Down The Rathole, As Led by RWR 40
In the winter of 2010-2011, several prominent individuals accepted the invitation of USA Today to reminisce about former President Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday on February 6, 2011.
One particularly accomplished and truly brilliant man wrote
Ronald Wilson Reagan was a believer. As a husband, a father, an entertainer, a governor and a president, he recognized that each of us has the power — as individuals and as a nation — to shape our own destiny. He had faith in the American promise; in the importance of reaffirming values like hard work and personal responsibility; and in his own unique ability to inspire others to greatness...
President Reagan recognized the American people's hunger for accountability and change — putting our nation on a bold new path toward both. And although he knew that conflicts between parties and political adversaries were inevitable, he also knew that they would never be strong enough to break the ties that bind us together. He understood that while we may see the world differently and hold different opinions about what's best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else.
It was a philosophy that President Reagan took to heart — famously saying that he and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill, with whom he sparred constantly, could be friends after 6 o'clock. It's what led him to compromise on issues as contentious as Social Security and tax cuts. And it's what allowed him to work with leaders of all political persuasions to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and security around the world, including reducing nuclear weapons and imagining a world, ultimately, without nuclear weapons.
But perhaps even more important than any single accomplishment was the sense of confidence and optimism President Reagan never failed to communicate to the American people.
So when Heather of Crooks and Liars Saturday praised Bill Maher for his extraordinary commentary on HBO's "Real Time" the previous night, she shouldn't have added "Maher also took President Obama to task for mainstreaming Reagan, and while I think the whole 'brother from another mother' bit is a little over the top when it comes to criticizing what praise President Obama had for Reagan..."
Criticism by Maher (video, below), who gave $1,000,000 toward Obama's re-election effort, of the late President was stinging but accurate and long overdue when he explained
This has become a kind of conventional wisdom that the Republican Party has gone so far right Reagan himself wouldn’t fit in, but I’m here tonight to call bulls**t on that. Ronald Reagan was an anti-government, union busting, race baiting, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, who cut rich people’s taxes in half, had an incurable case of the military industrial complex, and said that Medicare was socialism that would destroy our freedom. Sounds to me like he would fit in just fine.
What they can not contest is that even though Reagan did a few things that today’s GOP would not like, he wrote the playbook for them on every issue of consequence. Sure he raised taxes a few times, but when you look at where he started with taxes and where he ended, this is where our income inequality problem began. He invented voodoo economics. On race, his ideas couldn’t have been more tea party if he shouted them from a Rascal Scooter. He ran on states’ rights. He invented the notion that black people get all the breaks. Constantly telling the story of the Chicago woman (wink-wink) who has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, and her tax free cash income is over $150,000. And that woman today is RuPaul. Actually, that woman never existed. Reagan just made s**t up. Something else he pioneered for his party today.
He described the New Deal as fascism. Medicaid recipients as waiting for handouts, unemployment insurance as prepaid vacation for freeloaders, and once said, “A tree’s a tree. How many do you need to look at?” He was the original official pitchman for batsh*t. When they hold up signs that say no socialized medicine, where do think they got it from? We got it from you dad. We got it from you.
Worst of all, Reagan inspired a whole generation of people who hate government to get into government. Both sides really should stop pretending that he is anything other than the man most responsible for our decline, and I do mean both sides. I get why Republican worship Reagan. They’re the religious party. Worship is in their DNA. They can’t help it. They love him beyond logic. Last year, they tried to elect his haircut. They want him on a stamp, so they can lick his backside. But why are Democrats conceding the argument on Reagan? Obama talks about him like a brother from another mother. He changed the trajectory of America. Yes, but not for the better.
When you mainstream Reagan, the far right becomes the new middle. He wasn’t a friend to all Americans. He was patient zero for everything you are fighting against now. He was the original teabagger. Stop agreeing that he was a saint. Especially when his two miracles were turning water into polluted water,and walking on the poor.
The mythology surrounding Reagan has seeped into the mainstream political aquifer. It is a great deal of fun for Democrats to use Reagan’s own words against Republicans, but let’s not forget who Ronald Reagan really was. He is a president whose policies were so disastrous for the poor that they spawned the Comic Relief charity.
Inequality wasn’t just celebrated under Reagan, it was glorified. Greed was a virtue, and stepping on others to get ahead was seen as heroic behavior. Under Reagan our manufacturing base vanished, and good blue collar jobs went away. Reagan cut the rungs on the economic ladder. He wrapped himself in the flag, and disguised his destruction with an overdose of patriotism and symbolism.
Today’s Republican Party has never been able to master Reagan’s greatest trick of making Americans feel good about their own destruction. Ronald Reagan may not have been able to make it in today’s politics because his handlers would not have been able to so closely manage his image. The 24 hour cable news cycle and the Internet would not have let the real Ronald Reagan hide. In today’s political/media environment, Ronald Reagan might have been Rick Perry. To suggest that he would be anything other than a far right icon is not only misleading; it’s rewriting the history of who, and what, Ronald Reagan really was.
Why are Democrats conceding the argument on Reagan? That is worthy of another post, on another day. But as Maher, who famously kicked in $1,000,000 to re-elect the incumbent notes, Obama does talk about Reagan "like a brother from another mother. He changed the trajectory of America. Yes, but not for the better."
And it wasn't only in early 2011 when it might have seemed rude to say anything mean about Mr. Reagan. In March, 2008, when Barack Obama was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President- appealing, therefore, primarily to minorities and/or liberals- he told the Reno Gazette-Journal
I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what is different is the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
In late March, David Stockman, OMB chairman under President Reagan, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times
This dynamic reinforced the Reaganite shibboleth that “deficits don’t matter” and the fact that nearly $5 trillion of the nation’s $12 trillion in “publicly held” debt is actually sequestered in the vaults of central banks. The destruction of fiscal rectitude under Ronald Reagan — one reason I resigned as his budget chief in 1985 — was the greatest of his many dramatic acts. It created a template for the Republicans’ utter abandonment of the balanced-budget policies of Calvin Coolidge and allowed George W. Bush to dive into the deep end, bankrupting the nation through two misbegotten and unfinanced wars, a giant expansion of Medicare and a tax-cutting spree for the wealthy that turned K Street lobbyists into the de facto office of national tax policy. In effect, the G.O.P. embraced Keynesianism — for the wealthy.
So, yes, Barack Obama was right: "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America" and "put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." Only Obama is, or pretends to be, oblivious to the reality that the path laid out by the 40th President is one hurtling the nation toward destruction of the middle class.