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Invoking the Reagan Legacy – Harmless or Insidious?

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Message Cheryl Abraham

We’ve all seen and heard it: the continual propensity of the media and politicians to invoke the Reagan Legacy as if Ronald Reagan was the epitome of everything sacred to American values. Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain peppers his speeches with almost as many references to Reagan as he does with the words “my friends”. Is it such a bad thing to invoke the “Reagan Legacy”?

The very image of Reagan: his doddering headshake and goofy charming smile made him seem like somebody’s grandpa or kindly uncle who at any moment would say, “Well, Timmy, it’s time to mow that lawn!” No one person could be as completely faultless as Reagan is portrayed to be, could they?  The Reagan era seems to inspire a nostalgic dream for people, but it is a dream that has no basis in reality.  To invoke the Reagan legacy has a much more insidious side than just giving one for the “Gipper.” What legacy did Reagan really leave and what does invoking it mean and why has it become such an easy and acceptable thing to do?

Former President Ronald Reagan left the world a legacy to behold: a legacy of astonishing corruption, death, war mongering, lying, incompetence and more. To invoke such a legacy is to either be ignorant of what that legacy truly is or to be on board with all its horror.  Ignorance of that legacy is common and is part of the reason why such invocations are accepted and go virtually unchallenged. Very little was done to hold the Reagan regime accountable by the Clinton regime, in fact, as a Rob Perry article entitled, “The Democrats Praise Reagan Game” he states: “… instead of cleaning house, President Clinton took the advice of Washington insiders that it was best to sweep these unpleasant matters under the rug. That way, the thinking went, the new Clinton administration wouldn't be distracted from its domestic priorities, like health care and economic policy.” http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/12344  Sounds eerily familiar to the current leadership and the current stands of the presidential hopefuls who refuse to hold the Bush regime accountable with similar justifications doesn’t it? Could it portend a future where the Bush legacy is worshipped with the same fanaticism?

The fall of the Soviet Union inspires many of the ill-informed to Reagan worship but it is a misplaced assumption to believe that President Reagan had much to do with that chapter in history.  In The Progressive Media Project article entitled, “Don’t credit Reagan for ending the Cold War”, written by Stephen Zunes it says, “Perhaps the most dangerous myth regarding the legacy of the late President Ronald Reagan is that he was somehow responsible for the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and its Communist allies in Eastern Europe collapsed primarily because their governments and economies rested upon an inherently unworkable system that would have fallen apart anyway. And they were doomed in part because they fell victim to pro-democracy movements. Totalitarian systems cannot survive without being able to control access to information. Cracks in the system were becoming apparent as early as the 1970s.”  http://www.progressive.org/media_760  Reagan worshippers seem more than happy to perpetuate the myth that Reagan’s charm and politics were the cause of the Soviet fall, and they continue to rewrite history to support this erroneous story.

The Reagan Legacy also includes the fact that his policies dumped more mentally ill people into the streets of America than ever before in history. Thousands of homeless mentally ill people who need treatment and a safe place to live are left without resources thanks to Reagan’s incompetent attempt to de-institutionalize the mental health system. http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/38/22/28  Fred Cohen, an expert in juvenile justice, professor emeritus of law and criminal justice at the State University in New York, Albany stated in a PBS Frontline interview “... If you want to understand how so many people with such serious mental illness came to prisons and jails, you have to go back to what's called the deinstitutionalization movement, which in turn I trace to California in the '60s during the Reagan [gubernatorial] administration..” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/interviews/cohen.html

In a CommonDreams.org article Bob Fitrakis states, “Reagan was a snitch during his Hollywood years. As Anthony Summers makes clear in his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, the “Gipper” had his own code name – “T-10” – and regularly provided the FBI with information on Communists, real, imagined and manufactured.”  Fitrakis goes on to write, “Reagan's response to the 1981-1982 recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, was to declare ketchup a vegetable, release federal cheese surpluses, and shackle the strike leaders of the air traffic control union hand and foot and lead them off to jail. My most pronounced memories of the Reagan years are the three hour cheese line and the German care packages to unemployed workers in Detroit. In the first two years of the Reagan administration, his policy was a forced economic recession and de- industrialization of the United Stated.(sic) He cut federal low income housing funds by 84%; his tax cuts for the rich, his “trickle-on” the poor and working class economics ended up tripling all previously existing U.S. government debt. So, when I think of the Reagan legacy, I think of urban decay, crack, homelessness, racism, rampant corporatism and the destruction of the American dream. Amidst the growing homelessness and despair, I remember seeing graffiti all over inner-city Detroit that simply said: “Ronald Wilson Reagan 666.” Reagan’s policies so marked him as “the beast” in Detroit, blue-collar workers actually cheered when he was shot.” http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0617-06.htm  

In an editorial piece in The Nation entitled, “The Reagan Legacy” we learn that the Reagan Administration “cuddled up with the fascistic and anti-Semitic junta of Argentina and backed militaries in El Salvador and Guatemala that massacred civilians. It moved to normalize relations with Augusto Pinochet, the tyrant of Chile. Reagan sent George Bush the First to the Philippines, where the Vice President toasted dictator Ferdinand Marcos for fostering "democracy." Pursuing a quasi-secret war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Reagan Administration violated international law and circumvented Congress to support contra rebels engaged in human rights abuses and, according to the CIA's own Inspector General, worked with suspected drug traffickers. Reagan covertly sent arms to the mullahs of Iran and courted Saddam Hussein, even after his use of chemical weapons. He appointed officials who claimed nuclear war was winnable, thus raising the chances that miscalculations by the Soviet Union or the United States would plunge the world into chaos.” The editorial goes on to state: “Despite his Administration's "law and order" language, by the 1990s nearly 200 Reagan-era officials had faced investigation and prosecution. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's conclusion that Reagan had "created the conditions which made possible the crimes committed by others" in the Iran/contra scandal holds true for the more widespread lack of ethical standards. His Administration weakened workplace safety standards. He presided over an S&L scandal that stuck taxpayers with a bill approaching a trillion dollars. He appointed Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. He tried to gut the Civil Rights Commission, and his Administration waged a relentless series of attacks on affirmative action while trying to grant tax-exempt status to private schools that engaged in racial discrimination.” The editorial ends by saying that Reagan’s presidency, “…  was no morning in America; it empowered and enabled some of the worst elements of public life in our country: greed, arrogance, neglect and hypocrisy. This Reagan legacy, unfortunately, survives its namesake, and, worse, it has been enhanced by the son of his Vice President.” http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040628/editors

In the May/June 1999 issue of iF Magazine, writer Robert Parry wrote, “Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America during his presidency, while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces. The death toll was staggering -- an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political "disappearances" in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala.” http://thirdworldtraveler.com/Ronald_Reagan/Reagan_Guatemala.html 

Reagan’s racist views are summed up well in a November 2007 Slate Magazine article by David Greenberg, “The bone of contention, as readers of "Chatterbox" know, is Ronald Reagan's 1980 endorsement of "states' rights" at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, close to the site of the ruthless 1964 murder of three civil rights workers. This matters because Reagan's election to the presidency that year hinged on bringing into the GOP fold several new groups—including the rank and file of white Southerners, the bulk of whom, for generations after the Civil War, wouldn't dare check a Republican name on a national ballot. Ever since, Dixie, once "solidly" Democratic, has been more or less solidly Republican… No one who used the phrase "states' rights" in living memory of the massive resistance movement against forced desegregation could be unaware of the message of solidarity it sent to Southern whites about civil rights. (The phrase, of course, had been bound up with racism at least since John Calhoun championed it in his defense of slavery in the 1830s.)..…. In the same vein, Reagan's use of phrases linked to insidious racial stereotypes—his talk of Cadillac-driving welfare queens, or "young bucks" buying T-bone steaks with food stamps—pandered to bigots while making sure not to alienate voters whom starker language would have scared away…… Building on the efforts of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon before him, as well as of a generation of Southern Republican leaders, Reagan succeeded in altering the terms of political debate when it came to race. Stripping away the crude bigotry that had cost the white South the rest of nation's sympathy in the 1950s and 1960s, he and other conservative political leaders fashioned an ideology in which racial politics were implicit, and yet still powerful. Ever since, their followers have been able to indignantly claim that any allegations of racism are smears and slurs—and discredit the entire discussion by making it about personal prejudice rather than public policy.”  http://www.slate.com/id/2178379/pagenum/all/#page_start

It seems as if there is quite a bit more to invoking the Reagan Legacy than simple nostalgia and when it is done by those who know exactly what the effects of the Reagan’s Legacy actually were and are there should be no doubt about what kind of warped sense of values these people have, and what kind of warped policies they are willing to promote.

Further suggested reading:                                                         http://www.americanpolitics.com/20020319Hersh.html http://www.democracynow.org/2004/6/7/noam_chomsky_on_reagans_legacy_bush http://www.sociology.org/content/vol003.004/thomas.html                               http://www.progressive.org/media_760


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