JR'S Free Thought Pages
Ronald Reagan Obituary
"That tired old man we elected king...turning ploughshares into swords" - Don Henley song "End of the Innocence"
Common wisdom insists that leaders, once they die, must be eulogized. On that basis, tyrants like Attila the Hun, Adolf Hitler and Joeseph Stalin should be praised and glorified.
The nauseating stream of platitudes and adulations for Ronald Reagan as a compassionate caring human being and symbol of devotion to principle are offensive to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of his era.
When his brain ceased to function properly several years back after being diagnosed with dementia, no one really seemed to notice any difference from when he was in the Oval Office. The awful truth is: Reagan was an anti-intellectual extreme right wing fundamentalist Christian conservative philistine who dabbled in Astrology. In short, he was dumber than a bucket of ball peen hammers.
The man who brought us Ollie North's secret government, record deficits, the worst homelessness since the Depression, rampant filling of the troughs of the military-industrial complex, hostile disregard of truth and accountability, and perhaps occupied the emptiest suit to ever legally win the White House... is dead.
Now that he is dead, not unlike following the recent death of Richard Nixon, we have to listen to the endless stream of media embellishments, fabrications and outright lies. Historical fact flies the face of all the media accounts of Reagan we have heard in recent days following his death and the subsequent pabulum spewed out at the funeral wake. This treacherous demagogue played to the basest, worst instincts of an America humbled by Vietnam, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage situation. Americans have an unhealthy sense of entitlement, which springs not so much from its cherished freedom, but from the "Me First" Individualism.
The standard commentaries recall Iran-contra as a scar on the end of Reagan's presidency, but the incident was trivial compared to the long list of administration crimes and misdeeds. For example, Reagan's officials so hated the Sandinista populists in Nicaragua that they shredded the constitution. Congress cut off money for the rightwing death squads fighting the Sandinistas. Reagan's people therefore needed funds to continue to run the rightwing insurgency. They came up with a complicated plan of stealing Pentagon equipment, shipping it to Khomeini in Iran, illegally taking payment from Iran for the weaponry, and then giving the money to the rightwing guerrillas in Central America. At the same time, they pressured Khomeini to get US hostages in Lebanon, taken by radical Shiites there, released. It was a criminal cartel inside the US government, and Reagan allowed it, either through collusion or inattention. It is not a shining legacy - to have helped Khomeini and then used the money he gave them to support highly unsavory forces in Central America. (Some of those forces were involved after all in killing leftwing nuns.
What follows is a short list of the Reagan legacy – conveniently left out of the glowing media accounts and rosy funeral speeches in recent days. Here we have the legacy of a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative who managed to take a US national debt that was $900 billion and run it up over $3 trillion - that's more than a triple folks. It looks as though George W Bush, who has cranked up the national debt from $6 trillion to close to $8 trillion, by adopting the same fiscal policy - extend huge tax concessions to the corporate sector and the super rich, attack two defenseless third world countries and spend bucket loads of money on the military to finance the party.
1. Reagan's economic policies were
a disaster for working-class Americans. Reagan presided over the worst recession
since the 1930s, and economic growth in the 1980s was lower than in the 1970s,
despite the stimulus of military Keynesian policies, which created massive
federal budget deficits and tripled the federal debt. By the end of the decade,
real wages were down and the poverty rate had increased by 20 percent.
Reagan hated any social arrangement that empowered the poor and the weak. He was a hired gun for big corporations in the late 1950s, when he went around arguing against unionization. Among his achievements in office was to break the air traffic controllers' union. It was not important in and of itself, but it was a symbol of his determination that the powerless would not be allowed to organize to get a better deal. He ruined a lot of lives.
During the era of McCarthyism as head of the Screen Actors Guild and as FBI stool pigeon, falsely fingered numerous fellow actors and actresses, as "Communists", making them unemployable and ruining their careers. His first wife, for this and related reasons, dumped him.
During the years of Reagan as Governor was the Anti-Viet Nam War period. Ronnie and his State cabinet members, such as Edwin Meese, who later became U.S. Attorney General when Reagan was President, formed a then secret plan to assassinate antiwar activists referred to as "Operation Garden Plot", a code name the process of putting dissidents in the cemetery.
2. Reagan took the world to the brink of nuclear war. Reagan's supposed contribution to the downfall of the Soviet Union was a military spending contest that drove the USSR, which was already in a state of economic stagnation, into economic collapse. Neglected in most present-day reminiscences is that this military spending spree nearly started a nuclear war. Development and deployment of a host of nuclear missiles, initiating Star Wars, acceleration of the arms race -- these led the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move its Doomsday Clock in 1984 to three minutes to midnight.
3. His 1981 tax cut was one of the largest in U.S. history and heavily favored multinational corporations and the rich. These major tax reductions for the economic elites helped widen income and wealth inequality gaps. As David Stockman admitted, one of its other intended effects was to starve the government of funds, so as to justify cuts in government spending. The gap between the super rich and the rest of the economic classes continues to widen and has been accelerating since the election of George W Bush who has many former Reagan cronies in his inner circle.
4. He was a union hater and was responsible for the firing of striking air traffic controllers. Reagan's decision to fire 1,800 striking air traffic controllers early in his term sent a message that employers could act against striking or organizing workers with virtual impunity.
5. He deregulated the Savings & Loan industry, paving the way for an industry meltdown and subsequent bailout that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare. It was Reagan and his ilk who set in motion globalization of the economy, relaxation of financial rules and international free trade agreements where all the former checks and balances to a civilized capitalist socio-economic system were removed. The result has been disastrous for working people and a bonanza for multinational corporations and has resulted in a stock market mania and subsequent meltdown not seen since the crash of 1929. This has been followed by an expose of a trail of corporate fraud, greed and deception not seen since the Robber Baron era of the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. The lawyers are making a bundle and the life savings of many have been decimated.
6. He instigated a bloody war in Central America. The Reagan-directed wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua submerged Central America in a climate of terror and fear, took tens of thousands of lives, destroyed a democratic experiment in Nicaragua, and entrenched narrow elites who continue to repress the poor majorities in the region. Reagan willingly abetted the murder of countless thousands of innocent people throughout Central America, killed at the hands of American-trained death squads and military units - more than 200,000 civilians murdered in Guatemala alone. Many more were tortured and raped by U.S. proxies and CIA operatives - all this with the connivance of top Reagan officials, who lied to Congress about the atrocities. One of these liars, Elliot Abrams, was convicted of perjury; pardoned by George Bush I, he now directs Middle East policy for George Bush II.
7. He embraced South Africa's apartheid regime (Said Reagan in 1981, "Can we abandon this country [South Africa] that has stood beside us in every war we've ever fought?" He followed up in 1985 with, "They have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country.") and dictators worldwide, from Argentina to Korea, Chile to the Philippines.
8. He Undermined health, safety and environmental regulations. Reagan decreed such rules must be subjected to regulatory impact analysis -- corporate-biased cost-benefit analyses, carried out by the Office of Management and Budget. The result: countless positive regulations discarded or revised based on pseudo-scientific conclusions that the cost to corporations would be greater than the public benefit.
9. Reagan slashed the Environmental Protection Agency budget in half, and installing Anne Gorsuch Burford to oversee the dismantling of the agency and ensure weak enforcement of environmental rules. Reagan hated environmentalism. His administration was not so mendacious as to deny the problems of increased ultraviolet radiation (from a depleted ozone layer) and global warming. His government suggested people wear sunglasses and hats in response. At one point Reagan suggested that trees cause pollution. He was not completely wrong (natural processes can cause pollution), but his purpose in making the statement seems to have been that we should therefore just accept lung cancer from bad city air, which was caused by automobiles and industry, not by trees.
10. He kick-started the era of structural adjustment. It was under Reagan administration influence that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank began widely imposing the policy package known as structural adjustment -- featuring deregulation, privatization, emphasis on exports, cuts in social spending -- that has plunged country after country in the developing world into economic destitution. The IMF chief at the time was honest about what was to come, saying in 1981 that, for low-income countries, "adjustment is particularly costly in human terms."
11. Reagan refused to address the AIDS epidemic and his vile homophobic meanness was reflected in his "blame the victim" approach to the AIDS crisis. His inability to come to terms with the horrible human tragedy here, or with the emerging scientific research on the problem, made his health policies ineffective and even destructive. Reagan didn't mention AIDS publicly until 1987, by which point AIDS had killed 19,000 in the United States and many more elsewhere. Reagan refused to mention AIDS publicly for six years, under-funded federal programs dealing with the disease and, according to his authorized biography, said, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague," because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments." While the public health service advocated aggressive education on prevention, Reagan moralists like Secretary of Education Bill Bennett insisted on confining prevention messages to abstinence.
12. He was responsible for facilitating gluttonous corporate merger frenzy. The administration effectively re-wrote antitrust laws and oversaw what at the time was an unprecedented merger trend. "There is nothing written in the sky that says the world would not be a perfectly satisfactory place if there were only 100 companies, provided that each had 1 percent of every product and service market," said Reagan's antitrust enforcement chief William Baxter.
13. Although Reagan's people were willing to shore up Iranian defenses during the Iran-Iraq War, so as to prevent a total Iraqi victory, they also wanted to stop Iran from taking over Iraq. They therefore winked at Saddam's use of US supplied chemical weapons. Reagan's secretary of state, George Schultz, sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad twice, the second time with an explicit secret message that the US did not really mind if Saddam gassed the Iranian troops, whatever it said publicly. Reagan ignored Hussein's brutal domestic repression, gave him U.S. military intelligence to help coordinate his attacks on Iran, including assaults with chemical weapons. Reagan even approved the sale of anthrax, West Nile virus and other poisons to Baghdad. The Iran-Iraq War, with its vicious atrocities and million fatalities, was continually inflamed by Reagan's insidious support of both sides.
14. In foreign policy, Reagan abandoned containment of the Soviet Union as a goal and adopted a policy of active roll-back. Since the Soviet Union was already on its last legs and was not a system that could have survived long, Reagan's global aggressiveness was simply unnecessary. The argument that Reagan's increases in military funding bankrupted the Soviets by forcing them to try to keep up is simply wrong. Soviet defense spending was flat in the 1980s and its economy was on the verge of total meltdown.
15. In addition to the fact that he
was clearly an intellectual midget, Reagan's ability to mingle truth with
fantasy was frightening. At different times, Reagan - who infamously said that
"facts are stupid things" - falsely claimed to have ended poverty in Los
Angeles; implied he was personally involved in the liberation of Europe's
concentration camps; argued that trees cause most pollution; said that the
Hollywood blacklist, to which he contributed names, never existed; described as
"freedom fighters" the contra thugs and the religious fundamentalists in
Afghanistan who would later become Al Qaeda; and claimed that fighting a
"limited" nuclear war was not an insane idea.
Reagan's aggressive foreign policies led him to shape our world in most unfortunate ways. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Ronald Reagan created al-Qaeda, it would not be a vast exaggeration. The Carter administration began the policy of supporting the radical Muslim holy warriors in Afghanistan who were waging an insurgency against the Soviets after their invasion of that country. But Carter only threw a few tens of millions of dollars at them. By the mid-1980s, Reagan was giving the holy warriors half a billion dollars a year. His officials strong-armed the Saudis into matching the US contribution, so that Saudi Intelligence chief Faisal al-Turki turned to Usamah Bin Laden to funnel the money to the Afghans. This sort of thing was certainly done in coordination with the Reagan administration. Even the Pakistanis thought that Reagan was a wild man, and balked at giving the holy warriors ever more powerful weapons. Reagan sent Orrin Hatch to Beijing to try to talk the Chinese into pressuring the Pakistanis to allow the holy warriors to receive stingers and other sophisticated ordnance. The Pakistanis ultimately relented, even though they knew there was a severe danger that the holy warriors would eventually morph into a security threat in their own right.
Reagan's policies thus bequeathed to us the major problems we now have in the world, including a militant Islamist International network whose skills were honed in Afghanistan with Reagan's blessing and monetary support; and a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which the Reagan administration in some cases actually encouraged behind the scenes for short-term policy reasons. His aggressive foreign policy orientation has been revived and expanded, making the US into a neocolonial power in the Middle East. Reagan's gutting of the unions and attempt to remove social supports for the poor and the middle class has contributed to the creation of an America where most people barely get by while government programs that could help create wealth are destroyed.
But he is dead, and I have to admit that I feel the same sense of relief as I do when any other petty tyrant and demagogue passes into nothingness.
Good Riddance to a third rate B Movie Actor, simpleton, pathological liar and former President of the most powerful country in the world.