolerate Obama?

Anonymous said...

This video completely exonerates the Israelis who boarded the ship that was purportedly carrying humanitarian aide to the Palestinians. Once in port and after an inspection of the cargo, lots of artillery and ammunition was uncovered behind the food, etc.

There were numerous howls of protests against the deadly force exercised by the Israelis by those who are manifestly anti-semitic. The fact that this video is not front page news is a testimony to the corruption of the American mainline media. I am cynical enough to believe that the source of this suppression can be traced back to someone in the Obama administration. Obama is blatantly pro-Muslim and anti-semitic in spite of the blather that he spouts to the contrary. How much longer will the Jews tolerate Obama? And, don't forget how he recently dissed Netanyahu. Obama has visited a number of Muslim countries and profusely kissed the asses of their heads of state, but has not visited Israel and has all but ignored them. This is an outrageous way for an American president to behave in regard to Israel.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how the 2 previous comments relate to your current blog Sputnik, but I guess this is democracy in action... ha ha...

Anyway, regarding Bonzo's co-star (Bedtime for Bonzo. starred Bonzo the Chimp, raygun was the co-star), I always figured that Reagan had alzheimers prior to being elected. They just announced his ailment AFTER he left office. Not much faith in the electorate.... then, or now!


Anonymous said...

No one wants to do away with government. There is a rightful place for government if it follows the limits set upon it by the Constitution. However, I get the feeling that you don't have much use for the Constitution. Most progressives don't. I can't believe that you blame Reagan for the proliferation of gangs in America. That is a new bit of heresy to me. Both progressives and conservatives tend to blow things out of proportion and to twist the truth in the forum of ideas. I wish everyone would try harder to stick with the truth, but then someone once said that there is no truth outside the gates of Eden, and all you have to do to verify this is to closely moniter the media and read bullshit, politically slanted, leftist blogs like this one.

Anonymous said...

I saw the video of the Israelis discovering weapons on the ship that was supposed to be delivering aide to the Palestinians. I too would like to know why this hasn't been revealed on the news. All I heard was journalists demonizing the Jews for a supposed unprovoked, murderous assault on a group engaging in a 'peaceful mission'. Why are the Israelis not being justified in the actions that they took before the whole world? This is off subject, but I would like to hear an explanation if there is one. I have heard that anti-semitism is on the rise throughout the world and all of this tends to lend support to that contention. And, don't forget Helen Thomas' recent atrocious attack on Israel. Don't you think that what she said will make the Muslims feel justified in their genocide against the Jews and incite further depredations? Why are people suddenly turning on the Jews? I too suspect that Obama sides with the Muslims. Why are the Jews taking this sitting down? This is deadly serious stuff.

Anonymous said...

A Jew speaks truth to the U.N. despots. I rest my case in regard to the growing anti-semitism throughout the world. Where are the voices of outrage? Where are the defenders of Israel?

Amanda Reckonwith said...

Excellent job, Randy.

YOU WRITE: Would he wish for a "blood bath" if it included his own child?

Why not? The man was so disconnected -- from his children, from reality, from authentic human emotions -- I doubt it would have made a difference. The world was a stage.

I remember reading an account by his brother, Neil, back when they were young adults. Ron was driving, and Neil realized he was going to drive right past a stop sign. "Stop!" he yelled at Ron, just in time.

Ron then asked, "How did you know to stop?" He couldn't believe that Neil would have seen a stop sign that he, Ron, didn't see.

In technical terms, this type of "denial" is called anosognosia, and it's common in psychiatric conditions affecting the frontal lobes. Ronald Reagan's version of reality was that there was no stop sign. How could his brother have another version of reality?

Finally, it was determined that Ron was markedly near-sighted. The account didn't mention if he wore glasses because of that. At least I don't remember that.

Personally, I suspect his missing the stop sign and his nearsightedness had nothing to do with his eyes, so it's unlikely corrective lenses would be useful. I think it had to do with his brain (vision is largely a function of the brain). It's not out of the question that he suffered from AD/HD, Inattentive subtype.

The world just didn't appear in sharp focus to him. He saw the world through a scrim and came to life only when stimulated by thoughts of his glorious military career, his football career as The Gipper, and being Leader of the Free World.

Amanda Reckonwith said...

"There is a rightful place for government if it follows the limits set upon it by the Constitution."

I just love it when teabaggers leave their ditto-head calling cards. It's so easy to scan for them and thus waste no time reading the blather.

amanda Reckonwith said...

BAH wrote: It was no accident that Reagan began his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the location of one of the civil rights era's most gruesome and murderous crimes.


I had no idea.

Sputnik57 said...

Mr. Anon,
You're so eager to defend Israel's actions that you don't even care that it's not the subject being discussed here.
I know many people who will never, EVER, take issue with or criticise Israel. It's like talking religion with a zealot, there's just no point in it.
There is a difference between the state of Israel and its constitution, and the transient governments that come and go. Right now, Israel is suffering under the Bush-like leadership of Bibi Netanyahu, who feels the solution to every problem is the military.
God, how I miss Yitzhak Rabin.

amanda Reckonwith said...

So true, Sputnik57. Israel is stuck with Nutty Yahoo the way we were stuck with Bush.

BTW, Anonymous recommends "Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowel. I do, too. Should be required reading in high school.