Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thoughts On A Birthday

Ronald Reagan, so they say, made us feel good about ourselves. His boundless optimism, often based on stories in movies that he mistakenly remembered as real, was nice. After successfully invading that rising threat, the weevil empire and huge nation known as Grenada, he proudly announced we were once again, after the kerfuffle in Vietnam, "walking tall." So there's that. And his nice smile, his very good hair. I don't discount them, either.

But it's amazing to me the extent to which he's retroactively revered by the right. Why, exactly? He said "government is the problem," which they like to hear, and he proceeded to prove it in many ways, which they continue to do to this day: by which I mean they govern poorly. Reagan took the shining city on the hill to a place where the Constitution has no meaning, ignoring acts of Congress by selling weapons to Iran and giving the money to the Contras. He spent more, raised taxes more (mythology notwithstanding) and raised the debt, reversing, in fact, a decades-long trend of his predecessors (restored by Clinton until Bush got ahold of it).

Well, there's an argument to be made -- and make it they do, like breathing (while simultaneously ignoring his lily-livered America-hating born-again nuclear disarmament position) -- that Ronnie ended the Cold War, single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union. Well, that and the emergence of Mikhael Gorbachev, decades of rusting of an unsustainable system (heck, even as a clueless college kid traveling the USSR during the height of the Cold War I saw the crumblings), and a Polish Pope who inspired hope on that side of the curtain. Crappy cars, shoddy shoes, busted buildings making for tiring tovarishchs. But to whatever extent it's deserved, let's give the man credit. I just wish he hadn't sewn the seeds of our own economic calamities in the process.

Ignoring where those seeds were planted and by whom, reading tea leaves, Sarah Palin® celebrates Ronnie's century mark by turning history upside down and backwards. Ignorance and denial, reverence for ahistorical falsehood, clinging to failed economics like some cling to you-know-what and you-know-which: it's the only way to keep his holiness alive, and she's the embodiment, the wine and the cracker.

For some reason, she didn't mention the cut and run after the bombings in Lebanon, or his other softness on terror; nor did she opine on the impression that might have created in the minds of radical Islamists, how it might have fashioned their future thoughts on the value of terrorism. RWS™ were outraged at Clinton over the USS Cole. How can they abide the memory of turning tail after the deaths of three hundred Marines? The former half-term governor didn't bring it up. On this holy day, I won't either.

Two of Reagan's three Supreme Court nominees drove conservatives crazy. Too moderate, not ideologically pure. Reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, ferchrissakes! How does that fit on the icon?

I'm sure Mr Reagan was a nice guy, especially if you weren't poor or otherwise disadvantaged by circumstance, weren't gay, weren't from outer space and didn't have HIV, weren't a black South African. I bet he was entertaining as hell at State dinners, a great story-teller; and I'm sorry he had to suffer the ravages of Alzheimer's while trying gracefully to finish out his presidency. But really, I can't think of anything he did in office the legacy of which has worked out very well for us. O'Connor and Kennedy, maybe. If the timing had been different and he'd have said "Mr Krushchev, tear down this wall," the response would have been a shoe in a different place than a podium. And the economic disaster which was set in motion by Reaganomics has ramifications the reversal of which may still prove to be impossible despite the best efforts of Barack Obama. As governor, what he did to California, it appears, is irreversible. The myth of Reagan, as animated and amplified post mortem: I get why they love it. Perfect in every way. But his perceived greatness in death bears no relation to his actions and their results in his political life. In office, he often wasn't nearly as beloved as is his ghost.

We should all be so lucky.

He sold a lot of Borax, though, and GE products.

So today, on his centenary birthday, I'll adopt Ronald Reagan's reputed optimism and believe that the Super Bowl commercials will live up to their usual standards. If the rest are as good as the one I've already seen, the VW commercial with the kid in his D.V. suit, it'll be a day worth celebrating.

[Addendum, 8pm: I just found an amusing cartoon that says the same thing...]


  1. Jeez Sid, if you can't say anything nice....
    for example, I think Ted Kennedy was a great Senator, he COULD have killed 2 people, like OJ Simpleton did, instead of just 1.
    and if Ronaldus Maximus really raised taxes, appointed moderates to the Surpreme Court, and didn't get 1046(to date) Americans killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in his first 2 years in office, seems like the kind of guy you wish Obama(Peace be upon Him) would be...
    And admit it, if it wasn't for Reagan/"W" Tax Cuts you'd be doin back alley gallbladders...


  2. In the spirit of improving my commentariat, I'll address your points as if they were serious, hoping it might affect future leavings:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post. We agree that in many areas, Reagan did things that today's conservatives would have rejected out of hand. Which is my point: the reverence they hold for him is misplaced and hard to understand, other than on the level of the mythology they've created about him.

    And if it weren't for the Reagan/W tax cuts, the death of our economy might never have happened, in which case we'd all be better off.

    I'll assume you understand that the deaths in Afghanistan are because of the impossible situation left by W. Although if you're suggesting it's time to pull a Reagan there and cut and run, we might be on the same page.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  3. One thing I will give Reagan credit for is the opposite of the mythology. He didn't "stand up to the Russkies," he sat down with them, and put in motion the process that led to a reduction in nuclear arms. With luck, that will keep nukes out of the hands of terrorists.

    Needless to say, conservatives at the time were howling. George Will complained that "Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West by elevating wishful thinking to the status of political philosophy."

    William F. Buckley wrote that "To greet it [the USSR] as if it were no longer evil is on the order of changing our entire position toward Adolf Hitler."

    Funny how today's conservatives don't seem to remember that.

  4. Agreed. One of my included links refers to it as well.

    I have no doubt that if teabaggers and RWS™ and Sarah ("we've strayed from Reagan's values") Palin® met him today they'd much prefer the myth to the man.

    In fact, it's hard to imagine how anyone on either side of the aisle could buy the myth and consider him a great president.

    And in my post, I should have emphasized this more overtly. More shameful than Iran-Contra.

  5. Great blog Sid! It's good to see that somebody else is paying attention out there. I wonder sometimes. A friend of mine told me I would enjoy it and he was right! I also enjoyed the few stories I read on your "surgeonsblog". I'll keep an eye out for your book. Cheers!

  6. The Gippers always been a sentimental favorite of mine cause he was my first Vote, you know like how you like FDR...
    And he wasn't a haughty know it all like Jimmuh Carter beating rabbits to death with an Oar and then surprised people were laughing at him.
    Reagan's jokes were FUNNY, remember the one about bombing Russia???? That he forgot to duck? Appointing Anton Scalia to the Surpreme Court??
    Have you EVER laughed at anything Jimmy Carter did?



Comments back, moderated. Preference given for those who stay on topic.

Popular posts