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Thanks to Pritchett Cartoons
By David Podvin
During the weeklong period of national mourning for Ronald Reagan, the ambient deceit that contaminates American society became a suffocating fog of outrageous lies. On air and in print, the truth about the fortieth president was distorted beyond recognition by commentators determined to transform a bad leader (and even worse human being) into a hallowed icon. Now that a respectable amount of time has passed since the corporate ruling class beatified this nation’s most genial mass murderer, it is appropriate to end the grieving and consider why Americans were indoctrinated to revere a truly vile man.
In 1964, the Republican Party was seized by what Nelson Rockefeller called a “group of extremist zealots who reject the traditional values of the GOP.” Led by Barry Goldwater, the reactionaries formed a coalition comprised of two factions: the theocrats who advocated regressive social policies, and the mercantile interests that wanted the party to shift its pro-business emphasis away from predatory capitalism in the direction of multinational corporate socialism. It was the second group that provided crucial financial and media support, and it emerged as the dominant factor in policy-making decisions. Goldwater was basically forthright in advocating his radical beliefs, which caused the Republicans to be repudiated in an historic landslide.
During that campaign, Reagan renounced his membership in the Democratic Party because of his disdain for what he described as Lyndon Johnson’s “big government” philosophy. At the same time, Johnson was being challenged by Alabama Governor George Wallace, who also was basing his criticism of LBJ on the issue of “big government”. Wallace campaign director Tom Turnipseed later acknowledged, “Let’s face it: ‘big government’ was a code term aimed directly at voters who objected to civil rights. Despite the rhetoric, it was all about race.”
Reagan appeared across the country on Goldwater’s behalf, eloquently promoting the conservative platform that opposed equal rights for African Americans while endorsing greater rights for robber barons. Though the Republicans were soundly defeated, the right wing had discovered a promising new spokesman with an aptitude for presenting the law of the jungle as a principled stand against government intrusion.
The traumatic Goldwater rout marginalized the reactionaries for more than a decade as traditional Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford took command of the national party apparatus. Meanwhile, Reagan served an eight-year stint as governor of California during which he decimated the public school system and evicted indigent patients from mental hospitals, all in the name of defending the taxpayers. After Ford fumbled away the presidency to Jimmy Carter, the right wing made another move to dominate the GOP, and the zealots were able to retake control when Reagan gained the party’s presidential nomination in 1980. By this time, Wallace had faded from the scene, and the seething white voters who still fumed about “big government” were united in helping Reagan to win the White House.
Reagan’s election was one of the pivotal events in American history, the precise moment in time when big business completed its hostile takeover of the United States. For years, Corporate America had dreamed of enacting its own version of the New Deal that would provide massive government aid to the overprivileged. Multinational corporations owned all of Wall Street and much of Main Street; once Reagan became president, they also had the key to Fort Knox.
It is the federal government that has the power to print money and decide who will receive it. By placing in the Oval Office someone who passionately believed what is good for General Motors is good for America, big business garnered spectacular government largesse and gained unprecedented influence over every aspect of society. The Reagan era was a corporate paradise, an idyllic time when national policy was virtually indistinguishable from the policy of the Chamber of Commerce.
Corporate America also appreciates Ronald Reagan because he embodied the counterfeit values of Madison Avenue where patriotism consists of brandishing red, white, and blue. Reagan was a flag waver who had no use for the Bill Of Rights, a devoted family man who had no time for his children, and a tribune of the people who had no respect for the multitude. He was a master of illusion toiling for plutocrats who maintain their power by employing illusionists to deceive the public.
Reagan was an effective advocate for the oligarchy because he was discreet: unlike Goldwater, he never felt compelled to blurt out his ugly intentions, and unlike Newt Gingrich he kept a friendly expression on his face while perpetrating evil. When Reagan was questioned about something rotten he had done - whether it was authorizing the disposal of toxic waste in minority neighborhoods or trashing the Constitution to fund death squads south of the border – he would say something profoundly dishonest, cock his head in that adorable way, and the chattering class would swoon.
For Reagan, whose mission was to transfer wealth upwards, lying was an indispensable element of governance. His most brazen sham was the insidiously named “Strategic Defense Initiative”. Reagan misrepresented the prohibitively expensive program as being a protective shield against incoming nuclear weapons, but SDI was condemned by Nobel laureates worldwide who recognized it was designed to defraud taxpayers for the benefit of the aerospace industry.
Such pretense was typical of a man whose life was spent wallowing in deception. Ronald Reagan was a fabulist, the serial liar with delusions of grandeur whom conservatives falsely accused Al Gore of being. Reagan lied about who would receive his tax cuts and lied about trees causing smog and lied about exchanging arms for hostages and lied about personally liberating a Nazi concentration camp. The mainstream media smeared Gore as mendacious because he was a populist, whereas Ronnie was cherished as a colorful character because his guile advanced the objectives of big business.
America’s financial elite considers a profitable lie to be infinitely superior to the truth, and the Reagan legacy has the potential to become an incomparably profitable lie. If Reagan is perceived by the electorate as a great man whose philosophy should remain public policy for the indefinite future, it will mean literally trillions of dollars of additional profits for the Fortune 500. Conversely, if the truth prevails and the American people come to perceive Reagan as a deceiver whose policies they must overturn in self-defense, the corporate gravy train will be derailed. It is therefore essential that the truth does not prevail.
And so the corporate commentariat spent seven excruciating days extolling Reagan’s falsified record of achievement while obscenely likening him to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Sanitized from the official version of events was “Iran Contra”, the Gipper’s seditious crime spree with which he financed his illegal Central American war by stealing taxpayer-owned missiles and selling them to anti-American terrorists. His subsequent craven dishonesty under oath was also stricken from the media record, replaced by worshipful testimonials to Reagan’s flawless character.
Transparently absurd though it was, the propaganda had its intended effect. When he left office immersed in the disgrace of Iran Contra, fewer than half of Americans had a favorable impression of Reagan. Today, in the aftermath of the media’s saturation bombing of this country with pro-Reagan fiction, more than four in five people surveyed say they admire him.
It is unlikely that there will be another tectonic shift in public opinion – Reagan has been sanctified, the mainstream media will not tolerate dissent on the matter, and no one in America’s ostensible opposition party has the courage to tell the truth. While conservative politicians scheme to defile Mount Rushmore with Reagan’s likeness, their liberal colleagues wax nostalgic about having posed for photographs with the Great Communicator. The facts have ceased to matter: Ronald Reagan is now beloved for being beloved.
Mythology has supplanted reality. Despite the nonsense about Reagan championing freedom and restoring national pride, his presidency marked a return to a more primitive time. Reagan reversed the trend started by Franklin Roosevelt of using the federal government to help those in need. He moved America back towards the Hamiltonian concept of the public coffers existing to benefit the aristocracy. As the FDR Era was eclipsed by the Reagan Era, wealth again concentrated in the upper economic caste. The number of citizens living in poverty dramatically increased, as did the homeless population. The young, the old, and the sick were hit hard during the administration of Mr. Nice Guy.
Yet tellingly, it was Middle American Reagan voters who bore the brunt of Reaganomics. During the Reagan years, government policy was to lower labor costs for the benefit of business. The average citizen worked longer hours for less pay, which Reagan accomplished by savaging unions while allowing an unprecedented flood of cheap laborers into the country. His trade policies encouraged America’s manufacturing base to move overseas, and he weakened rules safeguarding worker rights.
The “supply side” economic approach exemplified the Reaganite gospel by targeting the middle class for abuse. In his quest to make the rich richer, Reagan deliberately made the non-rich poorer. Though he spoke often of his heartfelt desire to represent common folk, the massive Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy people who subsidized his campaigns were ultimately financed by the working people he had tricked into voting for him.
Reagan’s treachery was accompanied by cowardice and selfishness. Unlike Bill Clinton, he lacked the courage to risk incurring the public’s wrath by taking the painful steps necessary to balance the budget. During Reagan’s first term, his economic advisors warned that the economy would suffer serious structural damage unless fiscal discipline was quickly imposed. Faced with a choice between the national interest and his own ambition, Reagan responded in a manner that was truly Reaganesque: instead of decreasing the deficit he increased it, and then lied his way to a landslide re-election victory by promising not to raise taxes or cut popular social programs. After he won, Reagan broke those promises and still tripled the federal debt.
Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker provided Reagan with a rare candid eulogy by writing, “Ronald Reagan’s domestic policies, like those of the current incumbent, were almost uniformly appalling. He shifted the tax burden downward, exacerbated economic inequality; created gigantic deficits, undermined environmental, civil-rights, and labor protections, neglected the AIDS epidemic, and packed the courts with reactionary mediocrities. He made callousness respectable.” (Issue of 6/28/04)
While his domestic agenda hurt Americans, the vaunted Reagan foreign policy exported pain and suffering across the globe. His enthusiastic embrace of South Africa’s apartheid regime and repudiation of Nelson Mandela was classic Reaganism - for all the palaver about what a swell guy he was, Reagan never met an underdog he didn’t feel compelled to kick. He subverted democracies, supported dictatorships, and promoted his utopian vision of a world in which the lords were prosperous while the serfs were obedient.
Reagan is hailed as the man who vanquished communism, a claim that is probably greeted with some skepticism in Beijing and Pyongyang and Hanoi and Havana. Russian communism did end shortly after Reagan left office, but for decades conservatives had insisted that the Soviet economic system was fatally flawed and would inevitably fall of its own weight. When the Soviet Union finally did crumble after being steadfastly opposed by every president since Harry Truman, Republicans decided to take the credit by insisting that it was Reagan (and only Reagan) who knocked down the Berlin Wall.
The propagandists who lionized Reagan following his death claimed that he brought the USSR to its knees through the force of his dynamic anti-communist policies. What these pseudo historians have never been able to explain is why his dynamic anti-communist policies did not also bring the People’s Republic of China to its knees – by 2020, Red China will possess both the world’s largest economy and the largest military. Always eager to embrace surrealism, the establishment has convinced most Americans that Reagan defeated communism even as a communist state is on the verge of becoming the world’s foremost power.
Reagan’s actual role in the Cold War involved deceiving the public about the nature of the Soviet threat. When he ran for president, Reagan claimed that the Soviet military was stronger than its American counterpart and that the USSR outspent the United States by fifty percent on defense research. These lies became the rationale for a needless military build-up that redistributed a significant portion of the Gross Domestic Product to his corporate campaign contributors. Just as George W. Bush later deceived America into war by grossly exaggerating the potential danger from Iraq, Reagan swindled the taxpayers by wildly overestimating Soviet military strength. After the Cold War ended, American intelligence agencies confirmed that the starving Russian Army had been a hollow shell.
The most despicable aspect of Reagan’s record was his successful effort to enforce order in Central America by killing every man, woman, and child who spoke out against feudalism. More than one hundred thousand civilians were slaughtered during his war to sustain the primacy of the commercial interests that have long plundered the region. This prolific feat makes Reagan a greater mass murderer than his protégé Saddam Hussein, the bloodthirsty fiend whom he avidly supported with arms and money.
Whether or not Grover Norquist ultimately succeeds in his campaign to put Reagan’s name on every public edifice in America, the most fitting tribute to the Teflon president will always be the endless series of mass graves filled with peasants that scar the landscape from Guatemala to Columbia. Thanks to the president whom the Secret Service dubbed “Rawhide”, many innocent people died for the principle that multinational corporations are entitled to maximize their profits by any means necessary.
At home and abroad, Reagan tormented the defenseless for the benefit of the powerful, so the powerful exploited the occasion of his death to reinforce the message that the Reagan way is the winning way. Prior to Reagan, conservatives were excessively candid about their intentions to steal from Joe Six Pack. Old Dutch taught them that it is far easier to exploit Americans by being pleasantly insincere. His one true gift was the ability to deceive blue-collar swing voters into believing that he was their champion even as he robbed them blind.
Although Reagan is dead, Reaganism is alive and well. Both major political parties now accept the premise that government policies must protect the corrupt economic status quo. Big business wants to keep it that way, so Reagan is exalted as the patron saint of all that is wonderful.
History is written by those who are commissioned by corporate publishing houses to write history, which guarantees that Ronald Wilson Reagan will be immortalized as a giant, the man who personally conquered communism while rescuing this country from decades of malignant liberal policies. It is a grotesque perversion of reality, but perverting reality is standard operating procedure for the corporations that run the United States of America.
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