I take the title of this post from an insightful essay Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote in the May 1982 Harpers Magazine about Reagan. Too bad the essay is not available on the web for free download. It is a sharp, witty and again insightful read about Reagan and the interests he ultimately served.
Anyway, tomorrow is the 100th birthday anniversary of Ronald Wilson Reagan, who religious right leaders in my alternative history novel call "Mr. 666" (Ronald Wilson Reagan has six letters each) for his embrace of abortion rights and an economic libertarian strain in the alternative 1970s. We will see if there is really all that much media coverage about Reagan tomorrow, as his centennial happens to coincide with that most religious of holidays in America, the Super Bowl. Still, I just don't remember us even talking about FDR's 100th birthday in 1982...
Digby links to this great spontaneous dialogue between Rush Limbaugh and a fellow named Mike Stark, with the latter schooling Rush (who showed as the dialogue went on that he knew more than he initially let on) about the ways in which Reagan acted which should outrage people who call themselves "conservative"--at least in the U.S. Stark was brilliant in setting up and explaining his thesis and it is worth listening to, or reading the transcript Stark helpfully prepared (the transcript is nearly 100% accurate from listening to the recording, but it is off a bit in who said what when and missing a quick word or um here and there).
One can actually take Stark's point even further. Reagan changed from a confrontational stance to the Soviet Union to proposing far-reaching nuclear weapon reductions and sharing space-based military technology (called "Star Wars" by critics and supporters alike) with the Soviet Union while the regime was still considered a world power. See James Mann's "The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War" where Mann proves how Reagan turned decidedly dovish concerning the Soviet Union in the mid- to late 1980s, till the end of his presidency in 1989. At page 346 of Mann's book, he concludes: "Reagan did not win the Cold War; Gorbachev abandoned it." This is the same conclusion Cold War era diplomat George Kennan had with respect the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union three years into Reagan's successor's administration in August 1991. Kennan went so far as to say the Reagan administration's initial confrontational rhetoric and military build up during 1981 to 1984 had the effect of delaying rather than hastening the Soviet collapse.
And let's not forget Reagan's tenure as governor of California. As Lou Cannon's biography of Reagan during his time as governor noted, after running a cultural values-oriented campaign against what Reagan saw as hippies and ungrateful young people protesting at Berkeley and elsewhere, Reagan decided, as governor, to raise all sorts of State taxes. Cannon wrote at page 197 of his book:
During the Reagan administration (in California), corporation taxes nearly doubled, from 5.5 percent to 9 percent. The tax on banks went from 9 to 13.5 percent. The state's share of the sales tax rose from 3 to 4.75 percent. The maximum on personal income taxes increased from 7 percent to 11 percent, and brackets were narrowed to put more persons into higher tax brackets...
Cannon went on to note how Reagan concurrently provided property tax relief to low-income seniors who owned their own homes.
Why was Reagan raising taxes, you may ask? In addition to funding a relatively small shortfall in the state's budget, Reagan was embracing the California Master Plan for Higher Education written in 1960 under his predecessor governor (who he beat in 1966), Pat Brown--yes, Jerry's Dad. And of course, as governor of California, Reagan signed the most "liberal" abortion rights law of any State in the US, a law which remains today.
And it gets even more interesting. The California Corporations Code sections that deal with state-wide sales of private securities (stocks) was re-written in 1968 with a "liberal" set of provisions that make it far easier to sue companies and officers in California than the federal laws, and most other State laws. Who signed off on that revision? Ronald Reagan.
Overall, Mike Stark points to a fun way to flummox Reagan worshipers among the Right. But there is still something quite sad about how skewed our public discourse is when we can easily prove how Reagan was to the left of a current Democratic Party president who is incessantly called "socialist" by most Republicans.
But let us remember there is more to Reagan than his veering to the left and dovish side of the political spectrum in his time in public office. The dark side of Reagan is also clear with respect to his presidency, and that is the devaluing of government as a tool to help the mass of people, de-regulating the savings and loan industry, the destruction of our industrial capacity and promoting income tax cuts for the wealthy to a cult status. The national debt tripled under Reagan and there is little or nothing to show for it in terms of investment in infrastructure or educational opportunity for Americans. With respect to foreign policy other than toward the Soviet Union, Reagan's policies were brutal and abysmal with respect to nations in Central America, particularly Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. And of course, there are the Iran-Contra Affairs, which brought together disparate elements of war criminal behavior and greed within the top levels of his administration--and which Stark alludes to when saying Reagan paid off terrorists for hostages. It is deeply ironic that modern Republican leaders and right-wingers continue to highlight and promote the darker aspects of Reagan's policies and values, which policies and values continue to be most destructive to our nation's and even planet's health and welfare.
So as right wingers and modern Republicans enjoy and celebrate Reagan's centennial tomorrow, and ask "What Would Reagan Do?", it remains a fact that Reagan's legacy is far more complicated than they may know. And contrary to liberal and left critics of Reagan, including this post writer, there are probably some things Reagan would have done in our time that may have been salutary for our nation's fortunes, and which would have been denounced by Republicans and right-wingers as liberal or even socialist.
Personal note: February 6 tends to be a personal anniversary for reasons having nothing to do with Ronald Reagan. It was on that date in 1988 that I underwent life-saving surgery to fix a congenital heart condition which, in an earlier era, would have killed me before I reached age 35. I often say to myself I was born again on that date, and have always given thanks to doctors who, with the help of modern medical technology, do so much to save people, including me.