Ronald Reagan: a legacy of crack and cheese
June 16, 2004
by Bob Fitrakis
The mainstream media spent an entire week mythologizing Ronald Wilson Reagan. Why did the corporate for-profit media spend so much time creating a cult of personality around a former President with an estimated 105 IQ? Because the actual historical reality of Reagan’s life are so shockingly reactionary you need the pageantry, majesty and imagery of a Hollywood-scripted finale to cover up the thousands of damning facts.
Reagan was a snitch during his Hollywood years. As Anthony Summers makes clear in his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, the “Gipper” had his own code name – “T-10” – and regularly provided the FBI with information on Communists, real, imagined and manufactured. Victor Navasky’s Naming Names documents as well how Reagan, then the head of the Screen Actors Guild, kept the FBI well informed about “disloyal” actors. During Reagan’s Moscow Summit, the President met with Russian students to discuss communism and capitalism. In a speech too simple to be included in Communism for Idiots, the President dusted off his old theoretical writings from Reader’s Digest and Boy’s Life and told the students why Marx was evil and unbridled capitalism good.
As his B-actor career faded, Reagan became a mouthpiece for General Electric, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers. Reagan’s one clear talent was the ability to read a Teleprompter or memorize his lines on the glories of free enterprise. While his skills were sub-par by Hollywood standards, he was able to parlay bad acting into good politics. Reagan understood the uncritical nature of the American public and their appetite for neo-American hokum. As E.L. Doctorow pointed out in his 1980 article, “The Rise of Ronald Reagan”: “…his tenure as GE spokesman overlapped the years in which the great electrical industry price-fixing scandal was going on.”
“While Reagan extolled the virtues of free enterprise in front of the logo, G.E., along with Westinghouse, Allis-Chalmers and other giant corporations, was habitually controlling the market by clandestine price fixing and bid rigging agreements, all of which led, in 1960, to grand jury indictments, in what was characterized by the Justice Department as the largest criminal case ever brought under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act,” Doctorow noted.
As a child I watched Reagan pitch the joys of 20-mule team Borax on Death Valley Days, two reoccurring themes on the Old West show were the joys of imperialist conquest and genocide against indigenous people. All of it was served up by the smiley-faced Gipper. Bertrand Gross would later assess the Reagan administration as “friendly fascism.”
Caught up in the Goldwater conservative movement, Reagan realized that he could deliver the right-wing reactionary script better than the much more intellectual Senator from Arizona. Thus, in 1966, Reagan took his highly-honed hokum and became the ultimate shill for the far right. As the New Republic pointed out during his 1966 campaign for Governor of California, “Reagan is anti-labor, anti-Negro, anti-intellectual, anti-planning, anti-20th century.” Reagan campaigned against the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the student rights movement and the Great Society. In his fantasy world, Reagan equated giant price-fixing corporations with small town entrepreneurs. As every long-hair in the late 60s knew, Ronald Reagan was “the drugstore truck-drivin’ man, the head of the Ku Klux Klan.” He said if the students at Berkeley wanted a bloodbath, he would give them one. James Rector was shot dead soon after.
The real legacy of Reagan can be found in Philadelphia, Mississippi where he announced his candidacy for the Presidency in 1980. Previously, the most important political event in Philadelphia had been the deaths of civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Cheney in 1964. Reagan appeared, sans hood, to talk in those well-known racist code words about “state’s rights.” This was no mistake or misunderstanding. Reagan was signaling the right-wing movement that he would carry their racist agenda. Remember in 1984, his political operatives accused Walter Mondale of being “a San Francisco-style Democrat.”
Reagan reached out and embraced the racist apartheid government of South Africa through his policy of so-called “constructive engagement.” Reagan’s solution to the de-industrialization of America was to build the prison industrial complex. His centerpiece was a racist so-called “War on Drugs” while his friends in the CIA used narcotics peddlers as “assets.” And then Reagan’s El Salvadorian Contra buddies began bringing in crack.
Reagan's response to the 1981-1982 recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, was to declare ketchup a vegetable, release federal cheese surpluses, and shackle the strike leaders of the air traffic control union hand and foot and lead them off to jail. My most pronounced memories of the Reagan years are the three hour cheese line and the German care packages to unemployed workers in Detroit.
In the first two years of the Reagan administration, his policy was a forced economic recession and de-industrialization of the United Stated. He cut federal low income housing funds by 84%; his tax cuts for the rich, his “trickle-on” the poor and working class economics ended up tripling all previously existing U.S. government debt. So, when I think of the Reagan legacy, I think of urban decay, crack, homelessness, racism, rampant corporatism and the destruction of the American dream. Amidst the growing homelessness and despair, I remember seeing graffiti all over inner-city Detroit that simply said: “Ronald Wilson Reagan 666.” Reagan’s policies so marked him as “the beast” in Detroit, blue-collar workers actually cheered when he was shot. The hottest song on underground radio was “Hinckley had a Vision.” The song’s refrain, “He knew, he knew.”
When the mainstream media was analyzing Reagan's legacy and actively participating in the mythologizing of the 40th president, they conveniently ignored volumes of work by mainstream reporters. Wall Street Journal reporter Jane Mayer and Los Angeles Times reporter Doyle McManus documented Reagan's diminishing mental capacity in Landslide:
In March 1987 a memo was written by Jim Cannon to Howard Baker, Reagan's new Chief of Staff. His first recommendation: "Consider the possibility that section four of the 25th amendment might be applied." The amendment allows for the removal of the president when "the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Mayer and McManus reported that staffers told Cannon in confidence that Reagan had become "inattentive and inept ... He was lazy; he wasn't interested in the job ... he wouldn't read the papers they gave him - even short position papers and documents ... he wouldn't come over to work - all he wanted to do was watch movies and television at the residence." Scholarly works have been written on Reagan's confusion of facts with Hollywood images.
The problem with the great communicator was the content of his messages. Reagan was a paid shill of the plutocrats, who used his charm and acting skills to hawk, like soap, mean spirited social policies and sell a fantasy version of the American Dream to common folk that trusted him.
Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the Free Press (http://freepress.org
), a political science professor, attorney and co-author with Harvey Wasserman of George W. Bush vs. the Superpower of Peace.