Ronald Reagan, the son of John Reagan and Nellie Wilson, was born above the general store in Tampico, Illinois, on 6th February, 1911. Later the family moved to Dixon, a small town a hundred miles west of Chicago. His father became a partner in a shoe store. He held left of centre political views and bravely spoke out against the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
During the Great Depression his father was forced to close down his shoe store. He found a new job as a result of the New Deal. This resulted in both father and son becoming passionate supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.
At high school Reagan developed a strong interest in sport and in 1928 won an athletic scholarship which enabled him to gain a place at Eureka College. Reagan studied economics and sociology but it was as a football player and swimmer that he excelled. After leaving college Reagan was able to find work as a sports announcer for the Davenport radio station, WOC. In 1933 Reagan moved to the WHO radio station in Des Moines and over the next four years became one of the most popular sports commentators in the region. In 1937 Reagan moved to California and after a screen test with Warner Brothers was given a seven-year contract.
The authors of Radical Hollywood (2002) argue that Reagan held left-wing views and applied to join the American Communist Party. According to one FBI informant "Reagan was turned down... for being too dumb." Joan LaCour Scott, the wife of film producer, Adrian Scott, commented: "I have never met a more limited man - to put it politely. He was stupid. He was an actor who made a good speaker, but talking with him before and after events, this was a man who simply was not well informed, not very knowledgeable. He was a kind of personable performer."
Reagan appeared in a series of undistinguished films including Hollywood Hotel (1937), Love is on the Air (1937), Accidents Will Happen (1938), Boy Meets Girl (1938), Brother Rat (1938), Cowboy From Brooklyn (1938), Sergeant Murphy (1938), Angels Wash Their Faces (1939), An Angel from Texas (1940) and The Santa Fe Trial (1940).
When the United States entered the Second World War Reagan joined the Army Air Corps and made training films for pilots. Discharged in December, 1945, as a captain, he resumed his film career. This included Stallion Road (1947), The Hagan Girl (1947) and The Voice of the Turtle (1947). After the war Reagan joined the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee for the Arts, Sciences and the Professions (HICCASP), a left-wing pressure group. Anthony Summers argues in Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993) Reagan became "Confidential Informant F-10".
Reagan was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and in 1947 he was elected president of the organization. According to the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991): "A confidential informant for the FBI since 1943, Reagan had spied on the activities of members of the Screen Actors Guild while serving as the union's president."
On 20th October, 1947, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by J. Parnell Thomas, opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The chief investigator for the committee was Robert E. Stripling. One of those interviewed was Reagan. Stripling asked him: "As a member of the board of directors, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and as an active member, have you at any time observed or noted within the organization a clique of either Communists or Fascists who were attempting to exert influence or pressure on the guild?" Reagan replied: "There has been a small group within the Screen Actors Guild which has consistently opposed the policy of the guild board and officers of the guild, as evidenced by the vote on various issues. That small clique referred to has been suspected of more or less following the tactics that we associate with the Communist Party."
Reagan also told the HUAC: "Ninety-nine per cent of us are pretty well aware of what is going on and I think we have done a pretty good job in our business of keeping those people's activities curtailed...I do not believe the Communists have ever at any time been able to use the motion picture screen as a sounding board for their philosophy or ideology."
Reagan, along with Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Jack L. Warner, Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Thomas Leo McCarey and George L. Murphy attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". These people named several possible members of the American Communist Party. During their interviews they named nineteen people who they accused of holding left-wing views.
One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.
Over the next few years FBI agents working with the House of Un-American Activities Committee and the Hollywood Motion Picture Producers, got 320 people blacklisted from the entertainment industry. As president of the Screen Actors Guild Reagan refused to support those actors such as Larry Parks, Joseph Bromberg, Charlie Chaplin, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Gale Sondergaard, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee and Paul Robeson who were on this list.
Reagan's support of McCarthyism enabled him to continue working in Hollywood but his films continued to appear in mediocre films such as Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), The Last Outpost (1951), The Winning Team (1952), Law and Order (1953), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955) and Hellcats in the Navy (1957). Between 1954 and 1962 Reagan also worked for General Electric as host of the company's weekly half-hour dramas for television.
In the 1930s and 40s Reagan had been a loyal supporter of the Democratic Party. However, he switched to the Republican Party after the war and supported Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 1956) and Richard Nixon (1960). In 1964 Reagan became a national political figure. This was as a result of a televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater. It did not help Goldwater win the election (he was seen by most people in America as a dangerous, right-wing extremist). However, it did convince members of the Californian business community that here was a man with the charm to sell right-wing extremism. Reagan was approached about becoming the Republican Party candidate as Governor of California. With the help of a smear campaign against Pat Brown and promises of tax cuts he won an easy victory.
As governor Reagan quickly established himself as one of the country's leading conservative political figures. This included dramatic budget cuts and a hiring freeze for state agencies. He also put up student fees and when they complained he sent state troopers to deal with their protest meetings.
Re-elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 1970, Reagan introduced a series of welfare reforms during his second term in office. This included tightening eligibility requirements for welfare aid and requiring the able to seek work rather than receiving benefits. However, the tax cuts never came, in fact, he presided over the largest tax increase any state had ever demanded in American history.
Reagan rejected two officers of cabinet posts from President Gerald Ford and in 1975 announced he intended to challenge him as the Republican Party presidential candidate. However, he was defeated by Ford in the contest for the nomination.
Michael K. Deaver worked for Ronald Reagan when he had been governor of California. He now took charge of Reagan's campaign to become president. Deaver co-founded the public relations company, Deaver and Hannaford in 1975. The company "booked Reagan's public appearances, research and sell his radio program, and ghost-write his syndicated column." Peter Dale Scott claims that "all this was arranged with an eye to Reagan's presidential aspirations, which Deaver and Hannaford helped organize from the outset".
In 1977 Deaver and Hannaford registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents receiving $5,000 a month from the government of Taiwan. It also received $11,000 a month from a group called Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country) in Guatemala. The head of Amigos del Pais was Roberto Alejos Arzu. He was the principal organizer of Guatemala's "Reagan for President" organization. Arzu was a CIA asset who in 1960 allowed his plantation to be used to train Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Peter Dale Scott has argued that Michael K. Deaver began raising money for Ronald Reagan and his presidential campaign from some of his Guatemalan clients. This included Amigos del Pais. One BBC report estimated that this money amounted to around ten million dollars. Francisco Villgarán Kramer claimed that several members of this organization were "directly linked with organized terror".
Deaver and Hannaford also began to get work from military dictatorships that wanted to improve its image in Washington. According to Jonathan Marshall, Deaver was also connected to Mario Sandoval Alarcon and John K. Singlaub of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL). In the book, The Iran-Contra Connection (1987) he wrote: "The activities of Singlaub and Sandoval chiefly involved three WACL countries, Guatemala, Argentina, and Taiwan, that would later emerge as prominent backers of the contras.... these three countries shared one lobbying firm, that of Deaver and Hannaford."
In 1979 Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote an article for Commentary, entitled Entitled Dictatorships and Double Standards. The article argued that right-wing “authoritarian” governments, such as those in Argentina, Chile and South Africa, suited American interests better than left-wing regimes. She criticized the emphasis placed on human rights by Jimmy Carter and blamed it for undermining right-wing governments in Nicaragua and Iran. She went onto argue that right-wing dictatorships were reliably pro-American. She therefore proposed that the US government should treat authoritarian regimes much more favourably than other governments. Kirkpatrick added: "liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism and need not be incompatible with the defence of freedom and the national interest".
As Bill Van Auken has pointed out (Social Democrat to Champion of Death Squads): "The policy implications of Kirkpatrick’s thesis were unmistakable. Washington should seek to keep in power right-wing dictatorships, so long as they suppressed the threat of revolution and supported “American interests and policies.” Moreover, the limits placed by the Carter administration on relations with regimes that had carried out wholesale political killings and torture, as in Chile and Argentina, for example, should be cast aside."
In December, 1979, John K. Singlaub had a meeting with Guatemalan President Fernando Romeo Lucas García. According to someone who was at this meeting Singlaub told Garcia: "Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done". On his return, Singlaub called for "sympathetic understanding of the death squads".
Another one of Deaver's clients was Argentina's military junta. A regime that had murdered up to 15,000 of its political opponents. Deaver arranged for José Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, the economy minister, to visit the United States. In one of Reagan's radio broadcasts, he claimed "that in the process of bringing stability to a terrorized nation of 25 million, a small number, were caught in the cross-fire, amongst them a few innocents".
Peter Dale Scott argues that funds from military dictatorships "helped pay for the Deaver and Hannaford offices, which became Reagan's initial campaign headquarters in Beverly Hills and his Washington office." This resulted in Ronald Reagan developing the catch-phrase: "No more Taiwans, no more Vietnams, no more betrayals." He also argued that if he was elected as president he "would re-establish official relations between the United States Government and Taiwan".
What Deaver's clients, Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina wanted most of all were American armaments. Under President Jimmy Carter, arms sales to Taiwan had been reduced for diplomatic reasons, and had been completely cut off to Guatemala and Argentina because of human rights violations.
An article published in Time Magazine (8th September, 1980) claimed that Deaver was playing an important role in Reagan's campaign to be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, whereas people like Campaign Director William J. Casey were outsiders have "valuable experience but exercise less influence over the candidate."
Reagan's main problem was that he was now sixty-eight and his opponents claimed he was too old for the job. He overcame this problem by campaigning aggressively and despite his tendency to make silly factual mistakes in interviews, he generally performed well. During his campaign he promised a "patriotic crusade" to reduce the size and scope of government, to rebuild American military power and self-respect and to restore traditional values".
During the campaign Ronald Reagan was informed that Jimmy Carter was attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran to get the American hostages released. This was disastrous news for the Reagan campaign. If Carter got the hostages out before the election, the public perception of the man might change and he might be elected for a second-term. As Deaver later told the New York Times: "One of the things we had concluded early on was that a Reagan victory would be nearly impossible if the hostages were released before the election... There is no doubt in my mind that the euphoria of a hostage release would have rolled over the land like a tidal wave. Carter would have been a hero, and many of the complaints against him forgotten. He would have won."
According to Barbara Honegger, a researcher and policy analyst with the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign, William J. Casey and other representatives of the Reagan presidential campaign made a deal at two sets of meetings in July and August at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid with Iranians to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Iran until after the November 1980 presidential elections. Reagan’s aides promised that they would get a better deal if they waited until Carter was defeated.
On 22nd September, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. The Iranian government was now in desperate need of spare parts and equipment for its armed forces. Jimmy Carter proposed that the US would be willing to hand over supplies in return for the hostages.
Once again, the Central Intelligence Agency leaked this information to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. This attempted deal was also passed to the media. On 11th October, the Washington Post reported rumors of a “secret deal that would see the hostages released in exchange for the American made military spare parts Iran needs to continue its fight against Iraq”.
A couple of days before the election Barry Goldwater was reported as saying that he had information that “two air force C-5 transports were being loaded with spare parts for Iran”. This was not true. However, this publicity had made it impossible for Carter to do a deal. Ronald Reagan on the other hand, had promised the Iranian government that he would arrange for them to get all the arms they needed in exchange for the hostages.
In the election Reagan easily defeated Jimmy Carter by 44 million votes to 35 million. The Republican Party also won control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years. According to Mansur Rafizadeh, the former U.S. station chief of SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, CIA agents had persuaded Khomeini not to release the American hostages until Reagan was sworn in. In fact, they were released twenty minutes after his inaugural address.
Reagan appointed William J. Casey as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this position he was able to arrange the delivery of arms to Iran. These were delivered via Israel. By the end of 1982 all Regan’s promises to Iran had been made. With the deal completed, Iran was free to resort to acts of terrorism against the United States. In 1983, Iranian-backed terrorists blew up 241 marines in the CIA Middle-East headquarters.
After his election as president, Ronald Reagan, appointed Michael Deaver as Deputy White House Chief of Staff under James Baker III. He took up his post in January 1981. Soon afterwards, Deaver's clients, Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina, began to receive their payback. On 19th March, 1981, Reagan asked Congress to lift the embargo on arms sales to Argentina. General Roberto Viola, one of the junta members responsible for the death squads, was invited to Washington. In return, the Argentine government agreed to expand its support and training for the Contras. According to John Ranelagh (The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA): "Aid and training were provided to the Contras through the Argentinean defence forces in exchange for other forms of aid from the U.S. to Argentina."
Reagan had more difficulty persuading Congress to provide arms to Guatemala. During a 4th May, 1981, session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it was announced that the Guatemalan death squads had murdered 76 leaders of the moderate Christian Democratic Party including its leader, Alberto Fuentes Mohr. As Peter Dale Scott pointed out in the Iran-Contra Connection: "When Congress balked at certifying that Guatemala was not violating human rights, the administration acted unilaterally, by simply taking the items Guatemala wanted off the restricted list."
Reagan and Deaver also helped Guatemala in other ways. Alejandro Dabat and Luis Lorenzano (Argentina: The Malvinas and the End of Military Rule) pointed out that the Ronald Reagan administration arranged for "the training of more than 200 Guatemalan officers in interrogation techniques (torture) and repressive methods".
Reagan's first Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, resigned on 25th June, 1982, as a result of the administration's foreign policy. He also complained that his attempts to help Britain in its conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, was being undermined by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and some above her in the White House. In his book, Gambling With History: Ronald Reagan in the White House, Laurence I. Barrett argued that this person from the White House was Michael Deaver: "At an NSC session... Haig had observed Kirkpatrick passing Deaver a note. Concluding that Kirkpatrick was using Deaver to prime Reagan... Haig told Clark that a 'conspiracy' was afoot to outflank him."
Another of Deaver's clients, Taiwan, benefited from Reagan's support. Although George H. W. Bush promised China in August, 1982, that the United States would reduce its weapons sales to Taiwan, the reverse happened. Arms sales to Taiwan in fact increased to $530m in 1983 and $1,085 million in 1984.
Reagan took a firm stance against communism and described the Soviet Union as the "evil empire". Although he avoided direct conflict with major communist countries such as China, he did send paratroopers against Bernard Coard, when he overthrew the elected government of Maurice Bishop in Grenada in October, 1983. However, it was not made clear at the time that Bishop was himself a Marxist.
Michael Deaver officially worked primarily on media management. One of his great successes was the presentation of the Grenada invasion. As Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber pointed out in their book Toxic Sludge is Good For You (1995): "Following their (Michael Deaver and Craig Fuller) advice, Reagan ordered a complete press blackout surrounding the Grenada invasion. By the time reporters were allowed on the scene, soldiers were engaged in "mop-up" actions, and the American public was treated to an antiseptic military victory minus any scenes of killing, destruction or incompetence." Later, it was discovered that of the 18 American servicemen killed during the operation, 14 died in friendly fire or in accidents."
Although there was a federal deficit of over $100 billion, Reagan managed to persuade Congress in 1981 to pass a plan for a three-year reduction in income tax rates. This was followed by cuts in domestic spending. During the 1980s Reagan's policy of reducing income taxes and federal domestic budgets became known as Reaganomics. These tax changes and the cuts in the welfare system widened the gap between rich and poor. It also caused a deep recession.
Reagan also funded anti-communist groups in Nicaragua who were fighting the elected government of Daniel Ortega. His government's power also suffered from economic sanctions imposed by Reagan. It was later discovered that the United States had attempted to damage the economy by the mining of Nicaragua's harbours. Reagan also funded death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s. He also backed the Guatemalan government that killed an estimated 100,000 Mayan Indians during this period.
In 1981 Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, his Middle East envoy, to Iraq. This resulted in Reagan selling Saddam Hussein "dual-use" items, including helicopters and chemicals. He also armed the Mojahedin in Afghanistan that eventually evolved into the Taliban.
In early 1981, Leopoldo Galtieri visited the United States and was warmly received by members of the Ronald Reagan administration. Richard V. Allen, who Reagan had appointed as his National Security Advisor, described Galtiera as a "majestic general." With the help of the CIA, Galtieri replaced President Roberto Viola in December 1981. Galtieri attempted to improve the economy by cutting public spending and selling off government-owned industries. He also imposed a pay freeze. These policies were unpopular and demonstrations took place demanding a return to democracy.
Despite the support of the Reagan administration, Galtieri, faced the possibility of being ousted from power. He therefore decided to gain public support by appealing to nationalist sentiment. In April, 1982, Galtieri's forces invaded the weakly-defended British Falkland Islands and he declared the "Malvinas" a province of Argentina. The anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of Galtieri.
Margaret Thatcher appealed to Ronald Reagan for help in removing Galtieri from the Falklands. This caused problems for Reagan as Galtieri was seen as a key aspect of the foreign policy advocated by Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard V. Allen. Kirkpatrick argued that America should not jeopardize relations with Latin America by backing Britain. She later explained that "I thought a policy of neutrality in that war made sense from the point of view of US interests".
However, in reality, Jeane Kirkpatrick was not arguing for neutrality. According to The Times newspaper: "Only hours after the 1982 invasion of the Falklands she notoriously attended as guest of honour a reception at the Argentine Embassy in Washington. She then went on television to assert that if the islands rightly belonged to Argentina its action could not be considered as “armed aggression”.
Reagan's Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, took the side of the British government. He argued that Kirkpatrick was “mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking clearly on this issue because of her close links with the Latins”. Reagan forced Haig to resign on 25th June, 1982. He later complaining that his attempts to help Britain in its conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, was being undermined by Kirkpatrick and some above her in the White House.
Reagan eventually rejected Kirkpatrick's advice and as The Times pointed out: "Had Kirkpatrick prevailed, Britain would have been deprived of American fuel, Sidewinder missiles and other arms, and the vital US satellite intelligence that enabled it to win the war. And Galtieri and his junta would not have been replaced by a freely elected government."
In the 1984 presidential election the Democratic Party selected Walter Mondale as its candidate. Despite upsetting people on the left in American politics, Reagan remained popular with the electorate and easily defeated Mondale by winning 525 of the 538 electoral votes.
Reagan was unwilling to criticize anti-Communist governments and refused to support economic sanctions against the undemocratic government in South Africa. He vetoed a series of UN resolutions that attempted to punish the South African government. Reagan also tried to veto the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that Congress passed in 1986.
As well as Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina, Deaver also worked closely with South Korea. He arranged for President Chun Doo Hwan to meet Reagan in the White House. It was Deaver's involvement with the Ambassador in Seoul, Richard L. Walker, a member of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) that eventually led to his demise. Deaver resigned from the White House staff in May 1985 under investigation for corruption. It seems that Deaver had charged the Taiwan government $150,000 for arranging the meeting with Reagan. Deaver was eventually charged with perjury rather than violations of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act and was fined $100,000.
Reagan had considerable problems trying to balance the budget during his second term in office. This was because he had increased defence spending by 35%. This included expensive military programs such as the MX missile and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). In 1985 he supported the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act that enabled large annual budget cuts to be made but it had little impact before being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1986.
In late 1986 Reagan became embroiled in in what became known as the Irangate Scandal. It was discovered that the Reagan administration had been selling arms to the Islamic fundamentalist government in Iran in order to gain the release of American hostages in the Lebanon. The profits of the deal were then used to supply the anti-Marxist Contra guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua.
The scandal was damaging to Reagan because he had told the American public he would never "yield to terrorist blackmail". As a result of the scandal, the White House chief of staff, Donald Regan and his National Security Adviser, John Poindexter, were forced to resign. Reagan survived but the case damaged his image and gave the impression that he was not in full-control of his administration.
In 1987 Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the Immediate Nuclear Forces (INF) abolition treaty. Gorbachev also made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe and in 1989 announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Aware that Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Over the next few months the communists were ousted from power in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. All these events took place while Reagan was president and he therefore got the credit for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Reagan retired from office at the end of his second-term in 1989. He spent his time establishing the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, but in 1994 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Robert E. Stripling: As a member of the board of directors, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and as an active member, have you at any time observed or noted within the organization a clique of either Communists or Fascists who were attempting to exert influence or pressure on the guild?
Robert Reagan: Well, sir, my testimony must be very similar to that of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Montgomery. There has been a small group within the Screen Actors Guild which has consistently opposed the policy of the guild board and officers of the guild, as evidenced by the vote on various issues. That small clique referred to has been suspected of more or less following the tactics that we associate with the Communist Party.
Robert E. Stripling: Would you refer to them as a disruptive influence within the guild?
Robert Reagan: I would say that at times they have attempted to be a disruptive influence.
This great turn from left to right was not just a case of the pendulum swinging - first, the left hold sway and then the right, and here comes the left again. The truth is, conservative thought is no longer over here on the right; it's the mainstream now. And the tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital, such as it was, and it has done its deeds.
Now, we're not in power because they failed to gain electoral support over the past 50 years. They did win support. And the result was chaos, weakness, and drift. Ultimately, though, their failures yielded one great thing-us guys. We in this room are not simply profiting from their bankruptcy; we are where we are because we're winning the contest of ideas. In fact, in the past decade, all of a sudden, quietly, mysteriously, the Republican party has become the party of ideas.
We became the party of the most brilliant and dynamic young minds. I remember them, just a few years ago, running around scrawling Laffer curves on table napkins, going to symposia and talking about how social programs did not eradicate poverty, but entrenched it; writing studies on why the latest weird and unnatural idea from the social engineers is weird and unnatural. You were there. They were your ideas, your symposia, your books, and usually somebody else's table napkins.
All of a sudden, Republicans were not defenders of the status quo but creators of the future. They were looking at tomorrow with all the single-mindedness of an inventor. In fact, they reminded me of the American inventors of the 19th and 20th centuries who filled the world with light and recorded sound.
The new conservatives made anew the connection between economic justice and economic growth. Growth in the economy would not only create jobs and paychecks, they said; it would enhance familial stability and encourage a healthy optimism about the future. Lower those tax rates, they said, and let the economy become the engine of our dreams. Pull back regulations, and encourage free and open competition. Let the men and women of the marketplace decide what they want.
But along with that, perhaps the greatest triumph of modern conservatism has been to stop allowing the left to put the average American on the moral defensive. By average American I mean the good, decent, rambunctious, and creative people who raise the families, go to church, and help out when the local library holds a fundraiser; people who have a stake in the community because they are the community.
These people had held true to certain beliefs and principles that for 20 years the intelligentsia were telling us were hopelessly out of date, utterly trite, and reactionary. You want prayer in the schools? How primitive, they said. You oppose abortion? How oppressive, how anti-modern. The normal was portrayed as eccentric, and only the abnormal was worthy of emulation. The irreverent was celebrated, but only irreverence about certain things: irreverence toward, say, organized religion, yes; irreverence toward established liberalism, not too much of that. They celebrated their courage in taking on safe targets and patted each other on the back for slinging stones at a confused Goliath, who was too demoralized and really too good to fight back. But now one simply senses it. The American people are no longer on the defensive. I believe the conservative movement deserves some credit for this. You spoke for the permanent against the merely prevalent, and ultimately you prevailed...
Now, whether government borrows or increases taxes, it will be taking the same amount of money from the private economy, and either way, that's too much. We must bring down government spending. We need a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. It's something that 49 states already require -no reason the federal government should be any different.
We need the line-item veto, which 43 governors have-no reason that the President shouldn't. And we have to cut waste. The Grace commission has identified billions of dollars that are wasted and that we can save.
But the domestic side isn't the only area where we need your help. All of us in this room grew up, or came to adulthood, in a time when the doctrine of Marx and Lenin was coming to divide the world. Ultimately, it came to dominate remorselessly whole parts of it. The Soviet attempt to give legitimacy to its tyranny is expressed in the infamous Brezhnev doctrine, which contends that once a country has fallen into Communist darkness, it can never again be allowed to see the light of freedom.
Well, it occurs to me that history has already begun to repeal that doctrine. It started one day in Grenada. We only did our duty, as a responsible neighbor and a lover of peace, the day we went in and returned the government to the people and rescued our own students. We restored that island to liberty. Yes, it's only a small island, but that 's what the world is made of-small islands yearning for freedom.
There's much more to do. Throughout the world the Soviet Union and its agents, client states, and satellites are on the defensive-on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man-in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America. In making mention of freedom fighters, all of us are privileged to have in our midst tonight one of the brave commanders who lead the Afghan freedom fighters-Abdul Haq. Abdul Haq, we are with you .
They are our brothers, these freedom fighters, and we owe them our help. I've spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they re fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them for the struggle here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong.
We did not - repeat, did not - trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.
A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.
Since their formation, the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) chapters have also provided a platform and legitimacy for surviving fractions of the Nazi Anti-Komintern and Eastern European (Ostpolitik) coalitions put together under Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s, and partly taken over after 1948 by the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination. In the late 1970s, as under Carter the United States pulled away from involvement with WACL countries and operations, the Nazi component of WACL became much more blatant as at least three European WACL chapters were taken over by former Nazi SS officers.
With such a background, WACL might seem like an odd choice for the Reagan White House, when in 1984 WACL Chairman John Singlaub began to report to NSC staffer Oliver North and CIA Director William Casey on his fund-raising activities for the contras. We shall see, however, that Singlaub's and WACL's input into the generation of Reagan's Central American policies and political alliances went back to at least 1978. The activities of Singlaub and Sandoval chiefly involved three WACL countries, Guatemala, Argentina, and Taiwan, that would later emerge as prominent backers of the contras. In 1980 these three countries shared one lobbying firm, that of Deaver and Hannaford, which for six years had supervised the campaign to make a successful presidential candidate out of a former movie actor, Ronald Reagan.
Still unacknowledged and unexplained is the role which funds from Michael Deaver's Guatemalan clients played in the 1980 Reagan campaign. Although contributions from foreign nationals are not permitted under U.S. electoral law, many observers have reported that rich Guatemalans boasted openly of their illegal gifts. Half a million dollars was said to have been raised at one meeting of Guatemalan businessmen, at the home of their President, Romeo Lucas Garcia. The meeting took place at about the time of the November 1979 visit of Deaver's clients to Washington, when some of them met with Ronald Reagan.
Today, Argentina is at peace, the terrorist threat nearly eliminated. Though Martinez de Hoz, in his U.S. talks, concentrates on economics, he does not shy from discussing human rights. He points out that in the process of bringing stability to a terrorized nation of 25 million, a small number were caught in the cross-fire, among them a few innocents... If you ask the average Argentine-in-the-street what he thinks about the state of his country's economy, chances are you'll find him pleased, not seething, about the way things are going.
Like a Civil War victory at a major train junction, the election of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in 1980 put conservatives in control of key switching points in Washington for the transportation of ideas throughout the U.S. political system. By regaining the Executive Branch and winning the Senate, Republicans had their hands on many of the levers that could expedite the movement of favorable information to the American public and sidetrack news that might cause trouble.
Having learned how dangerous it was when critical scandals like Watergate or the CIA abuses started rolling down the tracks and building up steam, the conservatives took pains to keep hold of this advantage over what information sped through to the public and what didn't. Though often disparaged for being behind the times, conservatives - far better than liberals -grasped the strategic advantage that came with controlling these logistics of information. With the ability to rush public relations shock troops and media artillery to political battle fronts, conservatives recognized that they could alter the tactics and the strategies of what they called "the war of ideas."
Not losing any time, Republicans began devising new ways to manage, manufacture and deliver their message in the weeks and months after the Reagan-Bush victory. Some would call the concept "public diplomacy"; others would use the phrase "perception management." But the idea was to control how the public would perceive an issue, a person or an event. The concept was to define the political battlefield at key moments - especially when a story was just breaking - and thus enhance the chances of victory.
The Republican approach would be helped immeasurably by President Reagan's communication skills and by the image wizardry of White House aide Michael Deaver. But the administration's capability was given an important boost, too, by the intelligence backgrounds of two key figures, former campaign chief William Casey, who was named Reagan's CIA director, and Vice President George H. W. Bush, a former CIA director and a veteran of previous battles fought to contain political scandals. From their experiences in the intelligence fields, they understood what the CIA Old Boys, like Miles Copeland, meant when they talked about setting the "the spirit of the meeting" as a crucial element in managing political events.
The group that Deaver represented in Guatemala, the Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country), is not known to have included Mario Sandoval Alarcon personally. But ten to fifteen of its members were accused by former Guatemalan Vice-President Villagran Kramer on the BBC of being "directly linked with organized terror." One such person, not named by Villagran, was the Texas lawyer John Trotter, the owner of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City. Coca-Cola agreed in 1980 to terminate Trotter's franchise, after the Atlantic Monthly reported that several workers and trade union leaders trying to organize his plant had been murdered by death squads.
One year earlier, in 1979, Trotter had traveled to Washington as part of a five-man public relations mission from the Amigos. At least two members of that mission, Roberto Alejos Arzu and Manuel F. Ayau, are known to have met Ronald Reagan. (Reagan later described Ayau as "one of the few people ...who understands what is going on down there.")
Roberto Alejos Arzu, the head of Deaver's Amigos and the principal organizer of Guatemala's "Reagan for President" bandwagon, was an old CIA contact; in 1960 his plantation had been used to train Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Before the 1980 election Alejos complained that "most of the elements in the State Department are probably pro-Communist... Either Mr. Carter is a totally incapable president or he is definitely a pro-communist element."s (In 1954, Alejos' friend Sandoval had been one of the CIA's leading political proteges in its overthrow of Guatemala's President Arbenz.)
hen asked by the BBC how ten million dollars from Guatemala could have reached the Reagan campaign, Villagran named no names: "The only way that I can feel it would get there would be that some North American residing in Guatemala, living in Guatemala, would more or less be requesting money over there or accepting contributions and then transmitting them to his Republican Party as contributions of his own."
Trotter was the only U.S. businessman in Guatemala whom Alan Nairn could find in the list of Reagan donors disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. Others, who said specifically that they had contributed, were not so listed. Nairn heard from one businessman who had been solicited that "explicit Instructions were given repeatedly: Do not give to Mr. Reagan's campaign directly. Monies were instead to be directed to an undisclosed committee in California."
Trotter admitted in 1980 that he was actively fundraising in this period in Guatemala. The money he spoke of, half a million dollars, was however not directly for the Reagan campaign, but for a documentary film in support of Reagan's Latin American policies, being made by one of the groups supporting Reagan, the American Security Council (ASC). The film argued that the survival of the United States depended on defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua: "Tomorrow: Honduras.. .Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico ...the United States."
Deaver's Amigos and Trotter were in extended contact with the ASC over this project. In December 1979, and again in 1980, the ASC sent retired Army General John Singlaub to meet Guatemalan President Lucas Garcia and other officials. According to one of Singlaub's 1979 contacts, the clear message was that "Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done."" On his return to the United States, according to Pearce, Singlaub called for "sympathetic understanding of the death squads."" In 1980 Singlaub returned to Guatemala with another apologist for death squads, General Gordon Sumner of the Council for InterAmerican Security. Again the message to Lucas was that "help was on the way in the form of Ronald Reagan."
Jenny Pearce has noted that Singlaub's first ASC visit to Guatemalan President Lucas took place shortly after Lucas's meeting with Guatemalan businessmen, where he is "alleged to have raised half a million dollars in contributions to the [Reagan] campaign."
Since the 1984 Congressional cutoff of aid to the contras, Singlaub, as world chairman of the World Anti-Communist League, has been the most visible source of private support to the contras. He did this in liaison with both William Casey of the CIA and Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council staff."
But Singlaub's contacts with the World Anti-Communist League go back at least to 1980, when he was also purporting to speak abroad in the name of Reagan. Did the help from Reagan which Singlaub promised Guatemalans in 1980, like the "verbal agreements" which Sandoval referred to at Reagan's Inaugural, involve commitments even then from Reagan to that fledgling WACL project, the contras?
Mike Deaver should be asked that question, since in 1980 he was a registered foreign lobbyist for three of the contras most important WACL backers: Guatemala, Taiwan, and Argentina.
Unlike the invasion of Normandy Beach during World War II, thee invasion of Grenada took place without the presence of journalists to observe the action. Reagan advisors Mike leaver and Craig Fuller had previously worked for the Hannaford Company, a PR firm which had represented the Guatemalan government to squelch negative publicity about Guatemala's massive violence against its civilian population. Following their advice, Reagan ordered a complete press blackout surrounding the Grenada invasion. By the time reporters were allowed on the scene, soldiers were engaged in "mop-up" actions, and the American public was treated to an antiseptic military victory minus any scenes of killing, destruction or incompetence. In fact, as former army intelligence officers Richard Gabriel and Paul Savage wrote a year later in the Boston Globe, "What really happened in Grenada was a case study in military incompetence and poor execution." Of the 18 American servicemen killed during the operation, 14 died in friendly fire or in accidents. To this day, no one has been able to offer a reliable estimate of the number of Grenadans killed. Retired Vice-Admiral Joseph Metcalf III remembered the Grenada invasion fondly as "a marvelous, sterile operation."
After reporters protested the news blackout, the government proposed creating a "National Media Pool." In future wars, a rotating group of regular Pentagon correspondents would be on call to depart at a moment's notice for US surprise military operations. In theory, the pool system was designed to keep journalists safe and to provide them with timely, inside access to military operations. In practice, it was a classic example of PR crisis management strategy enabling the military to take the initiative in controlling media coverage by channeling reporters' movements through Pentagon-designated sources.''
Distasteful as this Deaver-Hannaford apologetics for murder may seem today, the real issue goes far beyond rhetoric. Though Deaver and Hannaford's three international clients Guatemala, Taiwan, and Argentina-all badly wanted a better image in America, what they wanted even more urgently were American armaments. Under Carter arms sales and deliveries to Taiwan had been scaled back for diplomatic reasons, and cut off to Guatemala and Argentina because of human rights violations.
When Reagan became President, all three of Deaver's international clients, despite considerable opposition within the Administration, began to receive arms. This under-reported fact goes against the public image of Deaver as an open-minded pragmatist, marginal to the foreign policy disputes of the first Reagan administration, so that his pre-1981 lobbying activities had little bearing on foreign policy. The details suggest a different story.
Argentina could hardly have had a worse press in the United States then when Reagan took office. The revelations of Adolfo Perez Esquivel and of Jacobo Timmerman had been for some time front page news. This did not deter the new Administration from asking Congress to lift the embargo on arms sales to Argentina on March 19, 1981, less than two months after coming to office. General Roberto Viola, one of the junta members responsible for the death squads, was welcomed to Washington in the spring of 1981. Today he is serving a 17-year sentence for his role in the "dirty war."
Though the American public did not know it, the arrangements for U.S. aid to Argentina included a quid pro quo: Argentina would expand its support and training for the Contras, as there was as yet no authorization for the United States to do so directly. "Thus aid and training were provided to the Contras through the Argentinean defense forces in exchange for other forms of aid from the U.S. to Argentina .1128 Congressional investigators should determine whether the contemporary arms deals with Deaver's other clients, Guatemala and Taiwan, did not contain similar kickbacks for their contra proteges.
Let me tell you about the greatest victory in the history of the United States. We won World War III without firing a shot. Do you realize that? World War III had been raging for 45 years. We called it the Cold War, and we won it without firing a single shot. Who deserves credit for that? The credit belongs to a man who has been abused by the press. A president who is much greater than history is willing to portray him, because he was not their kind of guy. A grandfather, a father, who is now suffering from Alzheimer's. Can't think straight. Doesn't know where he is. Ronald Reagan...
President Reagan did it, by establishing something that he has been denounced for. Criticized for. Castigated for. Star Wars. Star Wars was not established to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles. That was what we said we were going to do with it. That was the purpose that we announced. But that wasn't the real purpose. We had discovered that the Soviet Union was near economic collapse. We knew that we had a stronger economy; that we could out-spend them, and we knew that they were crazy enough to continue to try to keep up with us, so we started Star Wars for the purpose of crashing the Soviet economy. And we succeeded. The Soviet Union came crashing down. The citizens in the Kremlin didn't want to do it. We now know, we didn't know then. They are now a little more free with us, telling us some of the secrets that they used to keep, and their civilian leaders didn't want to do it. They said, "We can't afford it. We've got to go ahead and let the Americans go ahead and prepare for Star Wars." The military said, "No, we have the responsibility to defend the Soviet Union, so we must develop Star Wars too." They ran out of money. They went bankrupt. They collapsed.
At the start of his presidency, Reagan favored the supply-side theory of growth, cutting taxes and social spending to jump-start a sluggish economy suffering with high inflation.
A deep recession forced some tax increases, but over the course of his tenure Wall Street responded appreciatively to "Reaganomics" and the economy boomed.
At the same time he fought to cut taxes, Reagan ordered a massive defense buildup to intimidate the Soviet Union, an expansion that required large-scale Pentagon spending. Critics called the effort corporate welfare for the defense industry.
In an attempt to stay ahead of the Soviets, Reagan supported the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed "Star Wars," which promised to deflect incoming missiles. But the expensive plan was eventually deemed unworkable and shelved until being revived in the administration of the second President Bush.
Ronald Reagan, who has died aged 93, following complications from Alzheimer's disease, served two terms as US president, from 1981 to 1989. He will be long remembered for his part in ending the cold war, although what that part was exactly will be long disputed.
Perhaps the cold war was certain to end peaceably, rather than in a nuclear holocaust; perhaps the dissolution of the Soviet Union was equally certain. But it is at least as probable that the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in 1985, and the presence of the Republican Reagan in the White House, created a window of opportunity, which both men, to their credit, took full advantage of...
His personal popularity became so great that it even survived the revelation that he and Nancy consulted an astrologer. As Henry Kissinger and others noticed, only his speeches and their preparation roused him to hard work, though the reward was that he always found the right words for the occasion, most impressively at the time of the Challenger space mission disaster in 1986.
Otherwise, he cared very little for the day-to-day management of government. His indolence was notorious, so much so that he made jokes about it: "It's true that hard work never killed anybody, but I figured why take the chance?"
Appearance to the contrary, however, Reagan knew exactly what he wanted to do in his first term, and was shrewd and flexible enough to get most of it. His objectives were those of the south Californian business class with which he had long allied himself: a large tax cut, a sharply increased defence budget, and the defeat of organised labour's pretensions, which was demonstrated by his success in smashing the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981. Federal regulation was the enemy, and he did what he could to dismantle the legacy of Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson's welfare programmes.
His inconsistencies did not faze him: a prophet of the balanced budget and cuts in federal spending, he spent more and ran up much larger deficits than any president before him. This unplanned Keynesianism produced a long boom, but bequeathed grievous problems to his successors. Even more damagingly, it persuaded many Americans that they could eat their cake and have it too: since Reagan was forever advertising his conservatism, they did not spot the real source of their prosperity and, in a damn-the-torpedoes fashion, became convinced that it could never be necessary to raise taxes and never be imprudent to lower them.
Reagan's inattention to detail, and the hostility of his followers to Washington, provided the opportunity for lawbreaking by members of the government on a scale never before attained, and there was an endless train of resignations, arrests and court cases.
Matters went altogether too far in the Iran-Contra affair, when the White House staff (and, almost certainly, the president himself) conspired to sell arms to revolutionary Iran, in defiance of declared government policy, and use the money to support the insurrectionary forces in Nicaragua, in defiance of congressional directives. The chief villain of the piece, Colonel Oliver North, was lucky to escape prison, but Reagan himself deserved to be impeached for the business. He escaped because few could bear the thought of struggling through another Watergate, and, anyway, no one hated or feared him as they had Richard Nixon.
Ronald Reagan was a statesman who, despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway and change our relations for the better, stop the nuclear race, start scrapping nuclear weapons, and arrange normal relations between our countries.
I do not know how other statesmen would have acted at that moment, because the situation was too difficult. Reagan, whom many considered extremely rightist, dared to make these steps, and this is his most important deed.
Reagan was the "unsolved mystery" of modern American politics, as Time magazine described him, confounding friends and enemies alike.
He was a budget hawk who tripled the national debt and created record budget deficits with his tax-cutting "supply-side" economic policies, which came to be known as Reaganomics.
He was a foreign policy novice who hastened the fall of the Soviet Union and, with it, victory in the four-decade Cold War against the "evil empire."
He was the champion of a durable political movement against big government who oversaw increases in federal spending every year of his administration.
He was the "Great Communicator," who relied heavily on cue cards and who could flounder badly without a script or a tightly orchestrated public event.
He was warm and genial in public, a passionate champion of family values, who was the only divorcee ever elected president and was sometimes accused of being a distant parent to his four children.
There is, however, no dispute that Reagan was a giant on the world stage and the leader of a conservative political revolution at home nearly as sweeping as the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his onetime political idol.
"Reagan may not have been a great president," biographer Lou Cannon wrote, "but he was a great American who had a compelling vision of his country."
That vision - of "morning in America" where "every day is Independence Day, the Fourth of July" - appealed to a nation weary of setbacks at home and abroad.
To a nation hungry for a hero, a nation battered by Vietnam, damaged by Watergate and humiliated by Iran, Ronald Wilson Reagan held out the promise of a return to greatness, the promise that America would ``stand tall'' again.
He was America's oldest president and in some ways its youngest when he came to the White House in 1981, a vigorous 69-year-old Republican who called America back to the traditional values of a simpler era.
Preaching the hometown virtues of smaller government, lower taxes and a stronger military, Mr. Reagan brought a jaunty optimism to the White House and led the country out of the malaise lamented by Jimmy Carter, the Democrat who preceded him.
He managed to project the optimism of Roosevelt, the faith in small-town America of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the vigor of John F. Kennedy. In his first term in the White House he restored much of America's faith in itself and in the presidency, and he rode into his second term on the crest of a wave of popularity that few presidents have enjoyed.
But late in 1986, halfway through his second term, Mr. Reagan and his administration were plunged into chaos by an effort to deal too rashly with the same kind of hostage crisis that he had accused Mr. Carter of handling too gingerly.
Contrary to official policy, Mr. Reagan's subordinates sold arms to Iran as ransom for the hostages in Lebanon and diverted profits from the sales to the rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas then governing Nicaragua. A joint Congressional investigating committee reported that the affair had been ``characterized by pervasive dishonesty and secrecy'' and that Mr. Reagan bore ultimate responsibility for the wrongdoing of a ``cabal of zealots.''
The deception and disdain for the law invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan's credibility and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress. Scrutiny of his appointees increased; Supreme Court nominees were rejected or withdrawn, and more of his aides were charged with ethics violations than in any other administration.
But until the Iran-contra affair, Mr. Reagan enjoyed tremendous popularity. He used that popularity and a consummate political skill to push many of his major programs through Congress. And despite Iran-contra, he crowned his two terms with a nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union that reduced the nuclear arsenals of both countries for the first time, setting the stage for a new relationship with the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
It was Mr. Reagan's good fortune that during his time in office the Soviet Union was undergoing profound change and was eventually to collapse, setting off a spirited debate over Mr. Reagan's role in ending the cold war, with his supporters arguing that his tough policies were the coup de grace and his detractors attributing the end to the accumulated influence of 45 years of the United States policy of containment. But wherever the credit was due, the thaw came on his watch.
Michael R. Beschloss, the presidential historian, said he believed that the cold war ended more quickly under Mr. Reagan than it would have had his opponent, Mr. Carter, been re-elected in 1980.
"With Reagan,'' Mr. Beschloss said, "the Soviets could no longer con themselves into thinking they would prevail in the cold war because the American people had lost their will and strength and lost their taste for confronting Soviet aggression. They were sufficiently convinced that Reagan meant business.''
He said the Soviet economy was beginning to flag and Mr. Gorbachev was selected and "charged with improving the economy and making the best deal he could with the West.''
The hagiography started as soon as they announced Reagan's death. How he ended the cold war, how he was a decisive leader, all this nonsense about Reagan which is just ridiculous.
The British have a tradition: when someone dies, their newspaper obituary tells the truth. Americans like to say something kind about the dead, no matter how scummy they were. Even Nixon got a halo in death, where only Hunter Thompson reminded people of who exactly he was and how the honors given him were, well, wrong.
This deification of Reagan began as soon as Clinton took office. There has been pressure to name everything but rest stop toilets after the man. Some right wing cranks wanted to add him to Mount Rushmore, as if FDR didn't exist. They forced his name on an unhappy Washington DC, by renaming the airport, still called by many, National.
So let's get past all the maudlin bullshit and discuss what Reagan really did.
First, Reagan rode to power on a wave of reaction to the Civil Rights struggle. California, a state with a deep well of racial resentment, supported Reagan, who would protect the establishment and call for students to be murdered on their campuses. Reagan was regarded as a crank by many on the left, but his appeal to middle America was strong. It wasn't that Reagan was a racist, as far as is known, he wasn't. But he sure could pander to them, as he did in 1984 at Philadelphia, MS. For those of you unaware, that is the place three civil rights workers were murdered by the Klan. It would be like a British Prime Ministerial candidate going to Amritsar to talk about the glory of the British Army (the site of a 1921 massacre of peaceful Indian protesters). Reagan pandered to the racist right with ease, even as Barry Goldwater, the man he supported in 1964 with a convention speech, slowly backed away from many of his reactionary views. Instead, Reagan depicted blacks as "welfare queens" leeching off the society, when in reality, white women are the largest recipients of AFDC. Reagan used race like a club to hammer minorities and pander to the racist right.
We need to ask what hath Reagan wrought. His economic policies crippled this country, preventing the kind of long term structural changes which are still needed. How long will American businesses have to foot the bill for health insurance? How long will unequal funding for schools exist? How long will the right of women to control their bodies be subject to restrictions? This is the real, domestic legacy of Ronald Reagan. His breaking of the PATCO strike began the road to anti-Union policies across business. Once, businesses wanted labor peace, after Reagan, strike breaking was permitted, hell encouraged.
Reagan began the road of crippling America's ability to care for Americans. Now we have this failed trickle down economic policy pushed by yet another President. One that leaves Americans in record debt and record bankruptcies. Instead of tax rates which fairly distribute the burden of funding America, the rich have been encouraged to avoid their fair share. Ronald Reagan began the bankrupting of America and the creation of a super wealthy CEO class, one where their great grandchildren will never have to work, an aristocracy of trustifarians. Under Reagan hypocrisy and selfishness became the rule of the road. Not just in public life, where his staff routinely lied, eventually leading to Iran-Contra.
But if Reagan started to ruin America, his foreign policy left the dead around like fallen leaves. His foreign policy was a disaster by any standard. Dead nuns in El Salvador, murdered school teachers in Nicaragua, the tortured in Argentina, the seizure of Grenade, the failed intervention in Lebanon, the aerial assassination attempt on Khaddafi, which led to the bombing of Pam Am flight 103. Reagan's policies left a trail of failure and disaster at every turn.
How to explain funding the deeply corrupt Contras? Former Somocista generals who funded their war by the drug trade? Who murdered the innocent. Or the war in Guatemala and the genocide of the Indian population. Or the war in El Salvador, where American nuns, among many others, were raped and murdered. A government so callous that it murdered an archbishop in his church.
Ronald Reagan is dead now, and everyone is being nice to him. In every aspect, this is appropriate. He was a husband and a father, a beloved member of a family, and he will be missed by those he was close to. His death was long, slow and agonizing because of the Alzheimer's Disease which ruined him, one drop of lucidity at a time. My grandmother died ten years ago almost to the day because of this disease, and this disease took ten years to do its dirty, filthy, wretched work on her.
The dignity and candor of Reagan's farewell letter to the American people was as magnificent a departure from public life as any that has been seen in our history, but the ugly truth of his illness was that he lived on, and on, and on. His family and friends watched as he faded from the world of the real, as the simple dignity afforded to all life collapsed like loose sand behind his ever more vacant eyes. Only those who have seen Alzheimer's Disease invade a mind can know the truth of this. It is a cursed way to die.
In this mourning space, however, there must be room made for the truth. Writer Edward Abbey once said, "The sneakiest form of literary subtlety, in a corrupt society, is to speak the plain truth. The critics will not understand you; the public will not believe you; your fellow writers will shake their heads."
The truth is straightforward: Virtually every significant problem facing the American people today can be traced back to the policies and people that came from the Reagan administration. It is a laundry list of ills, woes and disasters that has all of us, once again, staring apocalypse in the eye.
How can this be? The television says Ronald Reagan was one of the most beloved Presidents of the 20th century. He won two national elections, the second by a margin so overwhelming that all future landslides will be judged by the high-water mark he achieved against Walter Mondale. How can a man so universally respected have played a hand in the evils which corrupt our days?
The answer lies in the reality of the corrupt society Abbey spoke of. Our corruption is the absolute triumph of image over reality, of flash over substance, of the pervasive need within most Americans to believe in a happy-face version of the nation they call home, and to spurn the reality of our estate as unpatriotic. Ronald Reagan was, and will always be, the undisputed heavyweight champion of salesmen in this regard.
Reagan was able, by virtue of his towering talents in this arena, to sell to the American people a flood of poisonous policies. He made Americans feel good about acting against their own best interests. He sold the American people a lemon, and they drive it to this day as if it was a Cadillac. It isn't the lies that kill us, but the myths, and Ronald Reagan was the greatest myth-maker we are ever likely to see.
Mainstream media journalism today is a shameful joke because of Reagan's deregulation policies. Once upon a time, the Fairness Doctrine ensured that the information we receive - information vital to the ability of the people to govern in the manner intended - came from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Reagan's policies annihilated the Fairness Doctrine, opening the door for a few mega-corporations to gather journalism unto themselves. Today, Reagan's old bosses at General Electric own three of the most-watched news channels. This company profits from every war we fight, but somehow is trusted to tell the truths of war. Thus, the myths are sold to us.
The deregulation policies of Ronald Reagan did not just deliver journalism to these massive corporations, but handed virtually every facet of our lives into the hands of this privileged few. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are all tainted because Reagan battered down every environmental regulation he came across so corporations could improve their bottom line. Our leaders are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the corporations that were made all-powerful by Reagan's deregulation craze. The Savings and Loan scandal of Reagan's time, which cost the American people hundreds of billions of dollars, is but one example of Reagan's decision that the foxes would be fine guards in the henhouse.
Ronald Reagan believed in small government, despite the fact that he grew government massively during his time. Social programs which protected the weakest of our citizens were gutted by Reagan's policies, delivering millions into despair. Reagan was able to do this by caricaturing the "welfare queen," who punched out babies by the barnload, who drove the flashy car bought with your tax dollars, who refused to work because she didn't have to. This was a vicious, racist lie, one result of which was the decimation of a generation by crack cocaine. The urban poor were left to rot because Ronald Reagan believed in 'self-sufficiency.'
Ronald Reagan actively supported the regimes of the worst people ever to walk the earth. Names like Marcos, Duarte, Rios Mont and Duvalier reek of blood and corruption, yet were embraced by the Reagan administration with passionate intensity. The ground of many nations is salted with the bones of those murdered by brutal rulers who called Reagan a friend. Who can forget his support of those in South Africa who believed apartheid was the proper way to run a civilized society?
One dictator in particular looms large across our landscape. Saddam Hussein was a creation of Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration supported the Hussein regime despite his incredible record of atrocity. The Reagan administration gave Hussein intelligence information which helped the Iraqi military use their chemical weapons on the battlefield against Iran to great effect. The deadly bacterial agents sent to Iraq during the Reagan administration are a laundry list of horrors.
The Reagan administration sent an emissary named Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq to shake Saddam Hussein's hand and assure him that, despite public American condemnation of the use of those chemical weapons, the Reagan administration still considered him a welcome friend and ally. This happened while the Reagan administration was selling weapons to Iran, a nation notorious for its support of international terrorism, in secret and in violation of scores of laws.
Another name on Ronald Reagan's roll call is that of Osama bin Laden. The Reagan administration believed it a bully idea to organize an army of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. bin Laden became the spiritual leader of this action. Throughout the entirety of Reagan's term, bin Laden and his people were armed, funded and trained by the United States. Reagan helped teach Osama bin Laden the lesson he lives by today, that it is possible to bring a superpower to its knees. bin Laden believes this because he has done it once before, thanks to the dedicated help of Ronald Reagan.
In 1998, two American embassies in Africa were blasted into rubble by Osama bin Laden, who used the Semtex sent to Afghanistan by the Reagan administration to do the job. In 2001, Osama bin Laden thrust a dagger into the heart of the United States, using men who became skilled at the art of terrorism with the help of Ronald Reagan. Today, there are 827 American soldiers and over 10,000 civilians who have died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a war that came to be because Reagan helped manufacture both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
How much of this can be truthfully laid at the feet of Ronald Reagan? It depends on who you ask. Those who worship Reagan see him as the man in charge, the man who defeated Soviet communism, the man whose vision and charisma made Americans feel good about themselves after Vietnam and the malaise of the 1970s. Those who despise Reagan see him as nothing more than a pitch-man for corporate raiders, the man who allowed greed to become a virtue, the man who smiled vapidly while allowing his officials to run the government for him.
In some crude forms of therapy the patient is confronted with a re-enactment of the trauma that caused his collapse. Even so, I don't think I'll be watching Ronald Reagan's state funeral as Margaret Thatcher's taped tribute is played. It'll be too painful. I'll go and sit on broken glass for a while instead.
That, for me, was a bad decade - a decade in which rightwing precepts were dominant and the left was in full and abject retreat. But perhaps, along with others, I should reassess the Reagan legacy. If Gerhard Schröder and Mikhail Gorbachev can say what a fabulous contribution the old actor made to freedom, it may be time to forget jokes like, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you that I have signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Because Reagan didn't start bombing in five minutes. He didn't even actually build Star Wars. Following the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles, he then - quite unexpectedly - engaged in a process of arms limitation and tension reduction that made it safe for Gorbachev to pursue a reform programme in the Soviet Union. That's not enough to get him chiselled into Mount Rushmore, but it's a damn sight more than I gave him credit for at the time.