The International Writers Magazine: Comment: How Ronald Reagan
saved the world...
The power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those
who have not got it.
-George Bernard Shaw
No, not the one
that he preferred Huggies over Depends- but the one about winning the
.Anyway, late last year there was a brouhaha over a telefilm
called The Reagans that was to air on the CBS network. Right
wingers were agog that the film reputedly had the audacity to portray
ex-First Lady Nancy Reagan as a bitchy domineering shrew and ex-President
Ronald Reagan as a senile puppet of Right.
Wing Masters who did not seem to realize the difference between being
the President and acting the President.
So what was the problem? Even Reagan appointees like David Stockman
and Donald Regan have long since admitted that no one was home at the
Reagan White House, that then-Vice President George Bush was out of
the loop, and a few Republican powerbrokers of the decade have admitted
that the Trickle Down approach to tax reform was a disaster.
I guess the Reagan apologists disliked the fact that most Americans
dont look back at the 1980's with the gilted fervor that they
do, despite the historical revisionism that occurred even as it was
happening. Even Reagan Speechwriter and shill Peggy Noonan admits in
her book 'What I Saw at the Revolution': He doesn't really
hear very much, and his appearance of constant good humor is connected
to his deafness. He misses much of what is not said directly to him,
but he assumes it is good.
In other words- SENILE!
Then, the bastard had to die on 6/5/04. Rather, his body died. His mind
died about 30 years earlier, due to Alzheimers Disease, although
the family only publicly admitted it when they could no longer hide
the fact in 1994. Now that a few months have passed I want to comment
on the mans life and death.
Despite the Right Wings lunatic claims of a Left Wing Media, the
Teflon Presidents eight year free ride continued into death, with
nary a negative comment from the major media outlets. His State Funeral-
where the body was flown to DC, from California, to lie in state, then
back, all on the public dole (ironic, eh?)- became a national holiday.
Yet, it was as big a lie as many others Reagan propounded. From Morning
in America to family values to AIDS awareness to the
media manufactured crack epidemic to Star Wars
to the firing of air traffic controllers (PATCO) to the beginning of
the decline of middle class buying power (steadily growing since World
War 2) to the demonizing of the word liberal to Supply
Side Economics to the War on Drugs to the bastardization
of the word conservative to the documented senility of the
President to Iran-Contra to Trickle Down; the Reagan 80's
were a decade of regress for the USA.
They were also a time when style finally overtook substance as the dominant
meter of political effectiveness. Yes, it may have begun with Kennedy,
been twisted by Clinton, suckled by W., but in the annals of the American
Presidency there was no administration more wholly enraptured by the
idea of mythos than the Reagan Presidency. So much so that there was
no margin for error in the mythmaking- it was immediate and wholesale.
Fortunately, just about all of these lies, fallacies, and flat-out sillinesses
have found the Main Street dumpster- even as a few John Birchers suckle
Instead of Reagan-bashing the national media quickly sided with Reagan,
especially after his surviving the assassination attempt by John Hinckley.
Yet, what long odds did he face? By rendering criticism of Reagan verboten,
conservatives kybosh their own philosophy- for Reagan was not a Conservative.
Its also difficult to fool history. Worse than the medias
stoop-kneed fealty to Reagan was that even Senator John Kerry, the Democratic
Presidential nominee, cancelled engagements during Reagans multi-day
He vividly opposed much of the Reagan policies, yet acted as if it were
somehow unpatriotic, or impolite (or impolitic?) to criticize a dead
mans life. Imagine Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Dick Cheney taking
time off to honor, or praising, President Carter when he dies.
But, of all of the myths spun in those years there is one that has yet
to be expunged from the bosom of most Americans - much less Conservatives.
That is the canard that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.
Even Richard Nixon decried this claim as a myth. Before just touching
on some of the more obvious specifics that disprove this notion, lets
just take the statement at face value. Lets agree that it was
so. Let us now ask what the cost of this victory was, for surely such
sober thinkers, as Conservatives decree themselves, would have to admit
that a Pyrrhic victory is one worth arguing the costs.
To gain Reagans victory the tax burden- supposedly
relieved- in this country was shifted further onto the backs of the
middle class and away from the rich, as the whole tax burden of the
country actually increased- despite myths to the contrary - but still
could not keep up with the record military waste. Requiring that most
families have two incomes. Thus making the nuclear family
ideal Republicans cherished obsolete, meaning parental guidance was
lessened, meaning more kids had free time to experiment with sex and
drugs, which was handy, since more kids needed to work since there was
a greater chance their parents were stuck in lower-paying service
jobs, which replaced higher paying manufacturing jobs. The greater time
and buying power afforded the young allowed them to help spread AIDS
via unprotected sex, because birth control funding was cut, and drug
use, funded by the drug-dealing contras and other anti-Communist
drug-dealing CIA stooges in Central America and Central Asia, which
only furthered the view of decadent Ugly Americans plundering the Third
World, fueling extremist groups like the Taliban and Al Quaeda to denounce
us even as we paid for their education in terror tactics in the Afghan-Russian
In order to defeat Russia- a foe we never lost a single life to in 20th
Century combat (save for a handful of Americans who tried to stop the
1917 Revolution on Russian soil) - Reagan helped arm Saddam Hussein,
which precipitated Gulf Wars 1 and 2. He also supported dictatorships
in Latin America which fueled the rise of narco-terrorists like Pablo
Escobar, a man protected by his countrymen because he stood against
dictatorship and built baseball fields for poor children, even as he
was responsible for far more death and carnage in America in the 1980's
than Osama bin Laden has inflicted in the 2000's.
Oh yeah, Osama was one of those men trained in terrorism by Reagans
CIA. Want more? Remember that tax windfall the Reagan rich got as the
middle class sagged? They spent their windfall investing in LBOs, which
led to wholesale mergermania, which led to reduced quality and service
levels in everything from telecommunications to the airline industry
to banking to the drug and food industries. As the LBO pyramid schemes
collapsed the Savings & Loan industry went with it. America was
stuck with bailing out S & Ls to the tune of nearly half a trillion
dollars. But average people were saving less, because they were earning
less, and encouraged to consume more. So where did all the money to
pay for the military buildup come from? From a debt that was so large
that even President Clintons smoke and mirrors could not make
it go away for more than a year or two and is now on the bill for people
who have yet to become functioning gametes.
Lets also ask if the world is a better and safer place. To most
of the states of the former Soviet Empire new dictatorships have replaced
the old; crime and poverty are on the rise, and previously checked ethnic
excesses- like the genocides in the Balkans, Africa, and Iraq have been
unleashed. So, too has nuclear responsibility shifted from a single
Soviet Premier to tin pot potentates in Korea, Israel, and the Subcontinent.
In America bad dreams of nuclear mushrooms have been replaced by real
memories of falling skyscrapers, economic stability is a thing most
people under 35 do not even recall, and every one of the Reagan myths
above have proved wisps.
Still, its a good thing that any murderous regime is gone. Even,
it can be argued, if the costs may have outweighed the benefits. But
the idea that Reagans wasteful buildup of the military was what
won the Cold War is downright silly. Its akin to seeing a camel
whose back could break if a feather were added and instead dropping
Halleys Comet on it. Reagan was merely the bank guard asleep on
duty when the Soviet collapse happened. Does anyone hold Nixon responsible
for the Apollo Moon landings or Clinton for the birth of the Internet?
There were two main reasons the Soviet Empire fell - first was its own
internal cannibalism, waste, and rot, and the second was decades of
American Presidencies which opposed it. Lets look at the latter
Despite the myth of FDRs being run over roughshod by Stalin at
Yalta, it was FDR who initiated the Manhattan Project with the immediate
aim of defeating Germany and Japan, but the long-term goal of checking
Soviet aggression. It was another Democrat - Harry Truman- whose administration
formulated the Truman Doctrine of American opposition to all Soviet
aggression, based on the Domino Theory, and employed in the Berlin Airlift.
It was former General Eisenhower whose Presidency carried on the Cold
War from Korea to South America to Vietnam to the Bay of Pigs planning.
JFK got us through the Cuban Missile Crisis (imagine had Reagan been
at the helm then!), continued the Cold War and truly dealt what was
probably a far greater financial blow to the long term Soviet economic
future than Reagans military buildup by engaging in the decade-long
race to the Moon.
LBJ expanded the war in Indochina, taxing Soviet coffers. Nixon fractured
the Soviet-China relationship which led to more wasteful defense spending
by the Soviets against a next door superpower. Ford and Carter expanded
support for Soviet opposition in Latin America and Africa. Yet, the
man at the end of the line when this all came to a head, is solely responsible?
Thank you, thank you, I will now take credit for the Big Bang since
obviously it was all meant to lead up to moi.
In truth, the Soviets saw their economic demise coming in the late 1970's,
after wasting their countrys wealth in space and a three decades
long tit for tat engagement with America. They sought to cut spending
on the military so they could still retain power. It was not until Reagans
wasteful spending allowed Kremlin hardliners like Yuri Andropov to portray
us as expansionist aggressors again that the teetering Soviet Empire
righted itself and extended its reign for another decade. Yet, even
Andropov was not a Stalinist - more bravado over tooth.
In 1982, stung by the Afghanistan disaster, he set about trying to strengthen
the Soviet economy by disengaging it from foreign struggles. Far from
winning the Cold War, Reagan was more akin the football kicker who missed
a game-winning chip shot at the end of regulation time, then tried to
claim credit for victory when the Soviets threw a game losing interception
in overtime. I havent even mentioned the role of 1980's Japanese
investment, and Soviet debt to that country, in tearing apart the Soviet
Diplomat and historian George F. Kennan, the man who in the 40's &
50's crafted the American Cold war policy of containment said, The
suggestion that any United States administration had the power to influence
decisively the course of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in
another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.
Reagans militarization strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet
Union, and delayed the Soviet Unions fall.
Proof of the rot of the Soviet Empire comes from the fact that they
could not - by 1980 - even defeat Afghanistan on their own border. We
did this a couple years ago in a few months- from half a world away.
Imagine trying to convince Europe that we were a threat if we could
not invade and capture Baja California. Yet, Reagan defeated the Soviets
by telling Gorby to Tear down this wall!? Just like he stood
up for peace and liberty by funding the butchering Contras in Nicaragua
or the anti-communist rebels who murdered nearly 100,000
of their fellow Angolans? In short, Reagans winning the cold war
has as much credence as Saddam Husseins having weapons of
mass destruction- another convenient Right Wing myth.
So why has this downright silly myth persisted while one-by-one the
rest of the Reagan deceptions have fallen by the wayside? Rather simply
its because the other myths had no other manifestations of their
supposed truths. Family values did not square with curtailing
womens right to an abortion, the hundreds of American Marine deaths
in the bombing of Lebanon disproved Reagan was a strong military leader
vis-á-vis Carters Iran hostage crisis, his shoe-polished
hair belied his mind and bodys infirmities. Iran-Contra proved
he had no regard for the law, nor ethics- the Contra killers were not
on a par with Georger Washington and co. Trickle down economics never
moistened the majority of America, the Great Communicator was only so
when he had a teleprompter in front of him, and others words.
The firing of PATCO led to the worst decade of air safety since before
the Great Depression- that Washington DCs airport was renamed
after Reagan is a piss in the face of the fired PATCO air traffic controllers,
and all working class Americans.
But the Soviet Union did fall, and Presidents tend to get unfairly blamed
for alot of things they deserve no credit for, as well as get praise
for the same reason. Regan was an effective President, but thats
not equivalent to being a good one, for almost all his effects were
negative. Most Presidential polls rank Reagan in the bottom of the top
half of Presidents, usually citing this very effectiveness, and
winning the Cold War- in short, based on negative traits,
and non-existent ones. Id rank him in the bottom third, even the
bottom 10. Yet, true believers soldier on in their merry mythmaking.
To them Id ask, if Reagan were somehow Gods chosen man,
then why did God punish him with Alzheimers? (Eerie, that the
man who opposed stem cell research may have benefited from it.)
Fortunately historians are a far more impassive lot than most true believers
and this myth will similarly be vetted. Until then, just remember- if
it were not for the end of the Cold War wed not have the Rainbow
Alert system we now have. Sure beats a drab old fallout shelter, doesnt
© Dan Schneider Oct 20th 2004
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