The Reagan Myth
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/13/04
power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those who have not got it.’
No, not the 1
that he preferred Huggies over Depends- but the 1 about winning
the Cold War….Anyway, late last year there was a brouhaha over a telefilm
called The Reagans that was to air on the CBS network. Right Wingers were
agog that the film reputedly had the audacity to portray ex-First Lady Nancy
Reagan as a bitchy domineering shrew and ex-President Ronald Reagan as a senile
puppet of Right Wing Masters who did not seem to realize the difference between
being the President & acting the President.
So what was the problem? Even Reagan appointees like David Stockman and Donald Regan have long since admitted that no one was home at the Reagan White House, that then-Vice President George Bush was out of the loop, and a few Republican powerbrokers of the decade have admitted that the ‘Trickle Down’ approach to tax reform was a disaster. I guess the Reagan apologists disliked the fact that most Americans don’t look back at the 1980s with the gilted fervor that they do, despite the historical revisionism that occurred even as it was happening. Even Reagan Speechwriter & shill Peggy Noonan admits in her book What I Saw at the Revolution: ‘He doesn't really hear very much, and his appearance of constant good humor is connected to his deafness. He misses much of what is not said directly to him, but he assumes it is good.’ In other words- SENILE!
Then, the bastard had to die on 6/5/04. Rather, his body died. His mind died about 30 years earlier, due to Alzheimer’s Disease, although the family only publicly admitted it when they could no longer hide the fact, nor stench from his diapers, in 1994. Now that a few months have passed I want to comment on the man’s life & death. Despite the Right Wing’s lunatic claims of a Left Wing Media, the Teflon President’s 8 year free ride continued into death, with nary a negative comment from the major media outlets. His State Funeral- where the body was flown to DC, from California, to lie in state, then back, all on the public dole (ironic, eh?)- became a national holiday. Yet, it was as big a lie as many others Reagan propounded. From ‘Morning in America’ to ‘family values’ to AIDS awareness to the media manufactured ‘crack’ epidemic to ‘Star Wars’ to the firing of air traffic controllers (PATCO) to the beginning of the decline of middle class buying power (steadily growing since World War 2) to the demonizing of the word ‘liberal’ to ‘Supply Side Economics’ to the ‘War on Drugs’ to the bastardization of the word ‘conservative’ to the documented senility of the President to Iran-Contra to ‘Trickle Down’ the Reagan 80s were a decade of regress for the USA. They were also a time when style finally overtook substance as the dominant meter of political effectiveness. Yes, it may have begun with Kennedy, been twisted by Clinton, suckled by W., but in the annals of the American Presidency there was no administration more wholly enraptured by the idea of mythos than the Reagan Presidency. So much so that there was no margin for error in the mythmaking- it was immediate & wholesale. Fortunately, just about all of these lies, fallacies, and flat-out sillinesses have found the Main Street dumpster- even as a few John Birchers suckle on.
Instead of Reagan-bashing the national media quickly sided with Reagan, especially after his surviving the assassination attempt by John Hinckley. Yet, what long odds did he face? By rendering criticism of Reagan verboten, Conservatives kyboshed their own philosophy- for Reagan was not a Conservative. It’s also difficult to fool history. Worse than the media’s stoop-kneed fealty to Reagan was that even Senator John Kerry, the Democratic Presidential nominee, cancelled engagements during Reagan’s multi-day Death Extravaganza! He vividly opposed much of the Reagan policies, yet acted as if it were somehow unpatriotic, or impolite (or impolitic?) to criticize a dead man’s life. Imagine Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Dick Cheney taking time off to honor, or praising, President Carter when he dies.
But, of all of the myths spun in those years there is one that has yet to be expunged from the bosom of most Americans- much less Conservatives. That is the canard that Ronald Reagan ‘won’ the Cold War. Even Richard Nixon decried this claim as a myth. Before just touching on some of the more obvious specifics that disprove this notion, let’s just take the statement at face value. Let’s agree that it was so. Let us now ask what the cost of this victory was, for surely such sober thinkers, as Conservatives decree themselves, would have to admit that a Pyrrhic victory is one worth arguing the costs.
To gain Reagan’s ‘victory’ the tax burden- supposedly relieved- in this country was shifted further on to the backs of the middle class and away from the rich, as the whole tax burden of the country actually increased- despite myths to the contrary- but still could not keep up with the record military waste, requiring that most families have 2 incomes, thus making the ‘nuclear’ family ideal Republicans cherished obsolete, meaning parental guidance was lessened, meaning more kids had free time to experiment with sex & drugs, which was handy since more kids needed to work since there was a greater chance their parents were stuck in lower-paying ‘service’ jobs which replaced higher paying manufacturing jobs. The greater time & buying power afforded the young allowed them to help spread AIDS via unprotected sex, because birth control funding was cut, and drug use, funded by the drug-dealing contras & other ‘anti-Communist’ drug-dealing CIA stooges in Central America and Central Asia, which only furthered the view of decadent Ugly Americans plundering the Third World, fueling extremist groups like the Taliban and Al Quaeda to denounce us even as we paid for their education in terror tactics in the Afghan-Russian War. In order to defeat Russia- a foe we never lost a single life to in 20th Century combat (save for a handful of Americans who tried to stop the 1917 Revolution on Russian soil)- Reagan helped arm Saddam Hussein, which precipitated Gulf Wars 1 and 2. He also supported dictatorships in Latin America which fueled the rise of narco-terrorists like Pablo Escobar, a man protected by his countrymen because he stood against dictatorship & built baseball fields for poor children, even as he was responsible for far more death and carnage in America in the 1980s than Osama bin Laden has inflicted in the 2000s. Oh yeah, Osama was one of those men trained in terrorism by Reagan’s CIA. Want more? Remember that tax windfall the Reagan rich got as the middle class sagged? They spent their windfall investing in LBOs, which led to wholesale mergermania, which led to reduced quality and service levels in everything from telecommunications to the airline industry to banking to the drug & food industries. As the LBO pyramid schemes collapsed the Savings & Loan industry went with it. America was stuck with bailing out S & Ls to the tune of nearly half a trillion dollars. But average people were saving less, because they were earning less, and encouraged to consume more. So where did all the money to pay for the military buildup come from? From a debt that was so large that even President Clinton’s smoke and mirrors could not make it go away for more than a year or two and is now on the bill for people who have yet to become functioning gametes.
Let’s also ask if the world is a better and safer place. To most of the states of the former Soviet Empire new dictatorships have replaced the old, crime and poverty are on the rise, and previously checked ethnic excesses- like the genocides in the Balkans, Africa, and Iraq have been unleashed. So, too has nuclear responsibility shifted from a single Soviet Premier to tin pot potentates in Korea, Israel, and the Subcontinent. In America bad dreams of nuclear mushrooms have been replaced by real memories of falling skyscrapers, economic stability is a thing most people under 35 do not even recall, and every one of the Reagan myths above have proved wisps.
Still, it’s a good thing that any murderous regime is gone. Even, it can be argued, if the costs may have outweighed the benefits. But the idea that Reagan’s wasteful buildup of the military was what won the Cold War is downright silly. It’s akin to seeing a camel whose back could break if a feather were added & instead dropping Halley’s Comet on it. Reagan was merely the bank guard asleep on duty when the Soviet collapse happened. Does anyone hold Nixon responsible for the Apollo Moon landings or Clinton for the birth of the Internet?
There were 2 main reasons the Soviet Empire fell- 1st was its own internal cannibalism, waste, and rot, and the 2nd was decades of American Presidencies which opposed it. Let’s look at the latter 1st. Despite the myth of FDR’s being run over roughshod by Stalin at Yalta, it was FDR who initiated the Manhattan Project with the immediate aim of defeating Germany and Japan, but the long-term goal of checking Soviet aggression. It was another Democrat- Harry Truman- whose administration formulated the Truman Doctrine of American opposition to all Soviet aggression, based on the Domino Theory, & employed in the Berlin Airlift. It was former General Eisenhower whose Presidency carried on the Cold War from Korea to South America to Vietnam to the Bay of Pigs planning. JFK got us through the Cuban Missile Crisis (imagine had Reagan been at the helm then!), continued the Cold War & truly dealt what was probably a far greater financial blow to the long term Soviet economic future than Reagan’s military buildup by engaging in the decade-long race to the Moon. LBJ expanded the war in Indochina, taxing Soviet coffers. Nixon fractured the Soviet-China relationship which led to more wasteful defense spending by the Soviets against a next door superpower. Ford & Carter expanded support for Soviet opposition in Latin America and Africa. Yet, the man at the end of the line when this all came to a head, is solely responsible? Thank you, thank you, I will now take credit for the Big Bang since obviously it was all meant to lead up to moi.
In truth, the Soviets saw their economic demise coming in the late 1970s, after wasting their country’s wealth in space and a 3 decades long tit for tat engagement with America. They sought to cut spending on the military so they could still retain power. It was not until Reagan’s wasteful spending allowed Kremlin hardliners like Yuri Andropov to portray us as expansionist aggressors again that the teetering Soviet Empire righted itself and extended its reign for another decade. Yet, even Andropov was not a Stalinist- more bravado over tooth. In 1982, stung by the Afghanistan disaster, he set about trying to strengthen the Soviet economy by disengaging it from foreign struggles. Far from winning the Cold War Reagan was more akin the football kicker who missed a game-winning chip shot at the end of regulation time, then tried to claim credit for victory when the Soviets threw a game losing interception in overtime! I haven’t even mentioned the role of 1980s Japanese investment, & Soviet debt to that country, in tearing apart the Soviet political infrastructure. Diplomat & historian George F. Kennan, the man who in the 40s & 50s crafted the American Cold war policy of containment said, ‘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.’ Reagan’s militarization strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet Union, & delayed the Soviet Union’s fall.
Proof of the rot of the Soviet Empire comes from the fact that they could not- by 1980- even defeat Afghanistan on their own border. We did this a couple years ago in a few months- from half a world away. Imagine trying to convince Europe that we were a threat if we could not invade and capture Baja California! Yet, Reagan defeated the Soviets by telling Gorby to ‘Tear down this wall!’? Just like he stood up for peace & liberty by funding the butchering Contras in Nicaragua or the ‘anti-communist’ rebels who murdered nearly 100,000 of their fellow Angolans? In short, Reagan’s winning the Cold War has as much credence as Saddam Hussein’s having ‘weapons of mass destruction’- another convenient Right Wing myth.
So why has this downright silly myth persisted while 1-by-1 the rest of the Reagan deceptions have fallen by the wayside? Rather simply it’s because the other myths had no other manifestations of their ‘supposed’ truths. Family values did not square with curtailing women’s right to an abortion, the 100s of American Marine deaths in the bombing of Lebanon disproved Reagan was a strong military leader vis-á-vis Carter’s Iran hostage crisis, his shoe-polished hair belied his mind & body’s infirmities, Iran-Contra proved he had no regard for the law, nor ethics- the Contra killers were not on a par with George Washington & co., trickle down economics never moistened the majority of America, the Great Communicator was only so when he had a teleprompter in front of him, & others’ words, & the firing of PATCO led to the worst decade of air safety since before the Great Depression- that Washington DC’s airport was renamed after Reagan is a piss in the face of the fired PATCO air traffic controllers, & all working class Americans. But the Soviet Union did fall, & Presidents tend to get unfairly blamed for alot of things they deserve no credit for, as well as get praise for the same reason. Reagan was an effective President, but that’s not equivalent to being a good 1, for almost all his effects were negative. Most Presidential polls rank Reagan in the bottom of the top ½ of Presidents, usually citing this very ‘effectiveness, & ‘winning the Cold War’- in short, based on negative traits, & non-existent 1s. I’d rank him in the bottom 1/3, even the bottom 10. Yet, true believers soldier on in their merry mythmaking. To them I’d ask, if Reagan were somehow God’s chosen man, then why did God punish him with Alzheimer’s? (Eerie, that the man who opposed stem cell research may have benefited from it.) Fortunately historians are a far more impassive lot than most true believers & this myth will similarly be vetted. Until then, just remember- if it were not for the end of the Cold War we’d not have the Rainbow Alert system we now have. Sure beats a drab old fallout shelter, doesn’t it?
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 10/04 Hackwriters website.]
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