The Ronald Reagan Myth

The Progressive Review



Great Thoughts of Ronald Reagan

"A tree's a tree. How many more do you need to look at?"
Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), quoted in the Sacramento Bee, opposing expansion of Redwood National Park, March 3, 1966

"All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk."
Ronald Reagan (Republican candidate for president), quoted in the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, February 15, 1980


"It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas."
Ronald Reagan (candidate for Governor of California), interviewed in the Fresno Bee, October 10, 1965


"The moral equal of our Founding Fathers."
President Reagan, describing the Nicaraguan contras, March 1, 1985


"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal."
Ronald Reagan, quoted in Time, May 17, 1976

"A faceless mass, waiting for handouts."
Ronald Reagan, 1965. (Reagan describing Medicaid recipients.)


"Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders."
California Governor Ronald Reagan, in the Sacramento Bee, April 28, 1966


"We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet."
Ronald Reagan, TV speech, October 27, 1964

"I never knew anything above Cs."
President Reagan, in a moment of truthfulness, describes his academic record to Barbara Walters, November 27, 1981

"They told stories about how inattentive and inept the President was.... They said he wouldn't come to work--all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence."
Jim Cannon (an aide to Howard Baker) reporting what Reagan's underlings told him, Landslide: The Unmaking of the President: 1984-88

"Reagan's only contribution [to the subject of the MX missile] throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he'd watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from WarGames, the movie. That was his only contribution."
Lee Hamilton (Representative from Indiana) interviewed by Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years

"This President is treated by both the press and foreign leaders as if he were a child.... It is major news when he honors a political or economic discussion with a germane remark and not an anecdote about his Hollywood days."
Columnist Richard Cohen

"What planet is he living on?"
President Mitterand of France poses this question about Reagan to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

"During Mr. Reagan's trip to Europe...members of the traveling press corps watched him doze off so many times--during speeches by French President Francois Mitterrand and Italian President Alessandro Pertini, as well as during a one-on-one audience with the Pope--that they privately christened the trip 'The Big Sleep.'"
Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency

"He demonstrated for all to see how far you can go in this life with a smile, a shoeshine and the nerve to put your own spin on the facts."
David Nyhan, Boston Globe columnist

"An amiable dunce
Clark Clifford (former Defense Secretary)

"Poor dear, there's nothing between his ears."
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

"Like reinventing the wheel."
Larry Speakes (Reagan's former press secretary) describing what it was like preparing the President for a press conference, Speaking Out: The Reagan Presidency from Inside the White House

"The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan's ears is a challenging one for his aides."
Columnist David Broder

"He has the ability to make statements that are so far outside the parameters of logic that they leave you speechless"
Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan) talking about her father, The Way I See It

"This loathing for government, this eagerness to prove that any program to aid the disadvantaged is nothing but a boondoggle and a money gobbler, leads him to contrive statistics and stories with unmatched vigor."
Mark Green, Reagan's Reign of Error

"President Reagan doesn't always check the facts before he makes statements, and the press accepts this as kind of amusing."
former president Jimmy Carter, March 6, 1984

"His errors glide past unchallenged. At one point...he alleged that almost half the population gets a free meal from the government each day. No one told him he was crazy. The general message of the American press is that, yes, while it is perfectly true that the emperor has no clothes, nudity is actually very acceptable this year."
Simon Hoggart, in The Observer (London), 1986

*****

Uncommon Wisdom from "The Gipper"

"I don't believe a tree is a tree and if you've seen one you've seen them all."
--Governor Ronald Reagan, in the Sacramento Bee, September 14, 1966

"I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that one little mountain out there, in these last several months, has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in Time magazine, October 20, 1980. (According to scientists, Mount St. Helens emitted about 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day at its peak activity, compared with 81,000 tons per day produced by cars.)

"Growing and decaying vegetation in this land are responsible for 93 percent of the oxides of nitrogen."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1980. (According to Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund, industrial sources are responsible for at least 65 percent and possibly as much as 90 percent of the oxides of nitrogen in the U.S.)

"Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation. So let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards for man-made sources."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in Sierra, September 10, 1980

"I've said it before and I'll say it again. The U.S. Geological Survey has told me that the proven potential for oil in Alaska alone is greater than the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1980. (According to the USGS, the Saudi reserves of 165.5 billion barrels are 17 times the proven reserves--9.2 billion barrels--in Alaska.)

"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?"
--Ronald Reagan, campaign speech, 1980

"Trains are not any more energy efficient than the average automobile, with both getting about 48 passenger miles to the gallon."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1980. (The U.S. Department of Transportation calculates that a 14-car train traveling at 80 miles per hour gets 400 passenger miles to the gallon. A 1980 auto carrying an average of 2.2 people gets 42.6 passenger miles to the gallon.)

"It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas."
--Ronald Reagan (candidate for Governor of California), interviewed in the Fresno Bee, October 10, 1965

"I have a feeling that we are doing better in the war [in Vietnam] than the people have been told."
--Ronald Reagan, in the Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1967

"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in Time, May 17, 1976

"I know all the bad things that happened in that war. I was in uniform four years myself."
--President Reagan, in an interview with foreign journalists, April 19, 1985. ("In costume" is more like it. Reagan spent World War II making Army training films at Hal Roach Studios in Hollywood.)

"They've done away with those committees. That shows the success of what the Soviets were able to do in this country."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Washington Times, September 30, 1987. (Reagan longs for the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the HCUA witch hunts.)

"We think there is a parallel between federal involvement in education and the decline in profit over recent years."
--President Reagan, quoted in USA Today, April 26, 1983

"What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."
--President Reagan, defending himself against charges of callousness on Good Morning America, January 31, 1984

"I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet, if necessary."
--Ronald Reagan, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1965

"I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
--Ronald Reagan, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1966

"If there has to be a bloodbath then let's get it over with."
--Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 1969. (Reagan reveals how he intends to deal with student protesters at the University of California, Berkeley.)

"Today a newcomer to the state is automatically eligible for our many aid programs the moment he crosses the border."
--Ronald Reagan, in a speech announcing his candidacy for Governor, January 3, 1966. (In fact, immigrants to California had to wait five years before becoming eligible for benefits. Reagan acknowledged his error, but nine months later said exactly the same thing.)

 

"We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet."
--Ronald Reagan, TV speech, October 27, 1964

"But I also happen to be someone who believes in tithing--the giving of a tenth [to charity]."
--Ronald Reagan, from The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, February 8, 1982. (He may believe in tithing, but he doesn't practice it. Reagan's total charitable giving of $5,965 did not approach 10% of total income. It was more like 1.4%.)

"[Not] until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this."
--President Reagan revealing a disturbing view about the "coming of Armageddon," December 6, 1983

"History shows that when the taxes of a nation approach about 20 percent of the people's income, there begins to be a lack of respect for government.... When it reaches 25 percent, there comes an increase in lawlessness."
--Ronald Reagan, in Time, April 14, 1980. (History shows no such thing. Income tax rates in Europe have traditionally been far higher than U.S. rates, while European crime rates have been much lower.)

"Because Vietnam was not a declared war, the veterans are not even eligible for the G. I. Bill of Rights with respect to education or anything."
--Ronald Reagan, in Newsweek, April 21, 1980. (Wrong again.)

"Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close."
--Ronald Reagan to aide Stuart Spencer, 1966

Quotes are from Reagan's Reign of Error by Mark Green & Gail MacColl, and The Clothes Have No Emperor by Paul Slansky

*****

REAGAN LIE DETECTOR

Reagan conducted one of the most absurd invasions of American history, targetting the tiny island of Grenada.

As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan informed on fellow actors to the FBI.

The Reagan admininstration was one of the most corrupt in American history, including by one estimate 31 Reagan era convictions, including 14 because of Iran-Contra and 16 in the Department of Housing & Urban Development scandal. By comparison 40 government officials were indicted or convicted in the wake of Watergate. 47 individuals and businesses associated with the Clinton machine were convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes with 33 of these occurring during the Clinton administration itself. There were in addition 61 indictments or misdemeanor charges. 14 persons were imprisoned.

Using a looser standard that included resignations, David R. Simon and D. Stanley Eitzen in Elite Deviance, say that 138 appointees of the Reagan administration either resigned under an ethical cloud or were criminally indicted. Curiously Haynes Johnson uses the same figure but with a different standard in "Sleep-Walking Through History: America in the Reagan Years: "By the end of his term, 138 administration officials had been convicted, had been indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations."

Four members of the Reagan cabinet came under criminal investiation, as compared with five in the Clinton cabinet. Three top officials of the Harding administration were in indicted in the Teapot Dome scandal.

The Reagan administration had secret plans for an unconstitutional takeover of the federal government under an ill-defined national emergency. Members of the government created by the coup had been selected and included Richard Cheney.

Reagan's decision to send troops to Lebanon cost 241 lives. As the NY Times noted recently, "Mr. Reagan's decision to send marines to Lebanon was disastrous and his invasion of Grenada pure melodrama."

During the Reagan administration the number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third.

Reagan's policies led to the greatest financial scandal in American history: the Savings & Loan debacle which cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Julian Bond, president of the NAACP: "He was a polarizing figure in black America. He was hostile to the generally accepted remedies for discrimination. His appointments were of people as equally hostile. I can't think of any Reagan policy that African Americans would embrace."

Reagan made major cuts in Medicaid, food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, and school lunch programs.

Reagan fired 13,000 air traffic controllers in a devasting blow to government union members from which the labor movement never recovered.

The national debt tripled under Reagan

The AIDS crisis exploded (with 20,000 deaths) before Reagan could even bring himself to address the issue six years later. In his authorized biography he is quoted as saying that "maybe the Lord brought down this plague," because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

Washington Post: "The administration in 1984 secretly sold arms to Iran -- which the United States considered a supporter of terrorism -- to raise cash for Nicaraguan contra rebels, despite a congressional ban on support for the Latin American insurgency. An independent investigation concluded that the arms sales to Iran operations "were carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Ronald Reagan [and] Vice President George Bush," and that "large volumes of highly relevant, contemporaneously created documents were systematically and willfully withheld from investigators by several Reagan Administration officials." . . . Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel who ran the inquiry, said there was "no credible evidence" that Reagan broke the law, but he set the stage for the illegal activities of others. Impeachment, Walsh said, "certainly should have been considered."

His administration was responsible for numerous brutal actions in Latin America, including massacres in El Salvador and the war against Nicaragua.

The claim that Reagan won the Cold War is pure rightwing propaganda. The Soviet Union had long been far weaker than many American leaders knew, or wished to acknowledge, thanks to CIA gross overestimates of its economy. The Soviet Union was brought down by a number of factors including the inherent weaknesses of dictatorship and ethnic divides that eventually forced its breakup.

William Blum: "[George Kennan], the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and father of the theory of 'containment' of the same country, asserts that 'the suggestion that any United States administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.' He contends that the extreme militarization of American policy strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet Union. 'Thus the general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union.'"

After a major tax cut, there was a long recession and unemployment that hit ten percent.

Bill Press - "It was Reagan who first proposed a missile defense system -- immediately dubbed "Star Wars" by skeptical reporters -- in a March 23, 1983 speech from the Oval Office. However, as Frances Fitzgerald reveals in her brilliant history "Way Out There in the Blue," Reagan didn't get his plan from the scientists or the generals. The Pentagon wasn't even notified of his speech ahead of time. Reagan stole Star Wars directly from -- the movies.

In 1940, appearing in the Warner Brothers thriller "Murder in the Air," Reagan played an American secret agent charged with protecting a super weapon that could strike all enemy planes from the air. Seed planted in Reagan's brain. Then in 1966, Alfred Hitchcock released a Reagan favorite, "Torn Curtain," in which American agent Paul Newman works on developing an anti-missile missile. In words that must have made Ronnie tingle, Newman's character asserts: "We will produce a defensive weapon that will make all nuclear weapons obsolete, and thereby abolish the terror of nuclear warfare." Sound familiar? Reagan used almost the exact words in selling missile defense from the office, 17 years later.

*****


REAGAN'S SECRET COUP PLANS

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - With few exceptions, the media ignored what well could be the most startling revelation to have come out of the Iran/Contra affair, namely that high officials of the US government were planning a possible military/civilian coup. First among the exceptions was the Miami Herald, which on July 5, 1987, ran the story to which Jack Brooks referred. The article, by Alfonzo Chardy, revealed Oliver North's involvement in plans for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take over federal, state and local functions during an ill-defined national emergency. . .

According to Chardy, the plan called for 'suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the government over to the Federal Management Agency, emergency appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments and declaration of martial law.' The proposal appears to have forgotten that Congress, legislatures and the judiciary even existed.

In a November 18, 1991 story, the New York Times elaborated:

"Acting outside the Constitution in the early 1980s, a secret federal agency established a line of succession to the presidency to assure continued government in the event of a devastating nuclear attack, current and former United States officials said today."

The program was called "Continuity of Government." In the words of a report by the Fund for Constitutional Government, "succession or succession-by-designation would be implemented by unknown and perhaps unelected persons who would pick three potential successor presidents in advance of an emergency. These potential successors to the Oval Office may not be elected, and they are not confirmed by Congress.

According to CNN, the list eventually grew to 17 names and included Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeanne Kirkpatrick James Schlesinger, Richard Thornberg, Edwin Meese, Tip O'Neil, and Richard Cheney.

The plan was not even limited to a nuclear attack but included any "national security emergency" which was defined as:

"Any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States."

This bizarre scheme was dismissed in many Washington quarters as further evidence of the loony quality of the whole Iran/contra affair. One FEMA official called it a lot of crap while a representative for Attorney General Meese described it as 'bullshit.". . .

At least one high government official took the plan seriously enough to vigorously oppose it. In a August 1984 letter to NSC chair Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith wrote:

"I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the revised Executive Order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness . . . This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an 'emergency czar' role for FEMA."

FEMA was clearly out of control. Another memo, written in 1982 to then FEMA director Louis Giuffrida and given only tightly restricted circulation even within the agency, made this astonishing assertion:

"Over the long term, the peacetime action programs of FEMA and other departments and agencies have the effect of making the conceivable need for military takeover less and less as time goes by. A fully implemented civil defense program may not now be regarded as a substitute for martial law, nor could it be so marketed, but if successful in its execution it could have that effect."

The memo essentially proposed that the American people would rather be taken over by FEMA than by the military. When those are the options on the table, you know you're in trouble.

The head of FEMA until 1985, Giuffrida also once wrote a paper on the Legal Aspects of Managing Disorders. Here is some of what he said:

"No constitution, no statute or ordinance can authorize Martial Rule. [It commences] upon a determination (not a declaration) by the senior military commander that the civil government must be replaced because it is no longer functioning anyway . . . The significance of Martial Rule in civil disorders is that it shifts control from civilians and to the military completely and without the necessity of a declaration, proclamation or other form of public manifestation . . . As stated above, Martial Rule is limited only by the principle of necessary force."

Those words come from a time when Giuffrida was the head of then-Governor Reagan's California Specialized Training Institute, a National Guard school. It was not, for Giuffrida, a new thought. In 1970 he had written a paper for the Army War College in which he called for martial law in case of a national uprising by black militants. Among his ideas were "assembly centers or relocation camps" for at least 21 million "American Negroes."

During 1968 and 1972, Reagan ran a series of war games in California called Cable Splicer, which involved the Guard, state and local police, and the US Sixth Army. Details of this operation were reported in 1975 in a story by Ron Ridenour of the New Times, an Arizona alternative paper, and later exhumed by Dave Lindorff in the Village Voice.

Cable Splicer, it turned out, was a training exercise for martial law. The man in charge was none other than Edwin Meese, then Reagan's executive secretary. At one point, Meese told the Cable Splicer combatants:

"This is an operation, this is an exercise, this is an objective which is going forward because in the long run . . . it is the only way that will be able to prevail [against anti-war protests.]"

Addressing the kickoff of Cable Splicer, Governor Reagan told some 500 military and police officers:

"You know, there are people in the state who, if they could see this gathering right now and my presence here, would decide their worst fears and convictions had been realized -- I was planning a military takeover."

*****

REAGAN'S HEART OF DARKNESS

DERRICK Z. JACKSON BOSTON GLOBE - In the weeks leading up to his appearance on Capitol Hill, [Desmond] Tutu said in speeches that it seemed that the Reagan White House saw "blacks as expendable" in South Africa. . . On Capitol Hill, Tutu became a public relations disaster for Reagan. Tutu started off the hearing by saying apartheid itself "is evil, is immoral, is un- Christian, without remainder." I was there, and all breathing stopped, without remainder. Tutu continued:

"In my view, the Reagan administration's support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil, and totally un-Christian. . . . You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or you are in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can't be neutral."

Tutu received an unprecedented standing ovation by the committee. Even Reagan's Republican allies told the South African Embassy they would reluctantly support sanctions if Pretoria did not move to end apartheid.

Reagan was not moved. Over the remainder of his presidency, at least 3,000 people would die, mostly at the hands of the South African police and military. Another 20,000, including 6,000 children, according to one estimate by a human rights group, would be arrested under "state of emergency" decrees.

Yet Reagan had the gall to say in 1985 that the "reformist administration" of South Africa had "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country." In 1986, Reagan gave a speech where he said Mandela should be released but denounced sanctions with crocodile tears, claiming that they would hurt black workers, who were already ridiculously impoverished. Reagan's go-slow speech was denounced by Tutu, who said: "I found it quite nauseating. I think the West, for my part, can go to hell. . . . Your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. He sits there like the great, big white chief of old."

*****

TEFLON UNTO DEATH

JOE STRUPP, EDITOR & PUBLISHER - The death of Ronald Reagan has become yet another reminder that news organizations often turn sentimental at the death of a former leader, no matter what legacy he or she leaves behind. . .

The overwhelming praise for a president who plunged the nation into its worst deficit ever, ignored and cut public money for the poor, while also ignoring the AIDS crisis, is a bit tough to take. During my years at Brooklyn College, between 1984 and 1988, countless classmates had to drop out or find other ways to pay for school because of Reagan's policies, which included slashing federal grants for poor students and cutting survivor benefits for families of the disabled.

Not to mention the Iran-contra scandal, failed 'supply-side economics,' the ludicrous invasion of Grenada, 241 dead Marines in Lebanon, and a costly military buildup that may have contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union (there were plenty of other reasons too) but also kept us closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, besides leaving us billions of dollars in debt.

And should we even mention the many senior Reagan officials, including ex-White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane, convicted of various offenses? What about Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger indicted but later pardoned by the first President Bush?

Paying respect is one thing, and well deserved, but the way the press is gushing over Reagan is too much to take, sparking renewed talk of putting him on the $10 bill or Mount Rushmore. . .

Some newspapers, at least, have readily acknowledged some of his many shortcomings in editorials, even if it's only a fraction of their overall rosy review. The Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "Yes, he butchered facts, invented anecdotes, indulged White House chaos, and seemed dreamily unaware of the illegal deeds done during Iran-contra. He was guilty of all that, as well as union-busting, callousness to the poor, a failure to grasp America's multicultural destiny." The Boston Globe, meanwhile, declared the "Reagan legacy also includes the improbable Star Wars' missile defense proposal and the shameful Iran-Contra scandal. And the humming economy was energized in large part by deep tax cuts and heavy military spending that together produced crippling budget deficits. Reagan did little to advance such goals as education or civil rights."

 

The New York Times recalled, "Mr. Reagan's decision to send marines to Lebanon was disastrous, however, and his invasion of Grenada pure melodrama. His most reckless episode involved the scheme to supply weapons to Iran as ransom for Americans who were being held hostage in Lebanon, and to use the proceeds to illegally finance contra insurgents in Nicaragua."

Had you read the Washington Post, you would have found, "A lot of people were hurt by these policies, a fact that in our view did not weigh heavily enough on this president. His intermittent denigration of government, and of people who depended on government services, fed into and bolstered hurtful and unfair stereotypes.". . .

The L.A. Times [said], "Hero though Reagan was to so many Americans, his legacy is marred. Economically, the Reagan years were epitomized by a freewheeling entrepreneurialism and free spending. But the affluent got more affluent and the poor got poorer. The number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third. The Reagan administration's zeal for deregulation of industry helped create the savings and loan debacle, which left taxpayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in losses."

*****

DEATH OF A SALESMAN

TOM CARSON, VILLAGE VOICE - Ronald Reagan is the man who destroyed America's sense of reality - a paltry target, all in all, given our predilections. It only took an actor: the real successor to John Wilkes Booth. In our bones, we had always been this sort of bullshit-craving country anyhow, founded on abstractions: not land (somebody else's), not people (Red Rover, Red Rover, send Emma Lazarus right over), not even shared history (nostalgia isn't the same thing, and try pulling that Civil War Shinola anywhere west of the Rio Grande). Just monumental words and wordy monuments, with two convenient oceans between them and circumstance; from Nat Turner's status as three-fifths of a man-even though we ended up hanging all of him-to Reagan's child Lynndie England (b. 1983, the year we invaded Grenada and lost 241 Marines in Lebanon), any shortfall could be blamed on something lost in translation. But it was Reagan, whose most profound Freudian slip was the immortal "Facts are stupid things," who beguiled us into living in the theme park full-time.

*****

ERIC PIANIN AND THOMAS B. EDSALL WASHINGTON POST - The lavish praise obscures that much of Reagan's record through eight years in office was highly controversial and intensified social and political divisions. . .

"For many Americans, this was a time best forgotten," said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP and a longtime civil rights activist. "He was a polarizing figure in black America. He was hostile to the generally accepted remedies for discrimination. His appointments were of people as equally hostile. I can't think of any Reagan policy that African Americans would embrace."

*****

The former actor and California governor offended blacks when he kicked off his 1980 general election campaign by promoting "states rights" -- once southern code for segregation -- in Philadelphia, Miss., scene of the murder of three civil rights workers 16 years before. Early in his first term, Reagan ordered some of his toughest budget cuts in Medicaid, food stamps, aid to families with dependent children and other "means tested" programs that were critical to large numbers of lower-income black families. Until a public protest forced Reagan to back away, his Agriculture Department sought to cut the school lunch program and redefine ketchup and relish as vegetables.

Reagan had vowed to protect the "social safety net" of programs for the poor, the disabled and the elderly when he unveiled his economic recovery plan on Feb. 18, 1981. But two years later, White House budget director David A. Stockman said in an interview that the safety-net assurances were "just a spur-of-the-moment thing that the press office wanted to put out." . . .

There were other controversies:

Reagan fired 13,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 after they staged a work stoppage, and he appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board who were hostile to union organizing. His interior secretary, James G. Watt, and senior Environmental Protection Agency officials infuriated environmentalists by assaulting safeguards and aggressively attempting to open public lands in the West to private developers. Reagan, during his 1980 campaign, blamed trees for emitting 93 percent of the nation's nitrogen oxide pollution -- giving rise to jokes about "killer trees."

The combination of a huge "supply-side" tax cut, a historic military buildup and a painful two-year recession produced huge budget deficits and a near tripling of the national debt that haunted the country and policymakers for years and drained resources from social programs. And the administration showed indifference to an emerging AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. By the time Reagan delivered his first speech on the epidemic in May 1988 [1] -- about eight months before he left office -- the disease had been diagnosed in more than 36,000 Americans, and 20,849 had died. . .

The administration in 1984 secretly sold arms to Iran -- which the United States considered a supporter of terrorism -- to raise cash for Nicaraguan contra rebels, despite a congressional ban on support for the Latin American insurgency. An independent investigation concluded that the arms sales to Iran operations "were carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Ronald Reagan [and] Vice President George Bush," and that "large volumes of highly relevant, contemporaneously created documents were systematically and willfully withheld from investigators by several Reagan Administration officials."

Fourteen officials were criminally charged and 11 convicted, although many were later pardoned. Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel who ran the inquiry, said there was "no credible evidence" that Reagan broke the law, but he set the stage for the illegal activities of others. Impeachment, Walsh said, "certainly should have been considered."

Watt was forced to resign from his Cabinet post after a series of controversies, including the uproar that followed his portrayal of five members of an advisory panel as "every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent."

On Sept. 23, 1988, Deaver was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $100,000 for lying to a congressional subcommittee and federal grand jury about his lobbying activities after he left his White House post.

[1]Sean Strub of POZ Magazine writes, "Actually, May 31, 1987 at an Amfar benefit. It was also the first time he ever voluntarily spoke the word AIDS in public. He had spoken it before, but it was in response to a question at a press conference."]

*****

SAM SMITH - Ronald Regan has carried out his last con. The first occupant of the White House to make politics just another form of show business is being buried as a hero despite having been one of the worst presidents America ever had.

True, he was not as corrupt as Nixon or Clinton, nor as gleefully imperial as George Bush the Lesser, and the damage he did was largely unintentional, the fatal mischief of a small minded man granted too much power.

But the result was to begin the decline and fall of the first American republic by convincing its leaders, media, and citizens that the main thing they needed for happiness was a free, unfettered market accompanied by sufficient faux cowboy rhetoric. That there was never any empirical evidence for the absurd economic assumptions didn't matter; his charm sufficed where logic failed.

A quarter century later we are left with a middle class with substantially greater problems, a lower class far more ignored, an ecology far more damaged, a much larger gap between rich and poor and between CEO and employee, Medicare and Social Security in danger, and a culture of greed and narcissism that has buried ideals of democracy, community, and cooperation.

The nausea-inducing elevation of Reagan into someone he never was is another triumph of rightwing spin being swallowed whole by a media that not only doesn't know the facts, it doesn't even think it has to, for it, too, has become just another part of show business.

PHIL GASPER, COUNTERPUNCH - Reagan refused to mention AIDS publicly for six years, under-funded federal programs dealing with the disease and, according to his authorized biography, said, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague," because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

DAVID CORN, NATION - The firing of the air traffic controllers, winnable nuclear war, trees that cause pollution, Elliott Abrams lying to Congress, ketchup as a vegetable, public housing cutbacks, getting cozy with Argentine fascist generals, tax credits for segregated schools, disinformation campaigns, "homeless by choice," Manuel Noriega, falling wages, "constructive engagement" with apartheid South Africa, the invasion of Grenada, assassination manuals, drug tests, the S&L scandal, silence on AIDS, food-stamp reductions, Ed Meese ("You don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime"), massacres in El Salvador, $640 Pentagon toilet seats, William Casey, Iran/contra, Robert Bork, naps, Teflon.

JUAN COLE - I remember seeing a tape of Reagan speaking in California from that era. He said that he had heard that some asserted there was hunger in America. He said it sarcastically. He said, "Sure there is; they're dieting!" or words to that effect

GLENN KESSLER WASHINGTON POST - Reagan's spending cuts barely nicked the fastest-growing parts of government, his tax cuts reduced revenue so much that later in his tenure taxes had to be raised repeatedly, his regulatory approach was criticized for leading to the savings and loan crisis and his unbalanced budgets to a near-tripling of the federal debt in eight years.

BILL MON - The legacy of Reagan's policies in the Middle East, meanwhile, are still being paid for - in blood. The cynical promotion of Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the alliance of convenience with Saddam Hussein against Iran, the forging of a new "strategic relationship" with Israel, the corrupt dealings with the House of Saud, and (perhaps most ironic, given Reagan's tough guy image) the weakness and indecision of his disastrous intervention in Beruit - all of these helped set the stage for what the neo-cons now like to call World War IV, and badly weakened the geopolitical ability of the United States to wage that war.

MICHAEL BRONSKI, Z MAGAZINE - The most memorable Reagan AIDS moment was at the 1986 centenary rededication of the Statue of Liberty. The Reagan's were there sitting next to the French Prime Minister and his wife, Francois and Danielle Mitterrand. Bob Hope was on stage entertaining the all-star audience. In the middle of a series of one-liners, Hope quipped, "I just heard that the Statue of Liberty has AIDS, but she doesn't know if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Fairy." As the television camera panned the audience, the Mitterrands looked appalled. The Reagans were laughing. By the end of 1989, 115,786 women and men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States-more then 70,000 of them had died.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, SLATE - Ronald Reagan claimed that the Russian language had no word for "freedom." (The word is "svoboda"; it's quite well attested in Russian literature.) Ronald Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles-a corruption of language that isn't his fault) could be recalled once launched. Ronald Reagan said that he sought a "Star Wars" defense only in order to share the technology with the tyrants of the U.S.S.R. . . Ronald Reagan used to alarm his Soviet counterparts by saying that surely they'd both unite against an invasion from Mars. Ronald Reagan used to alarm other constituencies by speaking freely about the "End Times" foreshadowed in the Bible. In the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan told Yitzhak Shamir and Simon Wiesenthal, on two separate occasions, that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps. . .

GREG PALAST - In 1987, I found myself stuck in a crappy little town in Nicaragua named Chaguitillo. The people were kind enough, though hungry, except for one surly young man. His wife had just died of tuberculosis. People don't die of TB if they get some antibiotics. But Ronald Reagan, big hearted guy that he was, had put a lock-down embargo on medicine to Nicaragua because he didn't like the government that the people there had elected.

*****

THE BIGGEST REAGAN LIE

THE BIGGEST REAGAN lie is that he won the Cold War by terrifying the Soviets with Star Wars, upping defense expenditures, and generally being such a tough guy. The myth, though basically just GOP campaign spin, has been widely promulgated in current news coverage. The facts of the matter are quite different.

FOR EXAMPLE, two years before the breakup, the Progressive Review ran an article by Thomas S. Martin - Devolution, Soviet Style, that reported that "Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, or restructuring, has opened a Pandora's box of separatist and devolutionary movements in the Soviety Union. The article went through the union, state by state, and spoke of the "the last desperate cry of Soviet statism." Thanks to the American right's distortion of the issue, Americans to this day have little idea of what really was happening in the Soviet Union. Besides, it's part of the delusional American creed that good things in the world only happen because we will them.

ARCHIE BROWN, BBC, 2001 - The Soviet Union on the eve of Gorbachev's perestroika (reconstruction) had serious political and economic problems. Technologically, it was falling behind not only Western countries but also the newly industrialized countries of Asia. Its foreign policy evinced a declining capacity to win friends and influence people. Yet there was no political instability within the country, no unrest, and no crisis. This was not a case of economic and political crisis producing liberalization and democratization. Rather, it was liberalization and democratization that brought the regime to crisis point. . .

SOUTH ASIA ANALYST GROUP - The Congressional Quarterly Researcher wrote on December 11,1992: "After the Soviet break-up, economists were amazed at the extent to which the CIA had overestimated the performance of the Soviet economy, leading many to speculate that the numbers were hyped to fuel the arms race." Mr. Allan Goodman, Dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, described the CIA's economic intelligence performance as "between abysmal and mediocre." Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said after the Soviet break-up: " For a quarter century, they (the CIA) told the President everything there was to know about the Soviet Union, excepting the fact that it was collapsing (due to a bad economy). They missed that detail."

FAREED ZAKARIA, NEWSWEEK - During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B--which included Paul Wolfowitz--produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated. In retrospect, Team B's conclusions were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having "a large and expanding Gross National Product," it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber "probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984." In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.

BILL BLUM, KILLING HOPE - It has become conventional wisdom that it was the relentlessly tough anti-communist policies of the Reagan Administration, with its heated-up arms race, that led to the collapse and reformation of the Soviet Union and its satellites. American history books may have already begun to chisel this thesis into marble. The Tories in Great Britain say that Margaret Thatcher and her unflinching policies contributed to the miracle as well. The East Germans were believers too. When Ronald Reagan visited East Berlin, the people there cheered him and thanked him "for his role in liberating the East". Even many leftist analysts, particularly those of a conspiracy bent, are believers. But this view is not universally held; nor should it be. Long the leading Soviet expert on the United States, Georgi Arbatov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for the Study of the U.S.A. and Canada, wrote his memoirs in 1992. A Los Angeles Times book review by Robert Scheer summed up a portion of it:

"Arbatov understood all too well the failings of Soviet totalitarianism in comparison to the economy and politics of the West. . . Arbatov not only provides considerable evidence for the controversial notion that this change would have come about without foreign pressure, he insists that the U.S. military buildup during the Reagan years actually impeded this development."

George F. Kennan agrees. The former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and father of the theory of "containment" of the same country, asserts that "the suggestion that any United States administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish." He contends that the extreme militarization of American policy strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet Union. "Thus the general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union."

Though the arms-race spending undoubtedly damaged the fabric of the Soviet civilian economy and society even more than it did in the United States, this had been going on for 40 years by the time Mikhail Gorbachev came to power without the slightest hint of impending doom. Gorbachev's close adviser, Aleksandr Yakovlev, when asked whether the Reagan administration's higher military spending, combined with its "Evil Empire" rhetoric, forced the Soviet Union into a more conciliatory position, responded:

"It played no role. None. I can tell you that with the fullest responsibility. Gorbachev and I were ready for changes in our policy regardless of whether the American president was Reagan, or Kennedy, or someone even more liberal. It was clear that our military spending was enormous and we had to reduce it.". . .

ORDER

ARCHIE BROWN, BBC, 2001 - The Soviet Union on the eve of Gorbachev's perestroika (reconstruction) had serious political and economic problems. Technologically, it was falling behind not only Western countries but also the newly industrialized countries of Asia. Its foreign policy evinced a declining capacity to win friends and influence people. Yet there was no political instability within the country, no unrest, and no crisis. This was not a case of economic and political crisis producing liberalization and democratization. Rather, it was liberalization and democratization that brought the regime to crisis point. . .

The Soviet economy was in limbo in the last two years of the Soviet Union's existence - no longer a command economy but not yet a market system. Significant reforms, such as permitting individual enterprise (1986), devolving more powers to factories (1987), and legalising co-operatives (1988), which were to become thinly disguised private enterprises, had undermined the old institutional structures and produced unintended consequences, but no viable alternative economic system had been put in their place. . .

Changes in foreign and domestic policy were closely interlinked in the second half of the 1980s. Gorbachev pursued a concessionary foreign policy on the basis of what was called the 'new political thinking'. The ideas were certainly new in the Soviet context and included the belief that the world had become interdependent, that there were universal interests and values that should prevail over class interests and the old East-West divide, and that all countries had the right to decide for themselves the nature of their political and economic systems. . .

When Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and others successfully claimed independent statehood, this had a destabilizing effect within the Soviet Union itself. The expectations of, again most notably, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians were enormously enhanced by what they saw happening in the 'outer empire' and they began to believe that they could remove themselves from the 'inner empire'. In truth, a democratized Soviet Union was incompatible with denial of the Baltic states' independence for, to the extent that those Soviet republics became democratic, their opposition to remaining in a political entity whose centre was Moscow would become increasingly evident. . .

Neither the system nor the Union had to disappear in this particular way. Before liberalization and democratization from above, only a handful of dissidents dared voice their grievances and demands in public. A different leader from Gorbachev might have resorted to old-style coercion the moment he saw that reform was leading to loss of control. A different leader from Yeltsin might have strived to preserve the boundaries of a 'greater Russia' rather than accept borders that had never, historically, been those of his country and which, moreover, meant that 25 million Russians found themselves all of a sudden living 'abroad'. . .

'Fifteen new states stood where one mighty superpower had recently held sway.' But the sequence was that the Soviet Union was first reformed, then transformed, and then disintegrated all within the space of six-and-a-half years. It had ceased to be a communist system in any meaningful sense from the time of the state-wide contested elections of the spring of 1989. . . Seldom, if ever, has a highly authoritarian political system, deploying military means sufficient to destroy life on earth, been dismantled so peacefully. Never has an empire disintegrated with so little bloodshed.

SOUTH ASIA ANALYST GROUP - The Congressional Quarterly Researcher wrote on December 11,1992: "After the Soviet break-up, economists were amazed at the extent to which the CIA had overestimated the performance of the Soviet economy, leading many to speculate that the numbers were hyped to fuel the arms race." Mr. Allan Goodman, Dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, described the CIA's economic intelligence performance as "between abysmal and mediocre." Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said after the Soviet break-up: " For a quarter century, they (the CIA) told the President everything there was to know about the Soviet Union, excepting the fact that it was collapsing (due to a bad economy). They missed that detail."

KEVIN BRENNAN - Sovietology failed because it operated in an environment that encouraged failure. Sovietologists of all political stripes were given strong incentives to ignore certain facts and focus their interest in other areas. I don't mean to suggest that there was a giant conspiracy at work; there wasn't. It was just that there were no careers to be had in questioning the conventional wisdom.

A good example of this was the nationalism that helped to bring about the downfall of the USSR -- something that was overlooked by Westerners. You see, the USSR used to claim that socialist amity had made nationalism irrelevant. Nobody quite bought that, but Sovietologists did think that the Soviets had managed to mostly eliminate nationalism, because after all they never saw any evidence of it. How could they? Anyone who wanted to pursue a career in Soviet Studies had to be able to get into the Soviet Union to do their research, after all. Without doing research, you didn't get tenure, and the Soviets made sure you didn't get to do research on that topic by simply denying you access to the country. Even if you thought it might be a bigger problem then the Soviets let on, you'd never be able to prove it. So you found other things to work on, and eventually you got onto other topics that kept you busy.

There were other kinds of institutional biases as well, such as those that led to the now-infamous "Team B" Report:

"During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B--which included Paul Wolfowitz--produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated.

"In retrospect, Team B's conclusions were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having "a large and expanding Gross National Product," it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber "probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984." In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.

"The reality was that even the CIA's own estimates--savaged as too low by Team B--were, in retrospect, gross exaggerations. In 1989, the CIA published an internal review of its threat assessments from 1974 to 1986 and came to the conclusion that every year it had "substantially overestimated" the Soviet threat along all dimensions. For example, in 1975 the CIA forecast that within 10 years the Soviet Union would replace 90 percent of its long-range bombers and missiles. In fact, by 1985, the Soviet Union had been able to replace less than 60 percent of them." - Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

In short, Team B . . . brought a substantial set of preconceived notions about the nature and functioning of Soviet Russia to the task of evaluating the CIA assessments and any data that contradicted those conceptions was summarily discarded. No doubt it was easy enough to justify--after all, the data was flawed, just not flawed in the way that Team B assumed. So they went looking for things that would let them discount the data, and found them in the rhetoric of their opponents. It's an error in judgment that Wolfowitz seemed destined to repeat.

*****

HOW THE MEDIA USED TO COVER REAGAN

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON, POST - Most reporters liked the Gipper personally -- it was hard not to -- but often depicted him as detached, out of touch, a stubborn ideologue. Sam Donaldson, Helen Thomas and company would do battle in those prime-time East Room news conferences that Reagan relished, and he would deflect their toughest questions with an aw-shucks grin and a shake of the head. Major newspapers would run stories on all the facts he had mangled, a practice that faded as it became clear that most Americans weren't terribly concerned.

The media dubbed him the Teflon president, and it was not meant as a compliment. Reagan was, quite simply, a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest.

He took a pounding in the press after his first tax cut when a deep recession pushed unemployment to 10 percent and drowned the budget in red ink.

He was widely portrayed as uninformed and uninterested in details, the man who said trees cause pollution and once failed to recognize his own housing secretary.

He was often described as lazy, "just an actor," a man who'd rather be clearing brush at his California ranch and loved a good midday nap.

His 1983 invasion of Grenada was not universally applauded -- especially after his spokesman told the press the day before that the idea was "preposterous" -- and his withdrawal of the Marines from Lebanon after 241 were killed in a bombing brought blistering editorials.

He was often depicted as a rich man's president with little feeling for the poor, as symbolized by the administration's "ketchup is a vegetable" school lunch debacle. Detractors said he was presiding over the "greed decade." During the 1984 campaign, Reagan stood in front of a senior citizens' project built under a program he tried to kill -- but his aides didn't care, concluding that the pictures were more important than the reporters' contrary words.

Journalists had a field day digging into administration corruption. Senior officials in the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development Department, along with ex-White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane, were convicted of various offenses. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was indicted but later pardoned by the first President Bush. Reagan's siding with the Nicaraguan rebels was enormously divisive, and negative coverage of the Iran-contra scandal devoured much of his second term.

JAMES RIDGEWAY, VILLAGE VOICE - The elaborate Reagan state funeral may well prove a satisfying goodbye for Nancy, relatives, and close friends. For the Bush re-election campaign managers, it comes as an unexpected gift. This shouldn't surprise us in an era in which D-Day is compared to the war on terror, Bush Junior (by inference) to Eisenhower, and the occupation of Baghdad to the liberation of Paris. . .

The Democrats who voted for Reagan abandoned the sour, nitpicking Jimmy Carter for the cheerful Hollywood figure, but they also did what the political pros and historians still don't get. Led by the determined cadres of the "New Right," they supported a candidate and a plan for a new America with an ideological agenda. That agenda called for doing the unthinkable: grabbing control of Congress and smashing the New Deal, while leaving a token "safety net" in its place. It was in the early days of Reagan that the homeless began to appear in growing numbers on the streets of American cities, an early sign of the slow process of turning over the functions of the federal government to companies through such ideas as privatization. Reagan practically initiated the concept of turning social welfare over to charitable foundations. All of this was accomplished with the glue of anti-Communism, a shared bond that tied otherwise quarreling factions together‚§"the libertarian-minded Republicans, the anti-feminist crusaders, the Christian fundamentalists. Under Reagan, the government borrowed the concept of guerrilla warfare from the winning side in Vietnam and used it to win a victory over the Sandinistas. Reagan escaped the Iran-Contra scandal without a scratch. For some, Reagan spelled the turning point in the death of the first American republic.


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