Today is Ronald Reagan's birthday. Well, if he were still alive, at least. In honor of the occasion, maybe you'd like to read this obituary.
Even at age twelve I could tell that Jimmy Carter was an honest man trying to address complicated issues and Ronald Reagan was a brilcreemed salesman telling people what they wanted to hear. ... I spent the eight years he was in office living in one of those science-fiction movies where everyone is taken over by aliens—I was appalled by how stupid and mean-spirited and repulsive the world was becoming while everyone else in America seemed to agree that things were finally exactly as they should be. The Washington Press corps was so enamored of his down-to-earth charm that they never checked his facts, but if you watched his face when it was at rest, when he wasn’t performing for anyone, you could see him for what he really was—a black-eyed, slit-mouthed, lizard-faced old son-of-a-bitch. He was a bad actor, an informer for McCarthy, and a hired front man for a gang of Texas oilmen, fundamentalist dingbats, and right-wing psychotics out of Dr. Strangelove. He put a genial face on chauvanism, callousness, and greed, and made people feel good about being bigots again. He likened Central American death squads to our founding fathers and called the Taliban “freedom fighters.” His legacy includes the dismantling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the final dirty win of Management over Labor, the outsourcing of America’s manufacturing base, the embezzlement of almost all the country's wealth by 1% of its citizens, the scapegoating of the poor and black, the War on Drugs, the eviction of schizophrenics into the streets, AIDS, acid rain, Iran-Contra, and, let’s not forget, the corpses of two hundred forty United States Marines. He moved the center of political discourse in this country to somewhere in between Richard Nixon and Augusto Pinochet. He believed in astrology and Armageddon and didn't know the difference between history and movies; his stories were lies and his jokes were scripted. He was the triumph of image over truth, paving the way for even more vapid spokesmodels like George W. Bush. He was, as everyone agrees, exactly what he appeared to be—nothing. He made me ashamed to be an American.
Yup, that about sums it up.
Oh, and he was elected, at least in part, thanks to the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. Remember those famous "Reagan Democrats"? They were working-class white people who'd been persuaded to see economics in racial terms.
Heck, Lee Atwater himself admitted it:
It has become, for liberals and leftists enraged by the way Republicans never suffer the consequences for turning electoral politics into a cesspool, a kind of smoking gun. The late, legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Anyway, you can read the rest of that if you want. But here's another perspective on Ronald Reagan:
No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed. ... “You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts,” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.”
In all fields of public affairs—from diplomacy to the economy—the president stunned Washington policymakers by how little basic information he commanded. His mind, said the well-disposed Peggy Noonan, was “barren terrain.” Speaking of one far-ranging discussion on the MX missile, the Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, an authority on national defense, reported, “Reagan’s only contribution throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he’d watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from War Games.” The president “cut ribbons and made speeches. He did these things beautifully,” Congressman Jim Wright of Texas acknowledged. “But he never knew frijoles from pralines about the substantive facts of issues.” Some thought him to be not only ignorant but, in the word of a former CIA director, “stupid.” Clark Clifford called the president an “amiable dunce,” and the usually restrained columnist David Broder wrote, “The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan’s ears is a challenging one for his aides.”
No Democratic adversary would ever constitute as great a peril to the president’s political future, his advisers concluded, as Reagan did himself. Therefore, they protected him by severely restricting situations where he might blurt out a fantasy. ... His secretary of the treasury and later chief of staff said of the president: “Every moment of every public appearance was scheduled, every word scripted, every place where Reagan was expected to stand was chalked with toe marks.” Those manipulations, he added, seemed customary to Reagan, for “he had been learning his lines, composing his facial expressions, hitting his toe marks for half a century.” Each night, before turning in, he took comfort in a shooting schedule for the next day’s television-focused events that was laid out for him at his bedside, just as it had been in Hollywood.
His White House staff found it difficult, often impossible, to get him to stir himself to follow even this rudimentary routine. When he was expected to read briefing papers, he lazed on a couch watching old movies. On the day before a summit meeting with world leaders about the future of the economy, he was given a briefing book. The next morning, his chief of staff asked him why he had not even opened it. “Well, Jim,” the president explained, “The Sound of Music was on last night.”
If I were the kind of guy who'd give up on America (I'm not), I'd say that Ronald Reagan was the beginning of the end for us. He might not have been as disastrous as George W. Bush - and even Bush looks reasonable compared to today's Republican politicians - but this is where we started to go downhill.
Reagan wasn't responsible for everything. He wasn't smart enough for that. But I never understood why he was so popular. With Republicans? Sure. Faith-based people will believe whatever they want to believe, and Reagan was just as shallow as television.
But why he still has a generally good reputation today, I'll never understand.