Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Myth of Ronald Reagan.

Fact and Fiction.

February 6th 1911, exactly 100 years ago today, Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment in Tampico, Illinois into a devout Christian working-class family. Ronald Reagan, or "Dutch" to his friends, went on to become the 40th President of the United States and is considered by some as one of the greatest Presidents. Since he took power in 1981, Reagan has been a subject of adulation by Republicans and is widely revered on the American Right. Reagan is now being held up by the Tea Party as a figure of immense integrity and ideological purity. The Tea Parties emphasise small government and fiscal responsibility, family values and a strong defence. For the Tea Party, Reagan belongs to the most noble of political traditions going right back to the American Revolution. This is the first of a series of articles that are aimed to dispel the myth of Ronald Reagan through a critique of the impact of Reagan's policy in foreign, economic and social spheres.

For the GOP Ronald Reagan is an icon of American conservatism and have succeeded in crafting a folkloric Reagan, to an extent which would impress Kim Jong-il. Take the story in which Reagan invites a black family to his home for the night, having dinner and breakfast with them, because they were refused rooms in the local inn. This is a story for anyone eager to glorify Reagan as a man ahead of his time. In reality Ronald Reagan opposed the Civil Rights act, tried to veto the Civil Rights Restoration act, on the grounds that the acts imposed too much regulation on small business and churches. He also opposed the Martin Luther King holiday but reluctantly voted for it given the level of popular support. Reagan later added Nelson Mandela to a list of terrorists in 1988 as he propped up Apartheid. These facts mean much more than the story of the anonymous black family and the friendly white man, which would have us believe he was everything we'd want from a President.

Reagan is often described in glowing terms as a man of humble origins who earned his privileged position in society through sheer hard-work. Of course, the fact that Reagan was a star of the B-movies who became the biggest corporate spokesman of the 1950s is downplayed. As a politician Reagan began his career as a Democrat and was a proponent for the social democratic policies of Roosevelt's New Deal. But in the 50s he made the transition to the right-wing of the Democratic Party, endorsing Eisenhower and Nixon along the way, before completing the transition and defecting to the Republican Party in 1962. Reagan began to espouse the core principles of American conservatism: small government, free-markets, anti-communism, family values and individual freedom. Reagan's success as a politician was down to his ability to present policies favoured by "Corporate America" as good for all sectors of society.

Ronald Reagan is still revered as an apostle of the free-market, small government and fiscal responsibility. There is a clear difference between the Reagan dreamed up by the public relations industry and Reagan the man. Even though under Reagan the size of the federal government increased relative to GDP, enormous protectionist barriers were hoisted up against foreign competition, whilst corporations were allowed to close plans all over North America and spending on the military increased rapidly under his administration. The systematic deregulation of the financial sector led to the Savings and Loans crisis, to which the Reaganites responded with bailouts for companies that were "too big to fail". In foreign policy the Reagan administration led a brutal crusade of violence and terrorism in the name of promoting democracy, which thousands in Latin America and the Middle East slaughtered.

The last 30 years have been heavily influenced by the events that took place in the Reagan era. The discourse was redefined in the 1980s by the likes of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, who created the GOP playbook of mudslinging and outrageous lies, we have them to thank for right-wing media - e.g. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh - that has crudified debate. Millions of Americans don't even vote because the elections look meaningless, as the candidates smear one another as "Nazis" and "anti-Americans". The culture wars are still raging in America, wedge issues like abortion and immigration remain a rallying call against liberals on the Right. At the same time "Reaganomics" has led to an enormous gulf between the rich and the poor, with the most basic aspects of the welfare state being torn up for the sake of "small government" and the "free-market".


Anonymous said...

Noteworthy: he was corporate spokesman for GE, a "defense" contractor and maker of nuclear bombs.

Anonymous said...

Think Nicaragua, AIDS, tough talk on them thar Iranian terrorists ( all nonsense) selling WMD to Saddam, arming both sides in Iran and Iraq war, building up the Saud totalitarians as strategy, smashing the work done on Palestine by Carter, media deregulation that has helped further the right wing cause costing millions of lives around the globe due to a variety of mechanisms, gutting FTC. Fairness Doctrine, banishment of Carter's energy polices ... I can't stay here all day and that's what it would take.