06 April 2007

He Wasn't Very Good Either

The unpleasant side-effects of the abysmal and failed Bush presidency are many—too many to be analyzed here. But one that specifically intrigues me is the effort being made by conservatives to shift the historical focus from their current incompetent leader to their past inept leader…..Ronald Reagan.

Granted, conservatives do have an argument—compared to Bush, any past chief executives looks stellar. Hell, William Howard Taft seems like a veritable statesman compared to Bush. This is an opportune time to drag any pariah out of the historical ashes for rehabilitation.

But Ronald Reagan is the one that conservatives place on their political pedestal. While the right has always looked up to Reagan, Bush is now making him look much, much better to conservatives and even to moderate Republicans (if they actually exist).

Two things strike me as paradoxical here. First, if Reagan was a great president (and he wasn’t), conservatives wouldn’t need George W. Bush to draw that distinction. Reagan’s presidency should be able to stand on its own—which it can’t. And second, when Bush was riding high in the polls, the wing-nuts were calling him Reagan’s heir. What happened? It seems Bush is actually the one who has attempted to carry out the radical conservative agenda—why now separate him from their conservative hero when Bush has been doing what the wingers wanted all along?

Well, I won’t try to get into the mind of one of those right-wingers, that would be entirely too difficult and might give me some sort of brain damage. But what is going on is this—Bush’s dismal failures are forcing conservatives to find another champion by which to rally their supporters. I suppose it is a logical move for them—they need their idols and frankly, they don’t have many. Which brings up an interesting question—except for that fellow Jesus, who do the right-wingers look to for inspiration? DeLay……Cheney.....Scalia…..Newt……Mel Gibson????? It is sad isn’t it?

I digress. The point is this—Reagan was not a very good president in spite of the spin that you are going to hear from the GOP for the next few years. He was average at best, and probably a better fit in the below average category.

First, he spent the taxpayer's money like a drunken sailor and incurred huge debts that did not dissolve until Bill Clinton and those big-spending liberals took over. I know the AM talk-show crowd blames Congress for all this—but that just isn't accurate. Reagan showed no inclination to actually cut spending. All he did was talk about it.

Second, please don’t accept the simplistic crap about how Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War. That is the kind of anti-intellectual drivel that conservatives like to propagate because their constituents need one-dimensional answers. The Cold War must be examined in its entirety, it was never simple. There were numerous factors that contributed to its demise. Americans should know that already—but unfortunately, in the “intelligent design” environment of today, they don’t.

Third—and conservatives should know this but they chose to overlook it—Reagan actually never tried to institute the radical right-wing agenda. He cared about taxes and big government, but seemed uncomfortable with some of the other hot button issues. Yes, he talked about abortion and prayer in school, but never attempted to legislate those issues. They were used basically to fire up the conservative base.

Fourth, and I think this is one of the most important issues…..Reagan made it accepted for conservatives--especially angry white males--to blame the poor and the disadvantaged for the nation's problems. He gave terribly unsophisticated speeches about a welfare queen (always a woman) driving a Cadillac and making $50,000.00 from illegal welfare checks. No one every located that “welfare mom” and it’s clear she was fabricated. But Reagan’s words and encouragement made it fashionable in the 1980s to blame the poor for everything.

Reagan also set race relation back for years. Remember that he launched his 1980 campaign with a states rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi—the place where three civil rights workers were murdered in the 1960s. He and his staff knew what they were doing—they didn’t just accidentally stop in that little town. They were sending a message to the racists on the right. Again, making it okay for conservatives to use race to divide the nation.

And his reaction to AIDS was criminal. Why worry about homosexuals—it’s their own fault anyway isn’t it? God is punishing them for their lifestyle. Besides, his constituents didn’t care. This issue alone should have shamed the administration. But once again, those blue-collar, working class “Reagan Democrats" didn’t much care for urban gays anyway—so why do anything? Disgusting.

Scandals (Iran-Contra, that's the criminal Oliver North at below right), massive budget deficits, racism, tax cuts for the rich, blame-the-poor rhetoric, homophobic public policies…..this is what the Reagan administration was all about–and don’t forget it. Just because George Bush is worse doesn’t mean Reagan should climb in the eyes of history. He was who he was—and he was a mediocre president who did great damage to many people on the margins of society. And he didn’t seem to care.

But for the pathetic Republican party, he is about the only national figure they have had in the past 60 years that holds any historical legitimacy (Ike was really the last one!). Isn't it sad being a Republican--at times, I almost feel sorry for them.

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