This upcoming February 6th marks the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Ronald Wilson Reagan. Conservative luminaries will once again memorialize this man and his memory in reverent, hushed tones; others will speak of him with the kind of zeal usually reserved for deity in an old fashioned Sunday “go- to- meeting” tent revival as they espouse his philosophies and quote him freely with supplications for the “good ol’ days” of his presidency.
It’s no accident that the general Body Politic continues to bestow a kind of benevolent fondness for Reagan nearly 3 decades after he turned over the White House keys to Bush 41. Notwithstanding any “nostalgia” attached to that era, it would be counter-intuitive for contemporary American broadcast media - the majority of which is owned, operated and scripted by conservatives - to willingly admit to the ongoing effects of Reagan’s presidency all these years later: the work of a man who spent the greater part of his time in elected public service deliberately unravelling the structural fabric of a modern America that had been carefully woven at a terrible cost of blood and treasure for the 204 years that preceded him. As it is, the media pundits’ rosy embellishment of the influence Reagan has had on the soul of this country obscures a contrived decades-old endemic propagation of situational morality and disregard for facts. That his “legacy” has changed America is certainly beyond all doubt. However 26 years after his departure from the White House, that legacy continues to tear this country apart.
And so below the fold I present a detailed retrospective as seen through the eyes of someone who has been fated to survive in Reagan’s America for nearly half of my lifetime with all the trappings and implications that his policies and influence created.
Warning: it isn’t pretty.
An ex Hollywood B-list actor from the 1940s and 50s whose neoconservative political inclinations found their roots in Robert Welch’s John Birch Society and later an intellectual brother in Barry Goldwater, Reagan launched his political career and developed his style of leadership at the expense of the infirm, troubled, unemployed and elderly of California. From the beginning, his tenure as governor was fraught with systematic political, social and economic deconstruction, de-funding and dismissal of everyone and everything from disabled people to ancient growth redwood forests. In the 60s when I lived in Long Beach he was widely held by most of my contemporaries in the same regard as a wandering neighborhood dog with incontinence: “Where Reagan goes, nothing grows.” His mutilation of California’s public school system, his unprecedented expansion of the California prison system, his creation of his bigoted “welfare queen” fable used to denigrate people using public assistance, his emptying of the mental hospitals that had received funding through MediCal, his de-funding of state-sponsored care for the elderly - all of this done to reverse former governor Pat Brown’s policies in his rabidly enthusiastic obsession to eliminate anything that could possibly be considered “socialism” - and then dispatching National Guard helicopters to gas protestors of the Vietnam war in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act which had prohibited the use of U.S. military force on U.S. soil against American citizens for a hundred years - these were but a few of the benchmark indicators that would hint at the nature of a future Reagan presidency, his contempt for the average middle class American citizen and the laws designed to protect them. Even 3,000 year old redwood trees meant nothing to this man but revenue generation for fence lumber destined to surround millions of California tract houses, since “…if you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” - this from the mind who would later appoint James Watt as Secretary of the Interior.
Later, taken altogether, Reagan’s actions as President were imbued with a vigor usually reserved for someone hell-bent on overthrowing his own government through subversion and sedition with an eye towards the creation of a dictatorial oligarchy.
I don’t make these observations lightly; however the historical evidence speaks for itself::
- He started an open-ended ideological war on organized labor in 1981 by unilaterally killing the air traffic controller union that was attempting to bargain for better technology and working conditions to do their jobs safely - silly little things that apparently weren’t sufficiently important enough to consider in negotiations with any “socialist union”... this from someone who was a former president of one of America’s best known unions: the Screen Actors' Guild. And I guess we’re supposed to forget that the 1980s were the worst decade in American aviation history for collisions, crashes and hijackings. Might there be a correlation? You decide….
- He issued blanket amnesty in 1986 (back then the neocon buzzword used was “legalization”) for the 3 million undocumented immigrants who were bleeding our local government services dry even back then. Amnesty for brown people?! Isn’t that something a “liberal” would do?! However, as usual with Reagan, there was always an undisclosed agenda: his generous political contributors in California’s Imperial Valley agribusinesses needed cheaper labor to be more competitive with products being imported from Peru and Costa Rica, so why not "bend a few rules" for the sake of free enterprise in a high-handed attempt to smother the United Farm Workers union that had been a slap in his face in the 60s? Although it eventually recovered from the onslaught of border jumpers and stabilized its ranks, the effect on the UFW was long-lasting and resulted in the exact opposite effect of what Reagan had intended: it alienated Hispanic people from the republican party even more than before by demonstrating its contempt for them and willingness to use them as political footballs.
- Continuing his domestic assault on “socialist” America, Reagan issued an executive order to the FCC that repealed the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting in 1987. This allowed conservative media moguls to yell "Fire!" in a crowded building without fear of any consequences. This was about the time that Rush Limbaugh fired up his cigar and started broadcasting his brand of political pornography while Roger Ailes began to introduce his own special brand of revisionist news broadcasting through Fox.
- Instead of putting a stop to the systematic rape of the Social Security fund to pay for congressional pork barrel projects and his “star wars” program - then stuffing the fund with I.O.Us that republicans never had any intentions of repaying in order to starve it to death - he jacked up Social Security taxes on the baby boomer generation and raised the retirement age for eligibility in order to “save” it. In fact Reagan also raised taxes overall 12 times while he was in office… because he HAD to, after making good on an earlier campaign promise, slashing the top tax rate from 70% to 28% in 1983 that later threatened to bankrupt the country. In later tax code manipulation, it may be noted that relief given to the upper 10% of income earners was never reversed, but the increases required to make up for the revenue deficits he originally created came directly out of the middle class - hit especially hard by the 1986 Tax “Reform” Act.
- His introduction of “trickle down" economics in the form of financial industry deregulation and tax code manipulation resulted in stuffing the pockets of banks, corporations and Pentagon contractors at the expense of America’s future middle class. Among the several components of supply-side legislation that Reagan and his administration managed to push through Congress were the elimination of the oil windfall profits tax and eliminating certain lower income bracket tax deductions that were advantageous to middle class homeowners and private investors with portfolios smaller than an investment firm. Even his own appointed budget director, David Stockman, would later point out that it was a contrived plan from the beginning to implement the largest redistribution of wealth that the world would ever know, continuing even today. “Trickle-down" became the mantra for American business that governed everything from hiring practices to executive compensation. Shortly thereafter the fallacy of basing a democratic republic’s economy on supply- side unrestricted capitalism began to manifest itself in the Savings and Loan crisis. Although the Savings and Loan industry had been made somewhat vulnerable to speculation by President Carter having signed S & L deregulation into law in 1980, he could not have foreseen the aggressive, predatory pursuit of value manipulation on real estate that was then sold to investors as options once controls, safeguards and tax laws were further weakened. The Savings and Loan debacle was but the first symptom of what would culminate in the collapse of America’s economy 20 years later on September 14, 15 and 16, 2008 when the house of cards that was built on the republican mantra of unrestricted, unregulated “trickle down” capitalism came crashing down on the banking and real estate industry. Everybody tried to spin it as a “recession”… and for the stratospheric upper 10% who benefitted from Reagan’s generosity with America’s treasure (later extended and made even more lucrative by the Bush 43 administration), that’s what it probably did look like. For the rest of us it was a depression….and to this day this country is still struggling with the consequences while the middle class continues to die off…
Need a few more examples? Reagan’s foreign policy “legacy” mirrors the quality of his domestic leadership:
- Reagan invited the Taliban high command to the White House in 1982 during the Afghan war with Russia and promised to arm them to the teeth in exchange for long-term diplomatic relationships in Afghanistan and the remote mountains of Pakistan. That one turned out really well, didn't it?
- After the 1983 Marine barracks massacre in Beirut, Reagan pulled out from the entire country, lock, stock and barrel - every pot, pan, copy of Mad magazine and candy bar. By today’s standard this was a cut-n'-run move that would raise howls of vituperative criticism from every neocon in North America if somebody else did that. This is conclusive proof that if something that a conservative does is a double standard and you ignore it, there's no longer a double standard.
- As a result of under-the-radar meetings between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, Reagan approved almost unlimited support for Iraq’s military expansion in the region as a hedge against Iran, and was probably responsible for providing them with the nerve gas used to kill the Kurds…. unused and unsecured stockpiles of which later likely fell into the hands of the Syrian military and were recently used against civilians in the current civil war there …
- Reagan sanctioned and instigated a clandestine war in Central America that he financed by selling TOW missiles to Iran - which, several months earlier, had held American hostages for 444 days and was a sworn enemy of the United States - and laundered the money through Saudi Arabia in an attempt to hide the transactions. As a riff on a Reagan-style attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Nicaraguan people, his lackeys in the CIA resorted to throwing living nuns out of helicopters to terrorize the Catholic civilian population into submission as subterfuge against the socialist Sandinistas. In other words he went to war without the consent of Congress and illegally obtained funding by selling arms to a declared enemy employing vulgar methods of terrorism to bend the will of people in a foreign country. Any sane mind would easily regard this as a brazen act of treason by a depraved despot- but since it was on Reagan’s watch, nobody could remember anything as soon as they were caught. No: it was…“…just helping that gosh-darn liberty thing march forward, by golly.”
One of the more telling incidents which revealed how Reagan’s mind was wired to parse reality was documented in an article by Alexander Cockburn which chronicled a meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in which he told Shamir that he was part of the Auschwitz liberation force in World War 2 and that he had personally filmed documentary evidence of the Holocaust at that concentration camp. He is also said to have told this story to Los Angeles Rabbi Martin Hier; however the problem with that claim was that Reagan never left North America during the entire tenure of the war because of his visual acuity - his stateside job in uniform as a representative of the Armed Forces was to promote the sale of war bonds to a civilian population already saddled with rationing, food coupons and stagnant wartime wages. This experience would prove to be invaluable later in his career, eventually becoming the one thing for which he would be remembered above all else.
Another example: contrary to one of the more widely broadcast right-wing fables, Reagan could no more have claimed responsibility for the fall of the Soviet Union than could the mythological Greek god Bacchus for inventing grapes. the Soviets were already well on their way to collapse under the weight of their own "trickle down" policy called "communism”. Gorbachov had no choice but to “tear down that wall” because East Berlin and, for that matter, most of Communist Eastern Europe was on the verge of total social and economic collapse. The Soviet military hadn’t been paid in months, there was no available employment and little food in East Germany and, to make matters worse, winter was coming. People will generally tolerate an amazing amount of abuse from their government before they get angry enough to revolt, but they never tolerate blizzards, poverty and starvation all at once. Most analysts familiar with the situation agree that had “Gorby” not relented by capitulating in the face of the two Germanys desire to re-unify, he would have had another 1918-style revolution on his hands and a bloodbath rivaling anything that Stalin did that could easily have spread to every corner of the Soviet bloc. Bolshevik Communism was a failure - and in fact had been a failure for a decade before Reagan went to Berlin.
And if all that wasn’t enough, he and his wife were observed to heavily rely on astrology to assist in his decision-making.
He did have one talent that was an order of magnitude above all others that came before him - in the spirit of the best hucksters, fixers and snake oil salesmen from the past, Reagan was an unexcelled master at making Americans feel good about being swindled without them realizing that their future was being auctioned off to the highest bidder while in practice, this country’s collective reputation for compassion, justice and fairness were summarily discarded for the sake of political expediency on both the international and domestic stage. All he had to do was obtain some television air-time, speak in those cozy Zane Gray Theater dulcet tones with his “aw, shucks" easiness that people ate up like cotton candy and nobody would care what the man did or consider any of the potential consequences after he was done. The majority of voting America at the time - my parents’ generation (aka that “silent majority”) - wouldn’t have batted an eyelash since they were convinced that whatever he did was a patriotic necessity to “…ensure America’s strength at home and abroad…”: and his popularity figures among the 35-70 year old voters from his time in office bear this out.
It takes a vicious opportunist with a highly developed understanding of the exploitable vulnerabilities in human nature to effectively sell something to people that will seriously degrade their quality of life: and that's why the Republican Party in general and conservatives in particular prostrate themselves over the memory of this man, venerating him as a champion of conservative morality. Contrary to the contemporary opinions of those who insist on creating revisionist history sympathetic to his public service, the factual political legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan is that he developed an amazingly effective process to con America into consistently vote contrary to its own best interests by repurposing America’s broadcast media from an entertainment and information delivery system into a consolidated political weapon of mass destruction. The Republican Party has used this methodology with zealous evangelism for nearly 30 years, and no other master of deception among them (with the possible two exceptions of Carl Rove or Rush Limbaugh) has been able to propagate intellectual syphilis on such a stunning order of magnitude ever since. In that respect the damage Reagan did to the United States of America during the 8 long years of his tenure as President has had more profound long-term consequences for future generations than everything else to which his administration could lay claim (at least before Bush 43). As recent acts of terrorism in the Middle East have shown, once a mind deliberately kept from exposure to critical thinking becomes poisoned with extremist dogma - political, religious or otherwise - it is easily fed hatred and circular logic later as an adult - even to the point of committing an act of personal martyrdom for “the cause”. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl would have been humbled by the extent of his accomplishments in deconstructing America through masterfully manipulated disinformation and dismissing incontrovertible evidence contrary to historical record that would self-replicate years after his death. Reagan’s “Great Communicator” label takes on an entirely different meaning when exposed to the daylight of reality.
So as conservatives everywhere raise their glasses of Château Lafite Rothschild to Reagan’s memory on the occasion of his 103rd birthday, the voices of the people who lost their lives due to his belligerence and callous disregard for the general welfare of Americans everywhere are eternally silent. The rule of law that fell at the hands of neocon activist judges- the civilians who perished as a consequence of preemptive wars- the lives that continue to this day to be ruined in an economy that could have been a beacon for the world that was instead deliberately destroyed for the benefit of an elite few, the contrived libel that saturates the airwaves perpetrated by an overwhelmingly conservative - owned and scripted media - the neocons occupying public office today that know the price of everything and the value of nothing, and the plummeting quality of life in America that Reagan's mandates continue to cause even now will continue to be his legacy for untold American generations.