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The Death of Reagan Bedtime for Bonzo
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepps Commentaries
June 6, 2004

Well, we all knew when Reagan died, we would get hit by an amazing tidal wave of bullshit from the right, and sure enough, we are. Mind you, the right had been trying to erect a cult of personality around the "Great Communicator" from the day he left office. Even before the meat stopped twitching, the right was promoting a scheme where every state would have a town renamed after Reagan ("Reagangrad", anyone?) and they wanted Reagan to replace FDR on the dime. They had renamed an airport after him (obsolete and often shrouded in fog, which was apt) and there is an aircraft carrier named for him. No space shuttles or Marine barracks, though.

Now that he's officially dead, I imagine there will be schemes where the GOP will offer cash prizes to people who name their children "Ronald Wilson" ("But Mom, I've been Fred for 42 years. I don't WANT to change my name!") and putting Reagan's face on the flag and gawd knows what else.

Mind you, the man was elected president twice, and he is entitled to a state funeral and Congressional proclamations and all of that. And while he certainly had the usual number of foibles and weakness that is the human lot, he wasn't the amoral, cold, brittle little wastrel we have in the Oval Office now. He was genuinely funny and warm, and he probably wouldn't have been a bad guy to have as a next door neighbor. (Granted, his neighbors by the ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains found it a major pain in the ass having the President in the neighborhood, that's hardly Reagan's fault, and he had to live SOMEWHERE.) He was likeable, and if many of us felt he didn't have the mental acumen needed for the job of Chief Executive, he did present himself well as a leader, and for most folks, that was good enough.

But the right is going to be propagandizing until hell won't have it, and it's therefore needful to point out that Reagan was not only somewhat less than "a great president" but that his terms were pretty much a failure that did America considerable damage.

There's two things about the Reagan presidency that bear examination; what he did, and what he didn't do.

He did make a hash of the socio-economic system through what right wingers call "social engineering". He slashed taxes, and while the economy just sat like a toad on a hot plate, the national debt soared. It went from less than one trillion the day he took office (and it took nearly 200 years to reach that one trillion mark) to over three and a half trillion eight years later. He promised to make government smaller and less obtrusive, and he kept part of that promise. He slashed social spending, while spending like a drunk on crack on the military. The result was less government services, but we spent more for it, due to the military spending and interest on the debt.

He did cut taxes. Everyone knows that. What folks don't know is that he also RAISED taxes after it became obvious that supply-side was a catastrophic failure. Only he was smart: he didn't restore the taxes to the wealthy and the corporations, the greatest beneficiaries. He raised taxes on the middle class, a group whose complaints wouldn't be discussed on the news shows (the subornation of the American media was already well under way at that point).

Some day, people will stop believing in the idiotic fantasy known as "The Laffer Curve". Lower taxes do not help the economy. The economy goes ahead and does what it does regardless of what the tax levels are, and upon whom. Reagan lowered taxes, and the economy sat there. He raised taxes, and the economy boomed. Bush came along and raised taxes even more, because despite the forecasts of supply-side economists, the debt kept skyrocketing. The economy, which had already slumped, stayed slumped. Clinton raised taxes, and the economy boomed for eight years. Putsch lowered them - twice - and the economy is still well behind where it was in January 2001.

Reagan didn't make government smaller. Even if you discount the massive arms buildup (which, incidently, started three years before he took office, under Carter), government grew. In fact, the only time it has ever shrunk is under Democratic Presidents - Truman and Clinton (actually Gore oversaw that).

Reagan didn't win the cold war, and he didn't force the USSR into bankrupcy. In fact, the military budget of the USSR grew smaller each year Reagan was in office, not something you would expect to see in the middle of an arms race.

I remember in 1984, I was working on a maintenance crew in the public sector, and I told one of my co-workers that I expected the USSR to be gone by the end of the century. He was astonished, and asked why. I told him it was because the "whole goddam country is run like this city." What I had in mind were the inept clods who made up the middle management in my organization, who were rigid, bureaucratic, self-serving and were the principal cause of most of the waste and general ineptness of the city. (I've since learned that the private sector is no real improvement, but is simply more able to hide such flaws). Imagine a nation of 300 million run like a bureaucracy of a medium-ized city. No, I decided, the USSR was toast.

I was right, of course, although much too timid in my forecast. It took the USSR just five years to die instead of 16. But Reagan, despite Star Wars and "tear down this wall" (said to the first Soviet leader interested in actual peace and freedom, no less) had nothing to do with it. Giving Reagan credit for "winning the cold war" is a bit like taking credit for winning the world series because the other team happened to make a series-deciding error in the field just as you tuned in on the TV, allowing your guys to win.

Reagan was not open and honest. Indeed, he ran the most corrupt administration of the 20th century, often racking up more indictments of administration people in one day than Clinton managed in eight full years. Only Bush's abuse of the Presidential pardon power, and some misteps by Congress in the Ollie North / John Poindexter cases prevented many members of the Reagan administration, including possibly Reagan himself, from going to jail for long stretches.

He did not stand up against terrorism. If anything, he showed that America could be cowed, and worse, blackmailed. He put 232 Marines in harm's way, in an unsecured building, and when a truck bomb killed them, he slunk away, in disgrace. His effort to restore credibility to the United States was even more ludicrous: he attacked the smallest and weakest island state in the Carribean, claiming he was "fighting communism." Oddly enough, no communists other than a few Cuban agricultural advisors were found, but the war, which involved virtually no shooting and no casualties, resulted in more medals per soldier than any other action in American history.

Then came Iran/Contra, in which he had the United States pay tribute to terrorists. He also armed Saddam Hussein, and assisted rebels in Afghanistan in setting up an anti-Soviet underground that later came to be known as al Qaida.

Reagan was not the greatest president of the twentieth century. He barely qualifies as best president of the 1980s.

So pay him the respects due a man who was a two term president, but don't fall for the GOP malarkey that he was a great president and equivalent to the Founding fathers (a phrase he used to describe the death squads in El Salvador). He wasn't. Indeed, he was in such decline in his second term that James Baker seriously considered asking Congress to invoke the 22nd amendment and have George Bush take over.

We don't need to rename some poor innocent town Reagangrad to try and make people think he was a great president. That's just plain stupid.

Topplebush.com
Posted: June 8, 2004


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