June 06, 2004

Remembering Ronald Reagan

One of the reasons I never became a right-winger is because most of my earliest memories of politics date from Reagan's first term in office. Although I was concerned for Reagan's health when he was shot by John Hinckley on that day in fourth grade, my memories of Reagan's Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt made "Republican" a bad word from the time I first learned what the word meant. I also remember the suspicions that Reagan's election team plotted to delay the release of the American hostages held in Iran until just after the election, so Jimmy Carter wouldn't be able to take credit for it. "Who would do that kind of thing," I asked as a fourth-grader, "except for low-down, lying, cheating, powermongerers who can't be trusted?" Even if I didn't use those exact words, they convey the essence of my memories fairly accurately.

The Democrats, I've learned, often cheat and lie as well. But my first exposure to lying politicians during my formative political years was, thanks to Ronald Reagan, of lying right-wing politicians. The first cut is always the deepest, eh?

My political education continued as I started high school and Reagan was in his second term. I know Reagan is praised for being a staunch anti-Communist, but somehow his anti-Communist rhetoric always seemed clownish and facile to me. By the time I was in high school, I knew something about Vietnam and about the discredited domino theory, so it seemed absurd that Reagan was so obsessed with the "Communist threat" in Central America. The Nicaraguan Sandinistas couldn't have been much worse than the dictator they'd overthrown, and the right-wing death-squads that Reagan propped up in El Salvador didn't seem like such great guys either. The lesson I took from all of this is that the American right didn't give two stones about the people in any of these countries, but they were willing to support the most brutal dictatorships to ensure that American multinational corporations could maximize their profits.

The Iran-Contra scandal taught me that the hard right, exemplified by people like Oliver North, would violate any rule or principle in order to achieve the results they wanted. "Congress says it's illegal? What does Congress know? I'm a real American patriot! And I say, selling guns to the repressive mullahs in Iran to give money to the repressive (but anti-Communist) Contras in Nicaragua is good policy by my lights--and my opinion is the only one that counts." Ahh, good ol' Oliver North. Even if he wasn't making cameo appearances on Fox, I still wouldn't be able to forget him. All the foreign policy clowns in the current administration are cut out of the same mold. Some of them are actually the same people--John Poindexter was indicted for his role in Reagan's Iran Contra and is now runs George W. Bush's Total Information Awareness project. It's good to know that you can't keep a good man down.

Ronald Reagan may have been the Great Communicator and all that; he may have given the generations older than mine who remembered Vietnam and Stagflation some optimism. But for me, he shaped my perception of right-wing politicians in a way that pretty much guarantees I won't be voting for George W. Bush in November.

Posted by Carey at June 6, 2004 08:52 PM

Carey, you were better as a fourth grader at discerning the nasty truth than I was as a member of the voting public.

Still, I am able to learn.

I shan't be voting for the shrub, either.

Posted by: Denise at June 6, 2004 11:12 PM

I largely agree, Reagan was certainly no friend to the environment. The strain of neoconservatism that runs through the administration of Bush the Younger was not as strong during the Reagan years, but was certainly present. The paleoconservatives had great hope that one of their own, the eminent scholar Mel Bradford, would get the Chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Alas, it went to the neocon extraordiaire (and hypocrite gambling addict) Bill Bennett. Already the purge of the Old Right from the GOP was in full swing.

Posted by: Nick at June 7, 2004 11:34 AM

Reagan's "anti-Communism" stance kinda reminds me of GWB's "war against terrorism" and his fixation on Irag and their "threat to freedom" sound bites he says over and over in every interview/speech.

Posted by: Nancy at June 7, 2004 02:39 PM

While I'm not any lover of Reagan (and I think some the hulabaloo over his death is somewhat rediculous), one thing that Reagan did that was somewhat good was the invasion of Grenada. The radical left often paints it as an evil conservative government overthrowing a nascent left-wing entity (much like the other latin american expeditions), but in fact the Marxist coup in Grenada had just overthrown a socialist government (which the US administration also didn't like all too much) and started a seriously murderous rampage. After an outrage, the US invaded, and reinstalled a compromise government which consisted of members of both the socialist and the conservative governments, which has ruled the country rather fairly and peacibly...

Of course it's on this example (among others) that Clinton invaded Somalia and Bush invaded Iraq, Liberia, and Haiti with the intent to remove corrupt and murderous regimes.

So the question becomes: Is it worth it to virtuously invade other countries when you know that usually it won't bring about any positive change? Or should you see the glass as half-full?

Posted by: Isaac at June 7, 2004 05:45 PM

I don't really remember that much about Reagan, at least his first term. I wasn't too policitally aware back then. However, I do remember one of his debates with Mondale. It was Reagan's closing remark (one of the few parts of the debate that both candidates have, historically, memorized) and he began well enough, yet immediately he began to ramble. I remember thinking something just didn't sound right. He started out talking about driving along the coast, thinking about America, looking out at the ocean and the sunset and then...the moderator stopped him because his time was up. At no other time can I remember him looking, just for a half-second, so much like a confused old man who just didn't understand what was going on around him.

Based on this, I started to watch him whenever I could. I still wasn't all that politically aware, but I've always enjoyed watching people--their facial expressions, their speech patterns, the way they respond to things around them. It didn't take long for me to become convinced, and I remain so to this day, that Reagan was detrimentally affected by alzheimers his entire second term in office.

That's not intended to be a crack at Reagan. He did some good things for this country and the world while he was in office. He also did some ugly things. Unfortunately, because of his alzheimers, I don't think he's responsible for some (much?) of what happened under his watch, at least during the last half.

Posted by: Brian at June 7, 2004 08:34 PM

So when he said he didn't recall selling arms to Iran to free hostages, he probably was telling the truth? Interesting.

Posted by: Larry at June 8, 2004 12:01 AM

Hell, he probably didn't remember to wipe just prior to the press conference. :P

Posted by: Brian at June 8, 2004 10:41 PM

Reagan was one of the best Presidents this country has had in a long time. He was not afraid to make big decisions, and did not worry so much about the polls.

I admire him greatly for his ardent zeal in fighting the evils of communism. His efforts truly helped to almost completely eradicate the communist cancer under whose shadow the nations so long trembled.

He made sure that this country did not become a Communist Russia, either from without by conquest or from any leftist labor movements within.

From the time I was a little boy all the way until just before I entered high school, Reagan was there protecting America, ensuring a place for American business interests in the world for the future. We even now reap the benefits of this.

Why can't our leaders be as decisive today as was President Reagan? Why can't they be as rooted in principle? President Reagan spoke the truth that he never feared for this country as long as it stayed close to principles of religion and a government that endows freedom. We would be wise, as a country, to keep to this vision.

I know that people can disagree, but Reagan was a truly great man in my eyes.

Posted by: Thom at June 9, 2004 03:04 PM

I completely agree. Reagan was indeed guided by principle. His principle of enriching the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class set the foundation for the America we know today--an America that gluts itself at the expense of the rest of the world, doling out its wealth and priviledge to those who do its bidding and clamping down on those who do not.

Even now I'm stunned by the knee-jerk reactions of some who unthinkingly correlate communism with evil. Was Lenin any more inherently demonic than Washington? Was Karl Marx any more of a vicious killer than Adam Smith?

Communism, at its roots, attempts to empower the powerless and cut the corrupt down to size. That human nature gets in the way and prevents the theory from ever becoming reality on a large scale is no fault of the theory itself, and certainly does not make it evil.

The Soviet Union was not evil because its government was communistic. It was evil because its leaders arrogantly decided communism was right for the entire world and no dissent could be tolerated.

Wow, that almost sounds like recent conservative attempts to pin the "traitor" label to anyone who doesn't agree with their policies.

That all being said, I will agree Reagan did much to end the threat of the Soviet Union. He understood the economy to be the USSR's weakness and exploited that weakness, forcing the Soviet leaders to choose: war or quit.

Posted by: Brian at June 10, 2004 09:13 AM

In some people, saying that "communism is evil" truly IS a knee-jerk reaction. But my saying that is much deeper than a "knee-jerk reaction", although it might be convenient to simply dismiss the comment by calling it that.

Granted, "communism" or perhaps "socialism" as a philosophy is not "evil" so far as the economic plan goes. That part of it actually seems to make sense in eliminating the disparity between rich and poor.

But communism as it was practiced behind the "iron curtain" was evil because it was 1)godless and 2)repressive. I speak from personal experience, having spent two years and then some in Eastern European countries whose people communism exploited for decades in the name of social equality. These people were much worse off than the poor in our country, despite the socialist promise of empowerment for the workers.

Maybe you think that sort of oppression of the poor in the name of social equality is good. Maybe you think the utter suppression and persecution of religion is good. I call it evil.

And you know what? That is just fine. The day was long foretold when people would "call evil good and good evil." You are fulfilling prophecy.

Posted by: Thom at June 10, 2004 09:23 AM

"Maybe you think that sort of oppression of the poor in the name of social equality is good. Maybe you think the utter suppression and persecution of religion is good. I call it evil."

Again, you're confusing the economic system with the nature of those who used it to oppress. I do not argue there were serious human rights problems in the old Soviet block, but to make a direct link between those abuses and the economic system under which they were carried out is quite a leap.

Additionally, how can you possibly blame religious persecution on an economic philosophy?

As far as being godless goes, I'm godless. Most of my family is godless too. I can tell you with all honesty, and I believe anyone who knows us would agree, we're all just about as far from evil as you can get. Imperfect, sure. Even downright baffled at times. But evil? Hardly.

That's one thing that's always fascinated me. Some (many?) religious folks seem to assume that because they recieve their moral compass from a specific source, anyone who does not recieve their moral compass from the same source must somehow be flawed, or less-than-moral.

Personally, I recieve my moral compass from a simple tenet I learned in pre-school: Do unto others as you'd have done unto you. If you really think about it, which of the ten commandments, that isn't specifically Judeo-Christian in focus (5-10), does this not cover?

Perhaps if the old Soviet regime would have kept this little thought foremost in their minds they'd have avoided much of the evil they brought to the world, godless swine that they were. ;)

Posted by: Brian at June 10, 2004 02:08 PM


The Godless comment was not a cut at those who don't believe in God. It was a statement against governments who purposely suppress religion, whose guiding tenets are that religion is an opiate for the feeble-minded, etc.

And I think I said in my last post that "communism or perhaps socialism as a philosophy is not "evil" so far as the economic plan goes. That part of it actually seems to make sense in eliminating the disparity between rich and poor." Meaning that I completely agree with you that an economic system is different from the people who oppress.

The communism against which Reagan fought was the socialism as perverted and twisted by power-usurping men. And the "godlessness" was not related to the economic scheme, as you seem to think I was saying, but which I did not say. The godlessness was based in a government-sanctioned official persecution of those with religious beliefs. I know, because I was in Eastern Europe in a religious capacity and heard the stories of the religious-minded people regarding their persecution solely because of their religious beliefs.

Thus, the communism against which Reagan fought was not just the bland economics of equal distribution versus capitalism, it was the whole corrupt socio-political mechanism which was his target.

Believe it or not, many religious people actually strongly support the underlying economic philosophies of socialism- some religions (including mine) believe in a "united order" where no man is esteemed to be more than his brother, whether financially or otherwise.

The point is- you have misread what I wrote. I never said that economic communism was somehow related to the suppression of religion. I did say that the men running the show over their oppressed people both economically and religiously. Is that not so?

Posted by: Thom at June 10, 2004 04:31 PM

With respect, I believe you may be correct. I may indeed have misread what you wrote. However, reading your last post, I also believe you miswrote what you meant. Thank you for the clarification.

May I then recommend you specifically leave the word "communism" out of any future attacks against the former Soviet social or legal system? Your problems with that system seem to be purely with the socio-political structure (rightly so I might add), and as we both seem to understand, communism is purely an economic theory on which the former Soviet Union was loosely based.

I did not, in any way, believe you were relating godlessness to the economic system. I was merely pointing out the lack of specificity in your argument when you claimed that, "...communism as it was practiced behind the "iron curtain" was evil because it was 1)godless and 2)repressive." By using those words, you clearly claimed that economic communism (is there another kind?) was related to the suppression of religion. Once again, you used the word "communism" which we both know has nothing to do with the human rights abuses perpetrated by many of the old Soviet leaders. As we both know, communism, as it was practiced in the former Soviet Union, was many things. It was imperfect, unstable, and inadequate to fill the needs of the people, yet as an economic system, which is all it ever was, it was neither evil nor godless. I'm glad we could clear that up.

Posted by: Brian at June 11, 2004 12:04 AM