Progressive Writers Bloc

Reagan as Magician

Part II: the Presidential years

Uncle Bill Warner

The Wizard took over the oval office in 1980. He was handsome, gave boffo speeches, looked great on TV, and made Americans feel good about themselves. As long as you kept your eye on his ready, friendly smile, and listened to his words you just knew we had a president that was going to make America great again! We knew that unlike those "tax-and-spend' Democrats, his tax cuts, increased military spending, and getting off the back of business was going to bring prosperity, security, and a bright future for us all.

While he was president the press refused to push Reagan on hard issues because, as we were told, Reagan had the quality of "Teflon". Dirt wouldn't stick because he was "one of the most popular presidents in history". Those of us who thought of him as one of the worst presidents in history were made to feel slightly crazy. We felt isolated in our opinions and tended to pull into our shells. It is interesting, though, how objective data can pull back the magician's curtain. As last week's article by David Chandler documents in detail, Reagan was among the least popular, but most polarizing presidents in recent memory.

On entering office, he pushed his "Reaganomics" theories based on giving big tax breaks to the rich and letting the rest of the country fight for the crumbs that fell from the banquet table. This was called "voodoo economics" by his primary opponent, soon to be running mate George Bush the elder, and became labeled "trickle down theory" by David Stockman, Reagan's budget director, who later jumped ship in disgust.

Where did the Reagan administration get the money to finance their spending spree? They BORROWED it! When the government borrows big money, the country as a whole spends the next umpteen years paying interest to the few ultra wealthy investors who dominate the bond markets. It's a way to hobble future administrations who might want to spend something on social programs and pay off your rich backers all at the same time. The debt Reagan incurred is not paid back today, and is growing daily. Your great, great grandchildren will still be paying on it...we cannot even start to keep up on the interest! So much for fiscal responsibility. This is more than a right-left issue! Reagan came in with a national debt of $94,000,000,000. ($94 billion). When he left office, he had run it up to $4,330,000,000,000 (4.3 TRILLION!), nearly 50 times larger! America had a good time on the false prosperity, never giving a thought to who was going to have to pay for it.

Neo-conservatives love to use the term "flip-flop" as a pejorative, but Reagan, their hero, was a master of the flip-flop, having flipped-flopped from being a liberal Democrat to being a reactionary Republican, from having flip-flopped from a responsible fiscal conservative to being a wild-eyed irresponsible kid with a credit card. Then he flip-flopped from believing in democracy to supporting some of the worst and most brutal dictators around the world (like Marcos, Rios-Montt, Duarte, Duvalier, and Saddam Hussein). He flip-flopped from believing in the rule of law to believing in ignoring it both at home (defying and lying to Congress) and abroad where the World Court found the US guilty of terrorism against a country with which we were not at war (Nicaragua).

He also armed and trained the fundamentalist Islamic Mujahedeen (including one Osama Bin-Laden) to fight the powerful Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He flip-flopped from his position that we should never deal with people who take hostages to secretly sending arms to Iran in a deal to secure the release of 50 American hostages Iran had held for a year...stretching out their captivity just long enough to ruin Democrat Carter's chances of re-election (they were released at the very moment Reagan was being sworn into office...what a surprise). And then there was Central America.

Another stunning flip-flop involved his position of "The War on Drugs" to "The War paid for by Drugs". The illegal crusade against independence movements in Latin America conducted by the Reaganites dwarfed the scandal in Iran. Nicaragua was the centerpiece of his "anticommunist" proxy wars waged against the people in Central America. Funding for these "covert operations" came largely from the CIA getting a cut of the pie for protecting and abetting drug smugglers, bringing cocaine into the U.S. by the ton, putting millions into the funding of the "Contras", the Reagan-backed army trying to overthrow the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. The idea of the ends justifying the means was current, and many restrictions, legal and moral, were trashed, and many, many thousands of Central Americans died thanks to the generous US-supported conflicts.

By the end of his term of office, 138 of the Reagan Administration officials had been investigated, indicted, or convicted for misconduct and/or criminal activities, mostly relating to the Iran/Contra operations. One defense of Reagan was that nobody told him. I have always thought the captain of a ship was somehow responsible for knowing what was going on with his crew. The excuse that the President didn't know that all the hanky-panky going on below decks while he was on the bridge never quite cut it for me. If he knew, he was among the guilty. If he didn't, he was criminally incompetent. Which was it?

"Deregulation" was another rallying cry for the Reaganites. This means that the government was going to turn over the hen house guard duty to the foxes. The results of pulling the government watchdogs off the back of the Savings and Loan industry cost us billions of dollars when the deregulated thieves looted their businesses and got taxpayers to foot the bill!

One wonders today why so many Americans worship Reagan. Personally, I think they worship the image, and never look to see the man behind the curtain. General Electric Corporation, one of our biggest war contractors and corporate criminals put Reagan under contract for eight years, paying him to host their TV playhouse show and to give anticommunist speeches at the dinners of rich businessmen (the "mashed potato circuit"). GE now owns three of the four major TV networks, which are giving surprisingly little negative coverage of the Reagan years. Another Reagan masterpiece was to deregulate the media, which allowed just a few big rich corporations to gain control over most of what we read, watch, and listen to. Goodbye informed voters. (Thank God for the Internet and the Tule Times, which they do not yet control!)

Reagan appointed leaders chosen from industry to subvert the government agencies that were supposed to regulate those industries. Anti-environmentalists were selected protect the environment. Lumber industry people were given control of the national forests, and so on. America was up for sale, and it was the American people who wound up paying for it in the long run.

It would take a lot more space than I have here to finish off the list of Reagan disasters, from the appointment of extreme right judges, to support for white supremacy in the American South and Apartheid in South Africa.

Let us hope that Americans will learn a lesson from the Reagan years. Right now, "image" is everything. Californians even elected a Viennese weight lifter governor based on his image alone! He did not have to take a stand on anything. We go for the appearances, not substance. If we never learn to look behind the curtain in the Emerald City and see what is REALLY going on, we are going to be played for suckers by good-looking, smooth-talking con men until there is nothing left to save of this great country. I hope that we can start informing ourselves and judging our leaders by what they DO instead of what they SAY! I hope history will remember Reagan for what he did, not just for his fatherly "nice old man" image on the TV.

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