Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Second Onslaught

Most Progressives are prepared for the onslaught of harmful legislation to be introduced by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in January. Whether it is more tax breaks for the wealthy, elimination of health care for millions of Americans, or pollution-inducing legislation written by their corporate benefactors, nothing that the GOP does to increase its power and wealth should surprise us. Nor should we be surprised at how much they increase the deficit while increasing the economic apartheid in the years to come.

But we should also be prepared for a second onslaught and series of half-truths that will be heralded by the GOP and amplified by the mainstream media in February - the continuation of the deification of Ronald Reagan culminating with the centenary of his birth on February 6th.

If modern conservatism continues to drive America down the path of economic ruin and the demise of the middle class that was the legacy of George W Bush, history will show that this decline was started under President Reagan with his “trickle down” economic policy.

It’s difficult and not very productive to debate whether Reagan was a worse president than Bush, but the legacy of the Gipper’s reign has been colored by his adorers in the conservative movement and the media.  After his eight years in power, there was a frenzy of putting his name on everything in sight including schools, the nation’s airport, highways, and even an aircraft carrier. His acolytes even proposed desecrating Mount Rushmore by adding his visage to those of some of our greatest presidents.

Reagan did not start out as an icon of conservatism - in fact his original positions would be characterized as “liberal” today.  In his acting days, he was a union president, and for a short time he was pro-choice. Upon assuming the governorship of California, Reagan inherited a budget deficit, and he immediately raised taxes in response. But as the darling of the Republican party, Reagan quickly changed to do what was politically expedient rather than what was right.

The telegenic Reagan was blessed by two incredible strokes of luck during his presidency. First was the release of American hostages held in Iran, timed to occur simultaneously with his inauguration. Although unproven, some posit that Reagan operatives worked behind the scenes with the Iranian government to ensure that this timing was not coincidental. Given subsequent illegal dealings of his administration with the Iranians, this would not be a complete shock.

The economic collapse of the Soviet Union was the second lucky break for Reagan. As a master of propaganda and his ability to present a folksy persona, Reagan was able to make it seem that his belligerent attitude toward our Cold War foe was the impetus behind this collapse. The myth that Reagan ended the Cold War holds as much water as the myth that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction during Bush’s failed reign.

Reagan’s presidency was the precursor to today’s war on unions, the poor, and the middle class. He popularized the racially-charged term “welfare queen” and sent his anti-union shot across the bow by firing 11,000 federal public servants in his first months in office. He gutted environmental protection and decimated funding for the arts and humanities. His insensitivity toward others is epitomized by his visit to a German cemetery where hailed Nazi soldiers buried there as “victims” akin to those who died in the Holocaust.

The biggest crime of his administration, and certainly an impeachable offense, was that he covertly disobeyed the will of Congress by illegally providing money to the Nicaraguan Contras using ill-begotten funds from selling arms to Iran. His supporters claim that Reagan knew nothing about what his White House subordinates were doing. That’s difficult to fathom, but even if true it shows what an ineffective leader he was.

Perhaps his most significant failure, and the legacy that lives on today, is what is now called “Reaganomics”, a theory that has been repeatedly tried and failed whereby cutting taxes and incurring massive deficits are supposed to stimulate the economy.  It didn’t work under Reagan, didn’t work under Bush, and will not work when the new crop of Republican House members try it again in January.

Today, there’s a whole generation of post-Reagan Americans who grew up listening to the incessant adoration of the former actor from those who want to continue his heartless policies. Just like after 150 years we have history revisionists who celebrate the Confederacy, Reagan’s down-to-earth mien will ensure that he has his adorers for many years to come. But when the onslaught of Reaganmania has its resurgence this February, keep in mind that much of the distress that America is experiencing right now falls in the lap of Reagan, his acolytes, and their descendants.

Prior to his political life, Reagan was the corporate voice of
the General Electric Company.
Watch for more GE advertising of the Reagan myth in February.

1 comment:

  1. "But as the darling of the Republican party, Reagan quickly changed to do what was politically expedient rather than what was right."

    Reagan did indeed start out as a New Deal democrat. But he saw first hand the damage done by the left, and became a conservative long before his political career ever started. Regardless of your opinion of him, any fair reading would accept that through force of will he overcame the dominant Rockefeller wing, and moved the party toward his views, rather than trimming his views to those of the party establishment.

    But I do feel your pain. It was hard living through the (mercifully shortlived) adoration bestowed on Ted Kennedy.