Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Reagan Centennial: Whitewashing Reality

As the fawning corporate media (which is not at all "liberal" like detractors claim that it is) has proclaimed ad nauseum in the past week and likely in the coming week, 40th president Ronald Reagan was born 100 years ago today. Since I did not have a blog in 2004 when he passed away and we were inundated with historical revisionism about the mythological Reagan, I was not able to offer my take on this president. On this occasion of the centennial of his day of birth, I will do so today. Hopefully, I won't ever have an occasion to write about him again.

The 1980 presidential election was the first election that I was consciously aware about. Though I remember going into the voting booth with my mother in the 1976 election, I did not know what she was doing (I was a couple months shy of turning 5 years old). By 1980, I knew who the president was, that he had a young daughter, that they were from Georgia (a state that seemed far away from me in Utah), and that my parents were voting for him. My Democratic allegiances started early (though I'm way more of a loyalist than my father is). I was in the Cub Scouts at the time of the 1980 election and for the Blue and Gold banquet around election time, we had to bring a patriotic cake for an auction fundraiser. My brother and I got creative with our cake decorating. My brother's idea was to have a boxing ring on top of the cake with cartoon caricatures of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (cut out from the cover drawing of a national magazine, attached to a drawn body figure and glued to a stick to stand upright on the cake). Since the caricature of Reagan had a barcode or something on his cheek, my dad had the brilliant idea to put a band-aid there. My dad drew a cartoon picture of Uncle Sam to serve as the referee. We loved the cake idea so much that my dad actually bought it back at the auction!

My cake idea was a "race to the White House." My dad made a White House out of Sugar Cubes and white birthday candles for the pillars. I also had cheap-style die-cast metal cars to use for the three candidates (John Anderson was the Independent candidate). Tiny pictures of Carter, Reagan, and Anderson were attached to the cars. I had Carter in the lead car. Someone else bought that cake at the auction. The disappointment was that neither my brother nor I won any prizes (such as "Most Original" or "Most Creative"). None of the other cakes were decorated like ours. What I remember most was that the other cakes were typical red, white, and blue frosting and American flag decorations. In 2000 and 2008, I repeated this style of political cake by using cartoon caricatures of Gore, Bush, and McCain for the 2000 version, and Obama and McCain for the 2008 version. I had caricatures of Bush and Kerry for the 2004 version, but I was in San Francisco for election day that year. I like this idea. I may do one for 2012 and definitely for 2016.

Even though I was young during the 1980 election, I had my first disappointing election night. I actually hated the idea of Reagan as president. He looked ancient to me, like a corpse. I thought he was supposed to be retired and enjoying it, not leading our nation. When I heard that he was shot, my reaction at the time was, "Good! Is he dead?" In retrospect, I don't know why I felt so strongly about that but my opinion has changed. Even though I supported Gary Hart in 1984 and then Walter Mondale when he won the nomination, I'm actually okay with the idea of Reagan as president during the 1980s. That's not to say that I agree with his policies at all (because I don't). However, how can one even think about the 1980s as the decade it was without Reagan looming over it (along with Thatcher, Gorbachev, Kohl, and Mitterand on the global stage)? Our country would have been much better off if we had listened to President Carter's ideas about energy conservation and exploring alternatives. However, in assessing the presidential administrations from our vantage point, I have to admit that Carter's presidency was a failure and Reagan's was a success.

How should Reagan be remembered? Well, if I were a historian who would write the history of the 20th century, and I got to pick the three things each president should be remembered by, for Reagan, I would select: (1) Iran-Contra; (2) his "cut-and-run" when several hundred U.S. Marines were killed in the bombing of their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 while launching an invasion of the Caribbean island Grenada; and (3) giving chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein and funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan (including CIA training and support to a certain terrorist named Osama Bin Laden). The seeds of our "blowback" (or "karmic retribution" in spiritual terms) were sewn in the Reagan years.

Does anyone else find it strange that the Iranians would release American hostages in the first hour of Reagan's presidency? During Bush's reelection in 1992, the news reported on the Reagan-Bush deal with Iranians to hold the hostages until after the 1980 election. If these allegations are true, that means Reagan and Bush committed treason against the United States of America and plotted against U.S. citizens for their own personal benefit, as well as conspiring with enemies of America to bring down a presidency. Could the deal to sell American weapons to Iran and funnelling the money to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua been part of the "October Surprise" negotiations in 1980? If that were not bad enough, the Reagan Administration also propped up the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and looked the other way when he gassed his own people in 1988. Funny how conservatives did not raise a peep about that incident UNTIL 2002-2003 when President George W. Bush used that example for why America needed to invade Iraq and take out Saddam's regime. He gassed the Kurds!!! So, the conservatives actually have "an attack of conscience" 14 years after the fact and they still couldn't admit that the weapons came from the United States!

As for the funding of the mujahadeen, even I as a teenager supported that plan. The idea was to turn the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan into their Vietnam: a devastating decade long war that would undermine the popular support of the Russian people for their government. Its hard to say how much of the Afghanistan debacle had an impact on the Soviet Union's ultimate collapse in 1991. I imagine that it had some. However, the problem with funding and training unscrupulous people who have no problem killing people is that they can easily turn on you. Isn't history kind of circular in that our expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to our own economic collapse in 2008? Like some spiritualists say: "Karmic payback is a bitch!" Thanks, Reagan!

Though I have Reagan's memoirs and a few biographies on him to read, I can understand his appeal. He had a folksy charm and an affable personality. He was known for his great sense of humour. There is a reason why conservatives have latched on to him like an iconic figure and yardstick by which all other candidates are measured against. His presidency is seen as "successful" because the real effect of his policies did not impact our country until other presidents were in office (the recession of 1991-1992, the ongoing problems with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the exploding deficits that Republicans forced Clinton to reduce). Reagan was able to ride off into the sunset, like the cowboy he pretended to be while his alzheimer's ate away at his memory and he was hidden away for the last dozen years of his life.

Movements to rename an airport in Washington, D.C. in his honour as well as the largest government office building in the District (the ultimate in irony!), to have a memorial on the National Mall, to add his face to Mount Rushmore, to put him on the $10 bill, to name an aircraft carrier after him, and streets and schools around the country are all meant to codify him as "one of the greats." I think Americans need to wait another century before we give him a monument on the Mall or put him on the currency. After all, President Andrew Jackson was considered the first populist president and he left office quite popular, but people in our day don't think so highly of his presidency (a lot of that has to do with the forced removal of Cherokee tribes to land no one wanted in what is known as "The Trail of Tears"). If Reagan's foreign policies sowed the seeds of our economic and costly military fiascos of the last decade, why should Reagan be enshrined among the best? No foreign dictator did as much damage to our country over the long haul as Reagan had done. Iran-Contra, Iraqgate, October Surprise, and the funding of the mujahadeen are enough to indict Reagan as a traitor to the American destiny.

As I explained to a friend, the reason why conservatives have this Reagan fetish is because what other Republican president can they hold up as a hero to their cause? George W. Bush was promised as the second coming of Reagan, but by the end of his disasterous tenure, even hardcore conservatives weren't willing to defend him anymore. Many are now claiming that Bush was never a true conservative (history shows, though, that the Reaganesque "trickle-down economics" scheme that Bush borrowed and used does not work). Father Bush angered conservatives by raising taxes (which historians credit for the economic boom that Clinton enjoyed riding to high approval ratings in the late 1990s). Gerald Ford was "the accidental president" who wasn't too bright. Richard Nixon left office in disgrace. Dwight Eisenhower left office warning about the power of the Military-Industrial Complex. Herbert Hoover did nothing to prevent the Stock Market crash of 1929 nor did he try too hard to restore America from the widespread devastation. Theodore Roosevelt was too much the environmentalist as well as being against corporate monopolies. And Abraham Lincoln, far and away the greatest Republican president, screwed over the Confederacy. That's why conservatives embrace Ronald Reagan as their greatest president. He represented a victory in the "cultural wars" that our country had been under since the unraveling of American society in the Lyndon Johnson years.

So, I'll let the conservatives crow about the one Republican president that they adore and worship like some demi-god. At least the Democrats have several admirable presidents to choose from, men who have inspired people around the world with their visions: Obama, Clinton, Kennedy, Truman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Republican debates in the 2008 primary season, it was funny to hear the candidates try to out-Reagan each other. Reagan was discussed more in some debates than actual policies of importance. This is just one example of the true nature of conservatives: always looking back to some mythological "Golden Era" that history proves is false. Nostalgia has the amazing effect of erasing away all the bad experiences and leaving only the most cherished memories glowing in bright, translucent colours. The sooner we can forget about Reagan, the better. After all, he forgot about us somewhere in his presidency. No one really knows when he started to get alzheimers, but it was probably during his second term rather than after he left office. If anything, Reagan should be held as an example for why we should not elect presidents who are older than the age of retirement (this would disqualify Hillary Clinton in 2016). 40s and 50s are a good age for a healthy, active president.

Unlike some liberals, though, I'm not going to say that Reagan went to hell when he died, because I don't believe that. What makes more sense to me is that he would have a life review in the spiritual realm and see the impact he had on people around the world for good and bad. He is well loved by many Americans and he seemed like a decent guy following the script that his party operatives handed him. Maybe he knew nothing at all about Iran-Contra, that this subversion went on without his knowledge. Whatever the case may be, true justice served would be the soul of Reagan experiencing the results of his actions in every moment of his life and perhaps learning why some things turned out badly for millions around the world and came back to haunt America in the 2000s. The real tragedy is people who are living now and not understanding that there are karmic consquences when you give enemies of our country, of democracy weapons of mass destruction to use against other people. At some point, the karmic boomerang will always return to sender and as the events of 9/11 proved, we don't like it when foreigners mess with our way of life. DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. This is the only law of the universe we need to live by for our own salvation and grace.

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