I did not intend to turn "Their reality has lapped our satire" into a series. Honest, I didn't. But what can I do? They just keep getting farther and farther out there.
So now what? What is so egregious as to justify a fifth edition of "Their reality has lapped our satire"? I will tell you. It is the continued deification of Ronald Reagan, mythology so absurd that the only way you can read it without laughing or crying is by taking all leave of reality. In summary, I really believe that if a columnist for the Villageville Advertiser wrote a column noting melting Arctic ice, she would be fired tomorrow, but if she opined that Ronald Reagan's bowel movements caused freedom, she would get a weekly column at the Wall Street Journal.
Cross-posted from My Left Wing.
The Reagan myth has been growing for years. Usually, it is premised upon some small bit of truth, even if the overall conclusions are idiocy. Here are a few examples:
Reagan is responsible for the downfall of the Soviet Union
No, he isn't. The Soviet Union collapsed for many reasons, but at base it was a flawed system destined to fail. There is a good argument, getting stronger every day, that Jimmy Carter should get a lot more credit, since his support of the Afghan rebels led to the Soviet Union's own "Vietnam," one far more internally destructive than our own. However, Reagan was in charge when it all started to crumble, and his escalation of the arms race may have accelerated their downfall.
Reagan stood strong against terror
No, he didn't. In fact, in two of the three biggest terror incidents he faced he showed what today's Republicans would call abject weakness. We skedaddled from Lebanon after the Marine barracks suicide bombing, and we bribed Iran. However, he did send a couple of carrier aircraft over Libya, created at least the appearance of strength, and that is enough on which to hang a myth.
Reagan led America back to a path of morality
Raped and murdered nuns, back-room arms deals, perjury, document destruction, and more were all the hallmarks of Iran-Contra. On the other hand, he signed the Mexico City policy, and zygotes are more important that living people, aren't they?
Reagan made us proud of America again
Not true. Anybody who lived through the Bicentennial celebrations remembers the enormous pride we all had in our country, even after Watergate and Vietnam. He did happen to take over when we were on a low, but pride never left.
Okay, so what is happening now? What has happened that justifies another "Their reality has lapped our satire" diary? THIS happened. Since McCain's defeat Republican "intellectuals" have been trying to create a new myth, that Ronald Reagan took up the reins of the Republican Party and brought it back from the Goldwater Debacle. Can that possibly be true? No, it can't. Can anybody even think it without a full suspension of belief? No, they can't. Why not?
Okay, let's start with the premise:
This is not the first time that conservatives and Republicans have stared into an electoral abyss. After Barry Goldwater's crushing 1964 defeat, most political observers thought the only future for the GOP was to become a centrist party only slightly to the right of Great Society Democrats.
Ronald Reagan didn't agree. In a trenchant column penned in the Dec. 1, 1964 issue of National Review, he argued that Americans had rejected only a false vision of conservatism as a radical departure from the status quo. Conservatives, he said, had only "lost a battle in the continuing war for freedom." Voters would rally to the conservative banner once they realized that Democratic liberals were the true radicals.
This vision of conservatism would succeed by pointing out how liberal values diverged from the American consensus, and by attracting to conservatism average Americans -- the Reagan Democrats. It is only a short distance from Reagan's words, penned in abject defeat in 1964, to the triumphs of 1984, 1994 and 2004.
Ronald Reagan, in other words, laid the path for Republicans to return from the wilderness in 1980 with his 1964 National Review column. There is only one problem with that. It is idiocy. Pure, blatant, comical idiocy. Republicans did not return from the wilderness in 1980, and Reagan's column was not the significant factor. Let us look, shall we, at the years from 1964 and 1980. I put in bold the things I think were more important to the 1980 election of Reagan than his 1964 column:
1964- LBJ, sworn in as President after JFK's death, signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At the time he said "We have lost the South for a generation," words far more relevant to the discussion we are having here than Reagan's column.
1965- LBJ was sworn in as the thirty-sixth President of the United States. He also signed the Voting Rights Act, allowing, for the first time, blacks to actually exercise their right to vote. In 1965 the Medicare Amendment was tacked on to the Social Security Act, creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs, ushering in LBJ's "Great Society" programs. 1965 also saw the Watts riots, angry black people on national television.
1966- The Vietnam War was escalating in 1966. Buddhist monks started to protest, and the South Vietnam government went back on their promise of elections. Race riots broke out in Lansing, Michigan.
1967- Newark burned and the National Guard was called in to quell riots in Detroit. The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Chinese explode a hydrogen bomb, and the Supreme Court rules in Loving v. Virginia. Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court, is sworn in.
1968- The Tet Offensive. Richard M. Nixon wins the Presidency with 301 electoral votes. He runs on the "Silent Majority," a direct response to anti-war demonstrations and race riots. He was a conservative in his day, a red-baiting McCarthyite of the first order.
Herein lies the fatal flaw in the Reagan mythology- how could Reagan be responsible for Republican ascendance when Republicans were already ascendent? Richard Nixon, and the equally evil Lee Atwater, created the "Southern Strategy" upon which Reagan would eventually rely, pitting "the Silent Majority" against blacks, hippies, and intellectuals.
1969- Nixon was sworn in as President. Warren Burger replaced Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, ushering out the liberal court and introducing a far more conservative era, one that lasts through today. Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Woodstock happened, and Kissinger started secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese. William Calley was charged for the My Lai Massacre. The first draft lottery since WWII is held.
1970- Kent State shootings, huge anti-war protests, and Nixon begins troop withdrawal in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan is reelected Governor of California, and Jimmy Carter is elected Governor of Georgia.
1971- South Vietnamese troops, with the backing of American air and artillery, invade Laos, a significant escalation of the Vietnam War. The first Dutch abortion clinic opens. Charles Manson and three followers are sentenced to death. Anti-war protests continue and the Supreme Court allows publication of The Pentagon Papers. Nixon takes us off gold and announces "Vietnamization." The US dollar is devalued for only the second time in its history.
1972- Nixon visits China. North Vietnamese walk out of peace talks. The United States resumes bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, then mines their harbors. Watergate. The Supreme Courts rules the death penalty is unconstitutional. Christmas bombing of North Vietnam.
Nixon wins a 520-17 electoral landslide. Again, how on (insert the deity of your choice)'s green earth could Reagan's 1964 commentary be responsible for Republican "resurgence" when Nixon won 49 states and more than 60% of the popular vote?! Did I mention that the whole idea is idiocy?
1973- Nixon announces a peace accord with North Vietnam. The dollar is again devalued. The Watergate scandal starts to get legs, as James W. McCord Jr. admits that he and other defendants have been pressured to remain silent about the case and Halderman and Ehrlichman resign. Televised Senate hearings start in May. We overthrow the government of Chile. Agnew resigns, Ford is sworn in, and Nixon announces "I am not a crook." The Supreme Court passes Roe v. Wade.
1974- The oil crisis. The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee adopts 3 articles of impeachment charging President Richard M. Nixon with obstruction of justice, failure to uphold laws, and refusal to produce material subpoenaed by the committee and the Supreme Court rules Nixon must respond to subpoenas. Nixon resigns, and Democrats make big gains in mid-term elections.
Really, folks, what do you think changed the political landscape more for 1980, Nixon's resignation in 1974 or Reagan's column ten years earlier?
1975- Margaret Thatcher leads the Conservative Party. North Vietnamese troops capture Saigon. The Lebanese Civil War begins. Ronald Reagan announces he will run against Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976.
1976- The United States celebrates its Bicentennial, to nation-wide celebrations. Jimmy Carter defeats Ford in a fairly close election, 297 to 240. Carter, Georgia's Governor, wins southern states closed off to Democrats since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Ford pays the price for pardoning Nixon.
August 19, 1976- Ford defeats Reagan, gets Republican nomination. Really, what more do you need to determine that the whole "Reagan's 1964 column set the stage" than this? Reagan LOST. Lost lost lost.
1977- Carter creates the Department of Energy, and Sadat and Begin meet for the first time.
1978- Ted Bundy is captured, the Hillside Strangler claims his tenth and final victim, and John Wayne Gacey confesses to 33 murders. Jimmy Carter suspends the neutron bomb. California passes Proposition 13. The Supreme Court rules against quotas in University of California Regents v. Bakke.
1979- The Shah of Iran flees the country and Khomeini seizes power. Three Mile Island. Jimmy Carter is attacked by a rabbit while fishing. John Spinkelink is executed in Florida, the first use of the electric chair since the death penalty was re-instituted in 1976. Carter and Brezhnev sign Salt II. Jimmy Carter signs the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. Chrysler gets a $1B bailout. Tens of thousands march in DC for gay rights. Iran hostage crisis, and Carter halts oil importation from Iran and freezes their assets. Ted Kennedy announces he will run against Carter in 1980. The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.
1980- Carter announces a grain embargo against the Soviet Union. Abscam. Carter announces a Summer Olympic boycott. New York City's Transit Union strikes for 11 days. Carter orders 19 and 20 year olds to register for the draft. Reagan is nominated, with the support of the Religious Right. The Republican Convention also drops from its plank support for the Equal Rights Amendment. The Mariel Boatlift. Reagan wins in a 489-49 electoral landslide.
Folks, the ongoing deification of Reagan has gone from the merely ridiculous to the patently absurd. It is no longer even slightly based in reality. The Republican reality, that Ronald Reagan is the alpha and the omega, has become so comical it can not even be satirized. Once again, their reality has lapped our satire.
UPDATE- I got a few things wrong. In particular, Lee Atwater post-dated Nxon by a decade. Read the comments for more, and thanks to everybody for comments.