Yesterday, in an interview with ABC News, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she would add former presidents Ronald Reagan, James Garfield and Calvin Coolidge to Mount Rushmore, the national monument located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She first proposed adding Ronald Reagan then mentioned James Garfield and Calvin Cooledge. While Bachmann is no longer a significant candidate for the Republican presidential nomination (was she ever), she continues to inject humor into the process and I'll miss her when she finally quits.
Her first nominee for inclusion is a gimme, Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the neo-conservative, religious far right social regressives. I assume she is referring to the idealized Reagan who didn't really exist but most Reaganites love anyway and not the real Ronald Reagan. The real Ronald Reagan raised taxes seven times during his two terms, headed an administration during which the number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third, major cuts were made in Medicaid, food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and school lunch programs (including trying to cut school lunch milk rations from six to four ounces), the national debt tripled and 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. These are just a few "Reagan Realities." I could continue but I have to move on.
"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
James Garfield was an interesting choice. He was president only 200 days before being assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau, an avid Republican and disgruntled federal office-seeker. Even then Republicans seemed to lack a sense of humor. Garfield didn't live long enough to have a profound effect on the national dialogue but he did enter the presidency with some progressive idea. He was strongly opposed to the political spoils system and his persistent call for civil service reform was fulfilled with the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, enacted by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. Garfield was also greatly concerned with the plight of the freed slaves. He believed, and rightly so, that their civil rights were being abridged by southern whites because of their illiteracy and feared that they would become a permanent underclass. His solution was to offer federally funded universal education program. His proposal did not have wide support and the idea died.
Perhaps his appeal to Bachmann is that he strongly opposed the paper dollar, preferring a bi-metal financial scheme using both gold and silver and he very much favored government funded financial support for farmers.
It stands to reason that Bachmann would admire Calvin Cooledge. He gained a reputation as a small-government conservative and was as responsible as any one man could be, with the possible exception of Herbert Hoover, for the Great Depression. For six years he preached his philosophy of laissez-faire government while the lack of regulation he loved allowed banking and financial institutions and even business themselves engaged in progressively more risky practices until it all collapsed on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. His administration did so little to prevent the depression that Franklin Roosevelt felt compelled to describe thusly:
"For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent."
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I'm sorry that Michelle Bachmann has fallen so far in the polls. She brings a certain lightness, a certain simplicity (or perhaps, simple-mindedness) to the campaign that helps keep it all in perspective.
Rodger Knight is a retired probation officer and amateur historian with a particular interest in the Depression and war years. He has a BA in English and History from Cal State University, San Bernardino and, for two years, was a graduate student (more...
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