Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Was Ronald Reagan an Even Worse President Than George W. Bush?

Listening to Morning Joe hawk his book, hearing Newt Gingrich sound bites from last night, Sarah Palin from her introduction speech which borrowed copiously from the Newtster, (and of course the introduction was of none other than the son of Ronald Reagan, Michael,) you would think Ronnie was still alive and running for President again.

The myth that is Ronald Reagan is one that drives me crazy. I lived through the years of Reagan and I truly don't remember him being all that wonderful. There were tax increases, inflation, poverty, higher defense spending, and lots of shady dealings.

Robert Parry has a great piece up at AlterNet about this very thing. I was reading it yesterday and was struck by how he systematically destroys the myth that is Ronald Reagan.

I tried to listen to the President Friday in Germany when he went to Buchenwald and everyone kept wanting to compare him to Reagan. I wanted to throw something at the TeeVee or something. What is it that makes these idiots want to compare Pres. Obama to a former occupant of the White House?

But, getting back to Parry's article. It is pretty lengthy, but it is worth the read I think. Some of the highlights are:

When it came to cutting back on America's energy use, Reagan's message could be boiled down to the old reggae lyric, "Don't worry, be happy." Rather than pressing Detroit to build smaller, fuel-efficient cars, Reagan made clear that the auto industry could manufacture gas-guzzlers without much nagging from Washington.

The same with the environment. Reagan intentionally staffed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department with officials who were hostile toward regulation aimed at protecting the environment. George W. Bush didn't invent Republican hostility toward scientific warnings of environmental calamities; he was just picking up where Reagan left off.

Reagan pushed for deregulation of industries, including banking; he slashed income taxes for the wealthiest Americans in an experiment known as "supply side" economics, which held falsely that cutting rates for the rich would increase revenues and eliminate the federal deficit.

Over the years, "supply side" would evolve into a secular religion for many on the Right, but Reagan's budget director David Stockman once blurted out the truth, that it would lead to red ink "as far as the eye could see."

Then he takes on the "cold war" myth and the role Reagan played in it.

However, a strong case can be made that the Cold War was won well before Reagan arrived in the White House. Indeed, in the 1970s, it was a common perception in the U.S. intelligence community that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was winding down, in large part because the Soviet economic model had failed in the technological race with the West.


Though the Afghan covert operation originated with Cold Warriors in the Carter administration, especially national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the war was dramatically ramped up under Reagan, who traded U.S. acquiescence toward Pakistan's nuclear bomb for its help in shipping sophisticated weapons to the Afghan jihadists (including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden).

While Reagan's acolytes cite the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as decisive in "winning the Cold War," the counter-argument is that Moscow was already in disarray – and while failure in Afghanistan may have sped the Soviet Union's final collapse – it also created twin dangers for the future of the world: the rise of al-Qaeda terrorism and the nuclear bomb in the hands of Pakistan's unstable Islamic Republic.

Trade-offs elsewhere in the world also damaged long-term U.S. interests. In Latin America, for instance, Reagan's brutal strategy of arming right-wing militaries to crush peasant, student and labor uprisings left the region with a legacy of anti-Americanism that is now resurfacing in the emergence of populist leftist governments.

In Nicaragua, for instance, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega (whom Reagan once denounced as a "dictator in designer glasses") is now back in power. In El Salvador, the leftist FMLN won the latest elections. Indeed, across the region, hostility to Washington is now the rule, creating openings for China, Iran, Cuba and other American rivals.

And now comes the neo-cons and the "librul media" creation we all hear so much about. Yes, Reagan had a hand in that too.

In the early 1980s, Reagan also credentialed a young generation of neocon intellectuals, who pioneered a concept called "perception management," the shaping of how Americans saw, understood and were frightened by threats from abroad.

Many honest reporters saw their careers damaged when they resisted the lies and distortions of the Reagan administration. Likewise, U.S. intelligence analysts were purged when they refused to bend to the propaganda demands from above.

To marginalize dissent, Reagan and his subordinates stoked anger toward anyone who challenged the era's feel-good optimism. Skeptics were not just honorable critics, they were un-American defeatists or – in Jeane Kirkpatrick's memorable attack line – they would "blame America first."

Under Reagan, a right-wing infrastructure also took shape, linking media outlets (magazines, newspapers, books, etc.) with well-financed think tanks that churned out endless op-eds and research papers. Plus, there were attack groups that went after mainstream journalists who dared disclose information that poked holes in Reagan's propaganda themes.

As you can see, Parry pulls no punches and he is literally destroying the myth that is Reagan.. But, it needs to be done. This has gone on so long, people have believed this and bought into this for the last 20 years and it is so wrong.

Now we are going to talk about the economy under Reagan. This is another issue that we hear a lot about. How wonderful it was. Well, I guess that depends on which side of the spectrum you were on.

While he played the role of the nation's kindly grandfather, his operatives divided the American people, using "wedge issues" to deepen grievances especially of white men who were encouraged to see themselves as victims of "reverse discrimination" and "political correctness."

Yet even as working-class white men were rallying to the Republican banner (as so-called "Reagan Democrats"), their economic interests were being savaged. Unions were broken and marginalized; "free trade" policies shipped manufacturing jobs abroad; old neighborhoods were decaying; drug use among the young was soaring.

Meanwhile, unprecedented greed was unleashed on Wall Street, fraying old-fashioned bonds between company owners and employees.

Before Reagan, corporate CEOs earned less than 50 times the salary of an average worker. By the end of the Reagan-Bush-I administrations in 1993, the average CEO salary was more than 100 times that of a typical worker. (At the end of the Bush-II administration, that CEO-salary figure was more than 250 times that of an average worker.)

Many other trends set during the Reagan era continued to corrode the U.S. political process in the years after Reagan left office. After 9/11, for instance, the neocons reemerged as a dominant force, reprising their "perception management" tactics, depicting the "war on terror" – like the last days of the Cold War – as a terrifying conflict between good and evil.

The hyping of the Islamic threat mirrored the neocons' exaggerated depiction of the Soviet menace in the 1980s – and again the propaganda strategy worked. Many Americans let their emotions run wild, from the hunger for revenge after 9/11 to the war fever over invading Iraq.

Arguably, the descent into this dark fantasyland – that Ronald Reagan began in the early 1980s – reached its nadir in the flag-waving early days of the Iraq War. Only gradually did reality begin to reassert itself as the death toll mounted in Iraq and the Katrina disaster reminded Americans why they needed an effective government.

Still, the disasters – set in motion by Ronald Reagan – continued to roll in. Bush's Reagan-esque tax cuts for the rich blew another huge hole in the federal budget and the Reagan-esque anti-regulatory fervor led to a massive financial meltdown that threw the nation into economic chaos.

Love Reagan; Hate Bush

Ironically, George W. Bush has come in for savage criticism, but the Republican leader who inspired Bush's presidency – Ronald Reagan – remained an honored figure, his name attached to scores of national landmarks including Washington's National Airport.

Even leading Democrats genuflect to Reagan. Early in Campaign 2008, when Barack Obama was positioning himself as a bipartisan political figure who could appeal to Republicans, he bowed to the Reagan mystique, hailing the GOP icon as a leader who "changed the trajectory of America."

Though Obama's chief point was that Reagan in 1980 "put us on a fundamentally different path" – a point which may be historically undeniable – Obama went further, justifying Reagan's course correction because of "all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn't much sense of accountability."

While Obama later clarified his point to say he didn't mean to endorse Reagan's conservative policies Obama seemed to suggest that Reagan's 1980 election administered a needed dose of accountability to the United States when Reagan actually did the opposite. Reagan's presidency represented a dangerous escape from accountability – and reality.

As I said this is a long but great story. I tried to get the biggest and best points out here. However you can read the rest I didn't put in if you want. I didn't leave out much.

Robert Parry is a great writer. He writes at Consortium News and I have mentioned the site before. I think it was Broadway Carl who pointed me in their direction first. He makes no apologies and calls it like he sees it.

I would love to see your responses and hear your opinions. Let me know what you think.


Steven said...

Short answer. Yes.

I read this book (link below) awhile ago and it reinforced everything I've believed about this charlatan for years. The facts are so apparent and yet his adoring fans can't seem to tell the difference between truth and fiction. Sad.


Annette said...

Thanks Steven for your comment. Glad you came by, and for the book, I will check it out.

Patricia said...

I'll always think of Reagan as the president who gave us homelessness. Of course, that's not all. We supported death squads in El Salvador and there was that little thing called Iran-Contra. Supply-side economics trickling down upon us, anyone? Reagan made Nixon look good to me. Bush made Reagan look good in that Reagan knew to invade only very tiny countries. I thought his whole administration was a horror show, but I had no idea what horrors would be in store 20 years later. In short - yes, Reagan sucked.

K. said...

Reagan was terrifically unpopular by the end of his second term. I think Bush was worse if for no other reason than he enabled Cheney's shadow presidency.

I have to correct Parry on one point, though. I've been reading Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA. The intelligence community was historically clueless as to Soviet intentions. By the 70s and 80s, it knew that the Soviet economy was no great shakes, but assumed -- without any real evidence to support the assumption -- that the USSR was a garrison state capable of being a dominant world power indefinitely.

Matt Osborne said...

What I remember best about Reagan was the cocaine that used to fly into Huntsville Airport on those C-47s that belonged to Civilian Material Assistance, a "nonprofit private aid group" that delivered "humanitarian supplies" to the Contras. I remember Common Cause magazine interviewing the Customs official who lost his job for daring to inspect one of these planes and for daring to report his discovery of 200 pounds of cocaine base.

Distributorcap said...

reagan was a terrible president, but he got away with so much because of his geniality. the fact that the right deify him just shows you the intellectual level of what is currently the leadership of the right.

i dont even think reagan was a good person - no good person would have ignored aids like he did

i hope he is not resting in peace

ps - i LOATH nancy reagan, i dont care how old and decrepit she is

K. said...

Nancy Reagan is Exhibit A of my definition of a conservative: A liberal whose ox hasn't been gored. Once Ronnie came down with Alzheimer's, where did she turn to? Why, the federal government, of course.