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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Deification of Ronald Reagan

The media this week is full of articles about former US President and conservative icon, Ronald Reagan.

If he were still alive, he’d be 100 years old this month (he’d also be clawing at the lid of his casket… stop me if you’ve heard this one).

What?

Oh, right. It’s actually next month. February 6th to be exact. But hey, when it comes to Reagan, well, you know every day is his birthday.

Some of those articles are favorable, some less so, depending on the political bent of whatever particular writer penned the article. Left or Right, one thing they all seem to have in common is an almost mythical view of The Gipper. Love him or hate him, Reagan inspires strong passions in many Americans – even those who aren’t old enough to actually remember him.

Liberals see him as, well, not evil incarnate per se (that title is reserved for Darth Cheney and his sidekick, Jar Jar Bush) but more like something akin to one of those animatronic androids in Disney’s Hall of Presidents – and in fact, during his cocaine fueled heyday the manic comedian, Robin Williams, used to do a hilarious sketch of exactly that.  A cross between a break-dancing move called The Robot and Max Headroom, Williams would jerk mechanically on stage while doing a dead-on balls imitation of Reagan’s famous voice, zzzzzzzzzzzst, click zzzzst clank, weeeeelllllll now Naaaancy, ssssprt sprong!  I don’t know many Liberals who out and out hate Reagan, but I do know a whole bunch who’d rather have Robin Williams at the helm than a repeat of Bedtime For Bonzo. 

Conservatives, of course, revere Reagan as near God-like, a heroic Jesus/Charlton Heston figure, the man who won the Cold War and beat the Evil Empire. His mystical legend grows day by day, he’s the man who singlehandedly saved the Republic, invented modern conservative economics, and revitalized the Military/Industrial Hair Gel complex.  Conservatives renamed Washington’s National airport for him and, if that wasn’t enough, they christened a Nimitz Class nuclear super-carrier in his name a full decade before he died (of course, they named one after George H. W. Bush too, so you know, don’t be too impressed). Nowhere is this bizarre worship summed up better than in a USA Today OpEd piece penned by the world’s bestest Conservative and would be Reagan Heir Apparent, Sarah Palin:

I had the privilege of coming of age during the era of Ronald Reagan. I like to think of him as America's lifeguard … The image of the lifeguard seems to represent what Reagan was to America and to the freedom-loving people of the world. He lifted our country up at a time when we were in the depths of economic, cultural and spiritual malaise. We were told that we must accept that the era of American greatness was over; but with his optimism and common sense, President Reagan held up a mirror to the American soul to remind us of our exceptionalism… under his leadership we won the Cold War without firing a single shot…

Privilege? Well, sure, Sarah. And aren’t you special, aren’t you exceptional. Yes you are. Just like those bumper stickers liberals like to slap on the backs of their Subaru Foresters attesting to how their kid is a special superstar – just exactly like everybody else’s kid.  Yeah, you’re special. You and about 8 billion other people – including me – who “came of age” during the so-called Reagan Era.

Of course, the difference is that while Sarah Palin was losing beauty pageants and her virginity and failing out of one college after the other, I was serving in Ronald Reagan’s military on the frontlines of that Cold War – I’ve got a decoration around here somewhere testifying to it (Yep, there’s a Cold War Service Ribbon. That and $3.75 will get you a large latte at the VA Coffee Shop).  While Palin was fumbling her way through the local high school sports scores on KTVA in Anchorage, Reagan sent my comrades and I across Daffy Gadhafi’s Line-O-Death on a mission of gunboat diplomacy called Operation Eldorado Canyon – I’ve got a couple of medals around here for that little adventure too (and for those, people might actually buy you a beer, or not). Yes, I guess you could say that I had the privilege of coming of age during the era of Reagan too – except my coming of age was shaped directly by the consequences of Reagan’s foreign policy instead of by lipstick and locker-room parties.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I grew up during Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement and Nixon and the Hippies and the Age of Aquarius. And I remember very well indeed exactly what it was like after the war ended.  I remember the Carter years, and the OPEC Embargo, and Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Recession and the car industry going belly up.

Oh yes, I remember what Edwin Feulner called the Great Malaise.

And Reagan did, in many ways, make America proud of itself again.  He was charismatic, he made you like him. Conservatives, oh how they hate Obama for his charm and easy manner and especially his popularity, derisively calling him “The Messiah,” but that’s nothing compared to the worshipful adulation, and present day deification, of Ronald Reagan by Conservatives.  Reagan radiated a 1950’s movie star charm and confidence, like Errol Flynn, you could feel it when you were in his presence.  I saw him speak once, and shook his hand, and you couldn’t help but like the guy even if you couldn’t stand his politics. He was a sincerely nice human being. The military loved him – especially after he signed the defense authorization bill in 1986 that for the first time in our country’s history increased our pay to a living wage. 

History will probably say that he was one of the great ones, i.e. the right guy in the right job at the right time. And I don’t think I’ll argue the point – you’d have to have lived through that time from where I was sitting.

But Reagan most surely didn’t “win” the Cold War by himself – he was simply the last in a long line of cold warriors.

And he sure as hell didn’t win it “without firing a single shot.” 

Because see I was there, and there were many shots fired. We expended rounds in Libya and Lebanon and Grenada and the Congo and the Korean DMZ and Afghanistan and Iran and Nicaragua and El Salvador and, oh hell, all up and down the Central American isthmus from Mexico to Panama. After Reagan declared war on drugs we fired more than a few shots in South America too – some at Russian advisors.  I’ve got pictures looking straight up into the open bomb bay of a TU-22M Backfire bomber, straight into a belly full of bombs and missiles, as it and twenty more just like it, roared over our heads at less than 200 feet with their targeting radars pulsing down on us with enough energy to fry our digital watches. I’ve got pictures of a Soviet frigate deliberately ramming USS Yorktown in the Black Sea, ripping the starboard torpedo bay open and damned near precipitating World War Three right there. I’ve got a tiny sliver of teak, a piece of wooden decking from a Libyan Wadi PTG, that attacked us one night south of the Line of Death deep in the Gulf of Sidre and as a result of that poor decision (at the behest of their Soviet masters) they took a pair of US Navy Harpoon missiles right straight in the teeth – hence there being nothing much left larger than a few small slivers of wood.  We fought a dozen proxy wars, big ones and little ones, and a hundred combat operations short of war that neither Sarah Palin nor her ignorant supporters have ever bothered to learn the names of.  I’ve got another dozen medals for those too and I can name the names of a dozen comrades in arms who are now nothing more than stars on a wall in a couple of lobbies in Washington D.C. who would agree with me – if they were still alive. 

No, we sure as bloody hell didn’t win the Cold War without a shot being fired – that statement is either a deliberate falsehood or it speaks of a profound and staggering ignorance.  Palin spends a hell of a lot of air expounding on her own supposed patriotism as the mother of a soldier, you’d think she’d show a greater respect for the sacrifices of that same military under the command of her idol.  But then, the fact that roughly 14,000 US military men and women died during the eight years of the Reagan administration doesn’t have quite the same miraculous ring to it that “won the war without firing a single shot” does.

You know, to some extent I can understand this deification of Reagan.  Like him or not, he was a hell of a leader during a time when America needed a leader. What Palin and the rest of those on the far right forget is that Reagan made you like him. He brought people together, even when they disagreed with him. He strove to unite the nation, not divide it, and to a large degree he succeeded if only briefly.  Could he do that now? I doubt it, this is not his time, the world has changed – due in no small part to his own efforts– and I don’t know that Ronald Reagan would be welcome in his own party today.

Conservatives, Palin and the Tea Party chief among them, rail about government overreach and intrusion upon American freedoms. This is a key plank in the conservative platform.  That and a bizarre paranoid fear the President will someday turn the military against its citizens. Reagan, as governor of California, sent in the State Police to put down student demonstrations on the Berkley college campus. That event became known as Bloody Thursday when the police opened fire on the crowd with double-ought buckshot fired from 12gauge shotguns. Hundreds were wounded or injured. Reagan then sent in 2000 National Guard troops to occupy the campus and impose martial law.  When criticized for a military response, Reagan famously responded, “If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement.” I have to wonder how those conservative militiamen who swarm the edges of today’s Tea Party would feel to see soldiers firing upon American citizens, but then again since the student demonstrators at Berkley were undeniably leftists, perhaps those Patriots wouldn’t protest too loudly.

Then, as California governor, Reagan signed into law the Therapeutic Abortion Act. Now to be fair, Reagan agonized over that bill for days, and he regretted it for a long, long time afterward – and claimed that if he’d been more experienced as a politician he would have vetoed it – but sign it  he did and he made abortion legal in California.  One has to wonder just how forgiving of that action John Boehner and the conservatives who are attempting to outlaw abortion in Congress right now would be of Reagan today.

On March 30, 1981, Reagan, his press secretary, and two Secret Service agents were shot in an attempted assassination.  Reagan barely survived, and while he eventually recovered completely, his press secretary, Jim Brady wasn’t nearly so lucky. Brady had been shot in the head and suffered extensive brain damage – there are few of us who lived through that terrible time who don’t remember poor brain damaged Jim Brady in his wheelchair while his wife, Sarah, spoke passionately about keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people.  Brady and his wife became advocates of gun control legislation – along with Reagan who championed their cause and who eventually signed the Brady Bill into law. Can you imagine a Tea Party or Republican candidate who advocated for gun control today getting their party’s endorsement for President?  Can you imagine Sarah Palin endorsing such a candidate? Even in the wake of the Giffords’ shooting? The thought is so ludicrous it makes me snort chocolate milk through my nose.

Conservatives deplore “socialism” and the government’s use of tax dollars to benefit those they deem unfit or undeserving or not American. Funny thing, Reagan gave the entire world, commies, socialists, Marxists, American hating dictators, terrorists, Iranians, drug smugglers, illegal aliens sneaking across the Arizona border and across the oceans to Miami, everybody, access to enormous gobs of America tax dollars in perpetuity. Yes, that’s right, Reagan gave the world our military GPS system for nothing – and now we’re obligated to keep paying and paying and paying for all those people to use it. There are 29 satellites in that system. Want to know how much is costs you to maintain that constellation? And Conservatives get pissed because a poor American woman might get a discount on cheese and formula for her baby. God Bless Ronald Reagan.

Palin has suggested that we invade Iran. Well, OK, not in so many words, what she said was President Obama could raise his popularity among conservatives and guarantee his reelection if “he played the war card” when it comes to Iran.  Well, ok, you got me, she did say it in so many words. Palin is not the only one, former VP Dick Cheney, and damned near every single conservative media pundit worth his dusty chalkboard has bloviated at length to the same effect.  Why then do you suppose they so venerate a president whose administration sold enormous amounts of weapons and military hardware to that self same Iran - weapons, I might add, that were later used against us – in defiance of the will of the people, Congress, and US law?  What’s that you say? Reagan was unaware of Iran/Contra? Sure. And O.J. didn’t kill the bitch, and Ollie North isn’t a popular conservative media personality. Sure. Look, either Reagan was operating outside the confines of the Constitution or he had lost control of his own administration – I’m having a damned difficult time figuring out how conservatives think either option is a good thing.

Palin et al denounced Obama as unAmerican when he bowed to the Emperor and the Prime Minister of Japan. Reagan laid a wreath on the graves of the Waffen SS – you know, the fucking Nazi SS.

But, of course, it’s Reagan’s economic policies that make him such a Saint in so many Conservative’s memories.  He’s famous for lowering taxes significantly in 1981, his first year in office, but he’s a lot less famous for signing into law legislation that quietly raised taxes every single year after that, every single year, Let me repeat that for the slow people in the room, every single year for seven years after 1981 – so much so that his successor, George Holy War Bush, used the campaign slogan “Read my lips, no new taxes” to grease his way into the Oval Office after Reagan (the ironic part being that the tab for Reagan’s economic policies forced Bush to raise taxes after all…and cost him reelection. Well, that and the fact that he had all the warmth and charisma of a sea cucumber).  Those huge tax cuts also had another interesting effect that I’m sure modern conservatives and Tea Party types alike will appreciate: combined with a 40% increase in the defense budget, they raised both the national debt and the deficit to levels not seen since WWII – where they’ve remained ever since (Clinton’s budget “surplus” shouldn’t be confused with national debt or the deficit). As to Reagan’s famous Reagonomics, well Reagonomics succeeded in making a lot of defense contractors and a lot of bankers very, very rich but there are a hell of a lot of people in this country who are still waiting for that wealth to tickle down twenty years on.  And in point of fact most of that wealth evaporated in an ongoing and continuing series of boom and bust cycles that don’t seem to affect the wealthy all that much but are sure hell on wheels for those folks who want Reagan’s face carved into the rock of Mount Rushmore.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I liked Reagan. I didn’t agree with everything he did or said or believed, but I didn’t hate him for it either. I liked being in his navy. I did.  I think he was exactly the kind of guy we needed back then. But I don’t think he’s the kind of guy we need now.  Reagan was like a shot of nitrous oxide into an internal combustion engine – great for a quick burst of power and speed, but you for damned sure don’t want to run the motor like that for long or else the pistons are going to blow right out through the hood. And my point here is that while history may one day judge Reagan as one of the Great Presidents, that’s a judgment more fitting of his 200th birthday and not this one. 

Reagan, whatever he was, was certainly no saint, no devil.  What he was, in point of fact, was an actual, no shit leader.

To give Palin her due, she’s right to admire Reagan. She’s certainly right to believe he was a great man, maybe even a great president. But she and Conservatives are wrong to put him up on a pedestal. On this, his 100th Birthday, politicians and pundits and indeed the rest of the nation would do far better to drop the hushed reverent tones and the Reagan-as-Myth airbrushing of history and learn the real lessons of his legacy:

We are one nation (under God, if you like), our strength comes from standing together and not from the things that drive us apart. Of all the things Reagan did, he did that, he brought us together as a nation and as a people.  He used humor and sincerity and humanity to reach people, he didn’t use hatred to drive them apart.

He deserves to be remembered.

He doesn’t deserve to be worshipped.

38 comments:

  1. I'm a bit younger than you. This is what I remember about the Reagan years:

    -Government cheese
    -My Dad unemployed & then under-employed for years-- despite a Master's degree in microbiology
    -My family on food stamps
    -Giving my parents all the money I earned on my paper route so they could pay bills
    -him taking credit for Germany destroying a wall (which they were selling chunks of at the local mall- rather an ironic show of the triumph of Capitalism over Communism)
    -He had a real shitty memory when it came to who we sold weapons to, whether it was Iran-Contra or the Sandinistas in Central America

    From where I sit, Reagan was shit-bag. Not evil- just willing to sell out his soul & everyone else's to whatever corporate interests cut him a deal & promoting greed as a virtue, leading to more than a few of our current political & economic problems.


    Gimpar- when the au par has a broken leg.

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  2. My understanding is that a lot of folks had similar experiences during the Reagan Administration. I was in the military then and living overseas and so my experience was different.

    I remember how damned miserable the 70's were. Reagan sure seemed like an improvement at the time - now, maybe not so much.

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  3. There's a lot to be said for when Ronnie came along. Look a the acts he got to follow.

    Nixon was, well, Nixon. In hindsight, people seem willing to give him his due (China...oh, and there has to have been something else). But he was Beelzebub incarnate to the left and even the right had some difficulty rallying around a guy who quit in the face of impending impeachment.

    Ford...unelected to V.P. Unelected to President. Nothing he could have ever done would have scrubbed off the stink of Nixon.

    Carter...heart in the right place, poster boy for ineffectual. (Now, poster boy for what an Ex-President should aspire to.)

    Not to belittle any of his actual accomplishments, but he was a salesman at a time this country needed some savvy marketing.

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  4. Thanks, Jim -- you've totally hit the nail on the head (repeatedly) as far as I'm concerned (although I never found the man engaging, endearing, or likable). The Perpetual Love-Fest and mythologizing really doesn't work for me, and you've laid out all the reasons why. --d.

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  5. I was stunned at the figure of 14,000 military deaths. Not that I want to diminish the death of someone, say in a vehicle accident, but are those total deaths in the military during that time? All combat related?

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  6. Claire, only a small percentage of those deaths were directly "combat" related. However, it's important - at least to a military veteran like me - to note that those 250 military personnel on Arrow Air Flight 1285 who died outside of Gander, Newfoundland in 1985, were serving their country exactly the same as the 254 military personnel who died in the Beriut barracks bombing in 1983.

    We lost more than a dozen Navy aviators from USS Kennedy during that ship's 1986 deployment to the Med while flying off Libya in support of operations there - none of those were combat related, but all were flying in support of combat operations.

    Losses as reported by the GAO:
    1981: 2380
    1982: 2319
    1983: 2465
    1984: 1999
    1985: 2252
    1985: 1984
    1987: 1983
    1988: 1819

    These figures include all deaths of personnel serving in uniform, combat related, accidental death, murder, suicide, and natural causes. They do not include those who died serving the country in non military services such as the CIA, FBI, DEA, and so on.

    Palin's assertation that Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot glosses over those losses and dishonors the men and women who gave their lives under Reagan to defend this country. And it pisses me off.

    Note: of those aviators who died during the USS Kennedy Med deployment, 2 of the dozen men who died when an EA-3B slammed into the flight deck, flipped over the incorrectly rigged crash barricade, and then went over the side and fell 90 feet to the sea, and then sank with all hands, were friends of mine. I watched them die from the deck of USS Bainbridge.

    Their names are etched on the memorial wall at the National Cryptologic Museum.

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    1. Sort of a late entry, as I just read this from your "Greatest Hits" section. While you served on USS Bainbridge, I was serving at NAVCAMS MED (Naval Communications Area Master Station Mediteranean - I'm sure you knew, but for any of your readers who hate acronyms) Naples, Italy as a young Electronics Technician (ET1). My next tour was on USS Richmond K Turner, which was part of your task force working the Gulf of Sidra, I believe.

      Your description of Reagan, and the times, both brought back a lot of memories and actually put a voice to some internal conflict I've had with him through the years. I don't know that I'd say I feel exactly the same as you do, but it's pretty close. I didn't agree with the politics, but he was a leader at a time when we really needed one.

      Another point well taken are the deaths of service members and I respect the way you count them in the original post. From my own experience, my first tour was aboard USS Kitty Hawk and I remember the indoctrination class where the Safety Officer proclaimed that you don't serve a tour on a carrier, you survive one, right before they showed us the Trial by Fire movie (again for those readers not familiar, this is a movie using actual flight deck footage of a fire aboard USS Forrestal - where John McCain was actually one of the pilots who almost died - to drive home safety and respect for learing your damage control roles). We lost six crewmen in different incidents during our WestPac cruise in 1981. Also, I knew, personally, several of the crew of the USS Stark (some had gone there from NAVCAMS Med) which was "accidentally" hit by an Exocet missle fired from an aircraft belonging to our then buddy, Saddam Hussein.

      Again, thanks for all your posts.

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    2. I know this is an old post on Stonekettle, but I noticed your mention of the USS Bainbridge. My cousin currently serves on the USS Bainbridge. He's in communications (I don't know his specific MOS) but I know that he holds himself to the highest standards, and those around him as well. So if the Bainbridge occupies a special place for you, please know she is manned by good men today as well.

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  7. I tend to be with Sharon on this one. I also credit Reagan with the fact I spent pretty much my whole teenage years convinced we'd end up in an accidental, total nuclear war with the Soviet Union, with Reagan's saber-rattling being a major proximate cause. My family, middle-class as it was, was financially better off than Sharon's (both my parents remained employed), but it was painfully clear that a lot of families were in straits similar to Sharon's or even worse; seemed like an awful lot of families were living out of their cars in those years.

    It was actually hard for me to credit him with getting the UN Convention Against Torture ratified by the United States and signed into law, hard for me to recognize he'd done even one good thing in office, though I'm sure there were achievements somewhere in there I'm overlooking. Hell, even Nixon had accomplishments.

    I expect Republicans deify the man because otherwise they have to go back to Eisenhower to find a Republican President who wasn't disgraced in office or best-remembered from Saturday Night Live parodies (a trait Gerald Ford and Geo. H.W. Bush share, oddly enough). It isn't just that Reagan made people feel special, though it seems he made some people feel that way; it's also that he managed to survive two terms relatively unscathed; the myriad scandals and indictments within his administration never seemed to stick to him, and his claims not to remember key meetings and events seemed disturbingly credible. And who else will the Republicans idolize, if not the Teflon President? Nixon, who may have actually accomplished more but left office in disgrace after he shat all over it? Eisenhower, who remains a figure from a distant era, not just historically, fading from living memory as the last elderly minds to remember him inevitably fall to the attrition of old age, but also ideologically?

    In a way, the GOP's emphasizing Reagan's warmth and exaggerating or misrepresenting his supposed achievements while glossing the tawdry, oppressive bleakness and violence of the 1980s is as much an act of desperation as it is anything else, you know.

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  8. Exactly, Eric.

    Greatness is a trick of perspective. Most of how we view Reagan depends on were and what we were during his administration. Like I said in the post, it was great to have a CINC who actually respected us in the military (I'm sure veteran Carter do to, but Reagan made the rest of the country proud of us again. You have no idea how that felt after the blight of the 70's. When I firtst joined the military in the early 80's, people would just shake their heads and say, "well, I suppose, if that's the best you can do...").

    Liberals are guilty of this too to some extent with the deification of Kennedy. The whole country tends to overlook his failings, or poopoo them if forced to confront the actual facts.

    Anyway, well said, Eric. Thanks

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  9. Note: I'm typing comments from my phone without my reading glasses on. Please excuse the typos and other such frippery. Thanks/Jim

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  10. And as Csalifornia governor, he raised taxes to balance the state budget- something else the Tea Partiers wouldn't approve.

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  11. You're right about Kennedy, Jim, though I think his "martyrdom" had an effect on his legacy, too: I don't know that he would be as well-regarded by some liberals today if he'd finished his term and served a second. Indeed, my guess is that he wouldn't, since I'm very sure he would have followed LBJ's Vietnam policy for similar political reasons, but without LBJ's slate of accomplishments (in addition to having a stronger ability to finesse Congress, LBJ also was able to use the political capitol JFK's untimely death created to push reform legislation; indeed, that's part of the reason JFK is so strongly associated with legislative achievements from LBJ's Presidency, despite not only the timeline but also the fact that JFK was stalling the Democratic left and civil rights lobby when it came to reforms when he died).

    But one of the things the Democrats have going for them, if you will, is more years in office in the 20th Century, including office held during WWI and WWII when American global power was expressed and confirmed; this give Democrats a better buffet to choose from than the Republicans have. They glorify Kennedy too much, of course, but they don't have to rely on that for their self-image, since they can also fall back on FDR (less of a stretch than the GOP falling back on Ike, since FDR was ideologically consistent with a large swath of the Democratic Party and remains a historically iconic figure even to the point of remaining a despised icon to much of the GOP) or LBJ (though that requires glossing Vietnam). For that matter, enough time has passed for New Democrats to be able to gloss Clinton's sexual foibles with the '90s economic boom.

    Any hagiography requires omission, and I don't know if many or even any of the Democrats' sainted figures are much better than Reagan as human beings. Add to that, that some of the Democrats' saints clearly aren't more accomplished presidents than The Gipper (again, JFK's record was actually a bit thinner than many seem to think when you get right down to it). But out of all of the 20th Century's Presidents, the only Republicans Presidents who had transformative effects on their eras were Teddy Roosevelt, Hoover, Nixon and Reagan, and the effects of Hoover and Nixon are generally considered toxic (caused the Great Depression, disgraced the White House, respectively); Roosevelt, the trust-busting conservationist, has become a historical RINO (and indeed eventually became an independent by the end of his life). I didn't mention Eisenhower, but did he transform the country,* as opposed to just lead mostly solidly and honorably? ("I Like Ike" seems an apt slogan as much for it's middle-of-the-road blandness as anything else.) Meanwhile, the Democrats have Wilson (ugh!), FDR, JFK, LBJ and even Clinton to point to for inspiration. Heck, these days the Dems even have the rehabilitated Harry Truman if they'd like.

    You might go as far as saying, then, that idolizing Reagan is the Republican response to what was essentially the Democratic Century, regardless of how one feels about the country's evolution (or devolution) during that period. I don't think it's insignificant that much of the Reagan-worship of fellows like Grover Norquist comes hand-in-hand with displacing Franklin Roosevelt, e.g. calls to put Reagan on currency in FDR's place (you can't very well put Nixon on the dime--it's likely to remind everybody of the jokes people made about White House staff having to count the silverware when Nixon left office as an alleged burglars' accomplice).

    Sorry. Think I went on a bit. Hope I made a cogent point.

    *Okay, aside from appointing Earl Warren to the SCOTUS, I mean.

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  12. Thanks Jim.

    Again, the question wasn't to lessen the contribution of all, it was to understand. I suppose the point of it was, how many of those deaths would have occurred regardless of what President was in office? A part of the question was my holy f*ck moment for the day, that many deaths.

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  13. Clare, The military averages 1500-2000 deaths a year during "peace time" (peace time is kind of a joke with us, especially the Navy and Marine Corps, we're always engaged somewhere. That's why they call us the nation's 911 force). What we do is dangerous, those deaths typically occur no matter who is in the White House - though a rumor spread via a conservative chain-email purports that more troops died under Clinton in peace time than all the other Republican president since WWII, this, of course, is a complete and total fabrication. Regardless of the president, about 2000 military folks die each year on average - few Americans are either aware of this, or give a good goddamn.

    During the Cold War, those figures were highest of all under Reagan, who ramped up military size and operational tempo.

    And, as I said in the piece, there were many, many shots fired, both in combat and in what the military euphemistically refers to as "operations short of war" such as the Freedom of Navigation operation I referred above off Libya in 1986. We fired a lot of shots during that operation, sinking most of Libya's small navy, bombing two of its cities and a number of military bases, and downing a rather large number of Libyan aircraft (at least one of which might actually have been flown by a soviet "advisor"). This action was a direct confrontation to the Soviet Union, as Libya was not only backed up by the CCCP but the Soviets based their aircraft and surface forces there and supplied the Libyans with all of their military hardware. Soviet "advisors" directed the operation of that equipment and provided technical support and material. Attacking Libya was to attack the Soviets - this is what I meant by Proxy Wars.

    There were numerous cases similar to this during Reagan's tenure in the White Hourse - our support to the Mujahaddin via the CIA comes right to mind. It wasn't just weapons, there were Americans on the ground there too doing for them what the Soviet were doing for the Libyans. Palin's assertation that Reagan won the war without firing a shot is just complete and total bullshit - and hell, five minutes with Google would have told her that. She just doesn't care, she's got her little sound bite and that's all that matters to her.

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  14. Reagan? Why he was the "Grade B Movie Actor" who was the "presenter" of Death Valley Days. That's what I will always remember about Reagan. Oh, underline and bold-face the "Grade B Movie Actor". Maybe we do deserve what we elect?

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  15. As someone outside looking in (from Canada), I remember Reagan for his bizarre economic trickle down thing and his taking credit for the previous administration's work in freeing hostages. I don't know which was worse; the "I don't remember" schtick during the Iran Contra affair or the sing-a-long with Mulroney.

    The last politicians I respected were Jimmy Carter and Joe Clark but I suspect they are too empathetic to be successful leaders even in their time.

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  16. I'm with Sharon on this one. I'm sure the man did some good in the world, and he was very charismatic, but I remember my dad losing everything he worked for...his garage, our house, our land...because of Reagan's trickle down economics. So many factories closed in the area I grew up in, and affected everyone. The area STILL hadn't fully recovered when this latest recession hit.

    I did have some older half sibs in the Air Force though, and they have the same feeling for Reagan as you in regards to his views on the military, so at least he did that right.

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  17. If I might offer a peripheral European perspective here as a longtime lurker... Growing up during the Reagan years as a member of the lower middle class in Norway (my parents were farmers), I remember my parents talking a lot about Ronald Reagan and his counterpart in Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher. They were... somewhat worried, let's say, about what they were both doing to the economy, because that had the potential to directly impact on our livelihood. And then there was the bust at the end of the '80s that was the first result of Reaganomics.

    I also remember the first time it was explained to me what nuclear war was and why Reagan's treaty with Gorbachev meant that the risk of us all being vaporized was suddenly a lot smaller. And I remember watching the Berlin wall fall on TV, 9 years old, and that most of our talking heads credited Reagan's foreign policy with that, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    If nothing else, he made the 1980's an interesting time to grow up... But looking back at him now, with the benefit of hindsight, I don't understand the sheer level of adoration that people heap on the man's memory, either. For all the good he did, the legacy he left behind has (as was rightly pointed out in the article) resulted in a boom-bust economic cycle, a growing divide between the rich and poor, and the US sinking into a morass of debt that it's going to be incredibly hard to get out of.

    I'm not sure that that is the kind of leadership the US needs at the moment. To say nothing of the other 5.7 billion of us who can't vote in the most important election on Earth. ;)

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  18. I seem to also remember something about some middle-eastern secular leader who was fighting the good fight against one of our enemies (a friend who I bet was very surprised by Iran-Contra). Something about "gas" weapons being delivered by a certain person who then ended up saying he knew exactly where they were about twenty years later.

    Yeah. Something like that.

    Also, Clare, during that time some of those "vehicular" and "training" accidents weren't so much accidental, but a good cover story for when someone came home in a box without having official hostilities declared.

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  19. during that time some of those "vehicular" and "training" accidents weren't so much accidental, but a good cover story for when someone came home in a box without having official hostilities declared.

    Well, since you brought it up, yes. That. A lot of guys who ended up as anonymous stars on the memorial wall died in "vehicle accidents" somewhere on the Paki frontier or in the Congo or Columbia.

    And, yes, there's Steve's comment in the first paragraph. If Palin thought Obama sitting on the same college board with Bill Ayers was "pallin' around with terrorists..." one has to wonder why Reagan gets a pass for pallin' around with Saddam. But then I'm not nearly as skilled in cognitive doublethink as she is.

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  20. Yep, I saw that. And I think it's quite likely that Reagan's mental state was in decline while he was in office and that that decline was carefully managed by those around him.

    Still, in the final analysis, even diminished by a brain destroying disease, Reagan was still a hell of a lot sharper than his successor, or his successor's son. Just saying

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  21. Nick from the O.C.January 26, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    I remember when Reagan came into office and I thought it was a breath of fresh air after the miasma of the Carter administration. Carter is why I registered Republican when I turned 18.

    I thought Reagan offered hope to those who were willing to work for it. And we did work hard in the 80's, though I understand now that while we were working many others were partying. But I remember that he offered social mobility to all, but guaranteed nothing. And if you chose to slack-off, he had little sympathy.

    I remember that Reagan offered a vision of a strong America that would fight for its principles. (In contrast to a country that would let a bunch of hoodlums invade its embassy and hold its citizens hostage for months.) His foreign policy was simple and seemingly effective.

    His domestic focus on ending the "welfare state" seemed long-overdue. His economic policies of overturning Keynesian economics in favor of Friedman and the Chicago school seemed as rational as any of them ever do. (Though the Laffer Curve is a bit of a laugh now....) His focus of cutting taxes and spending resonated with me and, I believe, with a majority of citizens.

    And his military spending policy ("give the DOD MORE than it thinks it needs") gave me a job and launched my career. Cap Weinberger was perhaps the best Secretary of Defense I can remember in my adult lifetime--though I defer to Jim's judgment there. (Colin Powell would be a close second.)

    But in retrospect, Reagan's failure to actually cut Federal spending was a fatal flaw in his theories. My belief is that he failed to cut the big-ticket items. The areas where he did cut hurt too many people and left permanent scars in the psyches of too many Americans. The failure to effectively address poverty and mental illness left us vulnerable and now we are paying a price for that neglect.

    If I recall correctly, he lost his main confidant, William French Smith, early in his second term, and that really hurt his ability to execute, so it seems to me.

    What else can I add from memory, having researched almost none of this post on Wikipedia? I guess I agree with Jim's assessment -- a good President but not a perfect one.

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  22. A quick and belated note from North of the border.

    In his memoirs, our Prime Minister during the first Reagan term (that would be Trudeau) indicated that he often went to international summits and had to deal with the WTF looks and questions from most other foreign leaders as Ronnie prattled on about hunting down commies back in the day. I always got a 'Max Headroom' talking head vibe off of Reagan and simply assumed that he was just a stooge for the people who were working the levers (kind of like the way they joked about how that was the case with Breznev at the time). I thought, also at the time, that you surely couldn't get a much more obvious 'figurehead' than Ronnie until the miracle of the of the Cape Cod Cowboy.

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  23. Liar! Look at all the places and events you say you have ribbons for. Look them up Liar

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  24. Reagan deified, not a real shock, that is how the media works. When the guy/girl is first elected/becomes famous/saves someone/etc the media places them on this enormous pedestal. Soon the praise and the accolades begin to get boring and start to sound phony. Then slowly the image begins to tarnish/the have an affair/the steal the statue of liberty/etc and the person is set ablaze all across the world. The said girl/boy/weird assed pedophile singer dies and suddenly all is forgotten/forgiven and the person/guy/girl with the tarnished princess crown becomes the second coming. Amen

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  25. Thanks for this. I liked this one a lot.

    I was born during the Reagan Era. I am told that I was born in the South largely because everybody (including my family) moved down here from the Rust Belt a few years earlier – “Last one out of Michigan, turn off the lights.”

    But Reagan’s deification is already pretty well under way. To speak negatively of him in certain company is roughly the equivalent of insulting someone’s god. Even the Democrats have largely taken it as an article of faith that you have to accept Reagan’s popularity and leadership… (Everyone, that is, except Ron Reagan, Jr.)

    I’m not sold on the guy, either, and it was nice to read this piece because it wasn’t just a pro- or anti-Reagan rant.

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  26. Between its military expansionism and its paranoid efforts to stay ahead of the US in military expenditures, the Soviet Union spent itself into an impossible to climb out of hole. The Soviet Union ultimately did itself in.

    Ronald Reagan's own finance man, David Stockman, created Reagan's trickle-down budget, then left while Reagan was still in office and wrote his book exposing what a bunch of hogwash it all was. He even said they knew it was hogwash at the time-they made up the numbers they used for Reagan's projections and budget.

    Ronald Reagan launched serious labor union busting.

    Ronald Reagan launched the concerted "war on drugs."

    Ronald Reagan gave speeches about meeting "welfare queens" and other completely fictional anecdotes to justify vilifying the poor— a growing number of Americans, most of whom were women and children. His administration implemented demeaning policies against women requiring public assistance, and instituted male unfriendly policies that forced fathers out of their homes if they wanted their children to receive benefits rather than go hungry and face homelessness.

    It was known in his administration, during his first term that Ronald Reagan was suffering from dementia. It was known for sure during his second term that he was in the early stages of Alzheimers.

    Reagan divorced his first wife and had little to no relationship with his adult children, yet he courted the religious right and gave them power we've been struggling against since.

    Reagan started the antigovernment drumbeat everyone born in the 1980s grew up with. Now citizens have forgotten we are supposed to be proud of our people's government! Furthering his effort to alienate the people from our government, he put antigovernment people in charge of federal agencies long before did little Bush.

    Reagan was the leader of the Republican Revolution, headed up on the Congress front by that scumbag Newt Gingrich. Since their heady take over of DC at that time, the Republican Party has only become worse, and more cynically blatant about it at that.

    I had a lot of fun in the 1970s, and life was better for me than for many others during the 1980s too, so I remember those 20 years fondly. However, my personal happiness was despite Ronald Reagan, not because of him.

    Reagan was engaging and personable. He didn't mean to be a bad man, but he wasn't a good man either because he was willing to be a hypocrite. Just like little Bush, after office, Reagan didn't go out and do good for others. He went straight to Asia and gave a speech for a million dollars. He did do that.

    Of course, to be fair on that score, Reagan had serious dementia. While our president, he had Alzheimers, so really, he just gave the speeches that were put in front of him while Nancy tried to protect him and his cabinet ran the country their way. He was living in La La land. We are still paying for what he started.

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  27. Democrats? Sold us down the river too.

    Clinton's love of the ladies is no worse than some of our founding fathers' and JFK's escapades, so who cares? (I'd rather my president release stress with consensual sex than with booze and/or pills. It's safer for everyone.) He wasn't an embarrassment either, but until little Bush, I didn't know what it felt like to cringe with embarrassment when my president encountered furiners.

    Clinton did, however, implement "welfare reform" with no one checking up since then to see what really happened to those families kicked off welfare. His administration made welfare reform happen by rewarding the already rich if they would hire welfare mothers (basically, the government paid their low wages, making them free labor), so those mothers could work 2-3 jobs just to barely survive, and then we could all blame them for not being home to keep an eye on their troublesome children.

    Clinton pushed through NAFTA instead of telling the real truth about why our manufacturing jobs were gone. Look where that got us. Other countries' peoples are still being exploited, but even more so and we don't even get to benefit anymore.

    Clinton also allowed credit card companies to be treated like banks, and then the race to fleece us wholesale was on; made worse by the Bush administration of course, but Clinton opened the gate.

    Still, I'll take Clinton over Reagan. At least he didn't vilify the most vulnerable among us, and he didn't tell us our own government is a bad institution while waving the flag at the same time.

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  28. I forgot to put a plus in Clinton's legacy, which was that he raised the wages of military families when he was in office, so fewer of them were forced to use food stamps.

    It absolutely galls me the way so many conservatives get all misty- eyed over "our troops," while they are really depriving them of necessities for war, and depriving their families of a decent basic standard of living too.

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  29. Spot on, Beemodern. Spot on. I love your comments.

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  30. Sorry BeeModern, but Clinton got military families off food stamps by adding the housing allotment to their W-2 forms as non-taxable income. They did NOT get a raise in pay. I know this as fact because my sister and her Petty Officer husband had me doing their taxes during that time. I like Clinton and what he did in office was mostly good and certainly better than anything either Bush or Shrub managed, but this is one "good boy point" that I will always take away from him when I can.

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  31. Not a fan, at all, of Reagan, and think that he is quite possibly the most overrated president ever.

    This post does balance my views a bit, but I must point out that, actually, the Brady Bill was signed into law in 1994 by Bill Clinton. Reagan supported it but it took that long to overcome the NRA's power in Congress to actually get the law passed.

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  32. I saw the title for this one and wondered,"Why would Jim write a blog about Reagan's shit?" Then I looked again and realized that the word was "Deification." After I read the article, I'm thinking maybe it SHOULD have been called "The Defacation of Ronald Reagan." Nice job.

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  33. It's always fascinated me how people like Reagan are deified differently than people like Dr. Martin Luther King or Ghandi.

    With a guy like Reagan they hold him and say, "This man was the epitome of greatness in this world and you should listen to him, follow his philosophies, and try to be like him."

    But with someone like Dr. King, the message is, "Look at this man, this great man, this great wonderful man, this great wonderful amazing man, this great wonderful amazing flawless man with such a unique and singular message, the kind of message that only appears once in a lifetime... and now look at you, all human and flawed. You should deify this man and his wondrous ideals... because you, an ordinary human being could NEVER step up and fill his shoes, continue to carry his message. You're just not *flawless* enough of a human being."

    Never mind that Dr. King was a bit of an STD-spreading womanizer and EXTREMELY radical thinker for his day. The CIA and FBI were deeply worried about his status as a black leader and what he could do with it.

    Both Reagan and King were charismatic men who's leadership helped shape the modern world. But we're told to aspire to be like the Republican Figurehead even as we're subtly discouraged from thinking we could ever effectively bring people together as well as the Civil Rights Icon.

    Hrm... my verification word is "hosiffer". I swear I haven't been drinking, my speedometer is broke...

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