The Pre-Presidential Years
Uncle Bill Warner
no attention to that man behind the curtain." Remember that
subversive populist allegory which gave us so many political insights
and also the number one popular song of all time, "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow?" Remember "The Great Oz" who was
in reality just a con-man controlling his image from behind a curtain
that screened him from public view, so people saw only the face
projected on the wall enhanced by smoke and mirrors? Actors and
politicians, some think, can hoodwink the public and, like magicians
whose stock in trade is deception, divert people' s attention and
sell then a fake reality. Well, amidst the present orgy of adulation
surrounding the passing of our 40th president, it is becoming more
and more clear that Reagan's strength came from being all three:
actor, politician, and magician.
Maybe you are
old enough to remember the manufactured fears following World War
II which kept America scared enough of the "commies" to
do all sorts of things like blacklisting Hollywood writers, like
Yip Harburg who wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", the
most popular song of all time in America, and convincing people
that supporting a huge armaments industry with their taxes was necessary
to our safety. Ronald Reagan, then President of the Screen Actors
Guild, in 1947 testified before the "House Un-American Activities
Committee- HUAC, against his "left-leaning" colleagues
in Hollywood which helped over 300 of them find themselves out of
jobs. The myths THEY were creating were myths of the people (populism),
Many among the rich and powerful in this country, the ones who buy
and sell Congressmen, approved and applauded Reagan's testimony.
These people could not stand to have anyone else selling a populist
version of progressive reality to the public.
I really became
aware of Ronald Reagan when he got elected governor of California.
The first thing I, as a teacher, was aware of, was his 10% cut in
the education budget, which was part of his across-the-board cut
for all services provided by the state including health clinics,
and other programs for the benefit of the poor and defenseless.
None of his policies that I know of were aimed at the abuses of
wealth. Instead it seemed like all his "reforms" were
affecting those with the least political power, such as school kids,
welfare recipients, and minorities.
flogged the idea that he was for cutting taxes and reducing government.
That was the image. A peek behind the curtain reveals a state budget
that soared from 400 billion a year to 800 billion a year during
his governorship! There were thousands of new employees on the state
payroll by the end of his term. A magician says one thing as a diversion,
and does another. Yet many people, ignoring the facts, bought the
rhetoric, and still cite his "cutting taxes and reducing the
size of government" among his accomplishments!
One of his
favorite answers to the problem of unemployment was to cite "all
the jobs listed in the Los Angeles Times classifieds." He pointed
out that with so much work available, anyone who wanted to work,
could find it. Many Californians bought into that view without ever
really thinking that the number of jobs were not all that impressive
given that the L.A. area had over seven million people at the time,
and that almost all of the jobs were looking for people such as
"Systems Analyst with five years experience" or similar.
The reality of joblessness was dismissed as easily as a magician
makes a rabbit disappear. Reagan was the consummate magician.
I became even
more aware of his presence the year I, a poor teacher, paid more
in income taxes than the millionaire Governor, who paid nothing
at all due to tax loopholes. Suddenly the star of "Brother
Rat" and "Bedtime for Bonzo" was not just someone
I could turn off on the TV. He was shifting the tax burden downward
to me! In his anti-tax campaign, he stated that "taxes should
hurt," meaning that people should be painfully aware of the
taxes they had to pay so they would oppose them. Well, paying more
than he did hurt, all right!
his policy of higher college tuitions, citing figures that showed
that college enhanced lifetime earnings, so therefore they would
appreciate their education more if they had to work bussing tables
to pay their way through. The fact that a tired student is not at
his/her best escaped him, as did the idea that these people were
going to someday serve society and not just themselves.
Who can forget
Reagan's disastrous environmental policies, based on ignorance and
faulty data? He blamed over 90% of our air pollution on trees. His
opening up of California to despoliation is legend. Environmentalists
still groan about his comment in reference to logging Northern California
redwoods, "A tree is a tree, how many do you have to see?".
His idea was just to leave enough trees by the roadsides for people
driving through to enjoy, despite the fact that without the "back
up" forest, these trees would not be able to sustain themselves.
Then I remember
the year when Governor Reagan started closing the mental hospitals
in California, and we suddenly had a lot of crazy homeless people
on the streets. One of these released mental patients, Herb Mullin,
murdered 13 people in Santa Cruz. The foreman of the jury that found
Mullin guilty blamed the deaths on Reagan. Mullin's poor parents
could not afford the $100 a day it would have cost to keep him in
a "privatized" hospital. When I first came to California
the homeless problem was but a fraction of what it is today, and
though I do not blame Reagan for all of it, there was certainly
a dramatic increase when he closed the state hospitals and turned
loose a lot of people who could not make it on the outside.
story is an example of an anecdote. Admitedly it is an extreme example,
but it is a true incident and it underlines the reality which is
born out by statistics. Reagan, however, never hesitated to use
mythical anecdotes as "evidence" for his altered reality,
completely at odds with statistics. The crowning example was his
image of a "welfare queen" driving her Cadillac to pick
up her public assistance check. For Reagan, the plural of "anecdote"
was "data." Divert people's attention to an image and
away from the reality of the situation. "Pay no attention to
that man behind the curtain."
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