June 8, 2004
Spare me the heapings of praise for Ronald Reagan.
He was one of the worst presidents we've ever had.
In fact, he should have been impeached for the Iran-Contra scandal, and he might have been had Congress and the media just done their jobs. Reagan misappropriated funds, and then he lied about it. He traded with Iran, an enemy of the United States, and he lied about that, too.
But Congress went weak in the knees when Ollie North showed up strutting in his uniform.
And the media fell down, too. Katherine Graham, owner of The Washington Post, said the country couldn't handle another impeachment crisis, and so the Post downplayed it.
Let's be clear on Reagan's record.
Reagan was responsible for killing tens of thousands of innocent people in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras as he waged illegal wars and funded brutal militaries. The truth commission of El Salvador investigated the murders of 75,000 people during the civil war in the 1980s, and it found that the Salvadoran military, or death squads connected to the military, had committed the bulk of those crimes. At the time, Bush was lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars on the Salvadoran government, and his CIA was working with the death squads.
Reagan was responsible, as Christopher Hitchens has noted, for approving Israel's invasion of Lebanon, which killed about 18,000 civilians.
Reagan was responsible for his own unilateral invasion of that huge threat to the United States called Grenada. (Oh, the great liberator!)
Reagan was responsible for inciting a racist backlash. He kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign in--of all places--Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Cheney were murdered in 1964. Reagan also fueled racism with his stories about "welfare queens" and his defense of the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Reagan was responsible for attacking women's rights, as he tried to legitimate the backlash against feminism. He appointed the far right justice Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, and he loaded the lower court benches with anti-choice ideologues.
Reagan was responsible for a woeful response to the AIDS epidemic, which needlessly jeopardized the lives of millions of people. He also consorted with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who called AIDS divine revenge on homosexuals.
Reagan was responsible for shredding the social contract between labor and management, and he declared open season on trade unions when he fired the air traffic controllers.
Reagan was responsible for flattening out the progressive income tax and for giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and to corporations. His economic policies, as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Research has noted, dramatically redistributed income--to the rich.
Reagan was responsible for hooking millions of people overseas on tobacco, as he turned the Commerce Department into the advance team for Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.
Reagan ("We begin bombing in five minutes") was responsible for the multi-billion dollar boondoggle that goes by the name of missile defense.
Reagan was responsible for launching an assault on our environment (remember James Watt!) that is now reaching its apotheosis under George W.
In a way, Reagan was W's father. The macho swagger, the studied anti-intellectualism, the infatuation with military spending, and the overriding concern for corporations and the rich--all these Bush has inherited from Reagan.
And while Reagan consulted Nancy's astrologer for advice, Bush does him one better by consulting the Lord Himself.
The only difference is that Reagan knew how to read his lines.