On Ronald Reagan

Note to all of you under-30 Obama supporters (too low a threshold?)-- please start googling- at least half of the references in this post- and learn why RONALD REAGAN is not a president who should ever be cited by Democrats as an example of someone to emulate. (And yes, that's what Obama was doing- no matter how hard you try to spin it.)
~ glassfrequency

Death of a Salesman
Tom Carson - The Village Voice
7 June 2004

Ronald Reagan is the man who destroyed America's sense of reality—a paltry target, all in all, given our predilections. It only took an actor: the real successor to John Wilkes Booth. In our bones, we had always been this sort of bullshit-craving country anyhow, founded on abstractions: not land (somebody else's), not people (Red Rover, Red Rover, send Emma Lazarus right over), not even shared history (nostalgia isn't the same thing, and try pulling that Civil War Shinola anywhere west of the Rio Grande). Just monumental words and wordy monuments, with two convenient oceans between them and circumstance; from Nat Turner's status as three-fifths of a man—even though we ended up hanging all of him—to Reagan's child Lynndie England (b. 1983, the year we invaded Grenada and lost 241 Marines in Lebanon), any shortfall could be blamed on something lost in translation. But it was Reagan, whose most profound Freudian slip was the immortal "Facts are stupid things," who beguiled us into living in the theme park full-time, and so much for the Declaration of Independence's prattle about "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"—actually the only time we ever expressed much concern for those.
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Starting with the way he broke the air-traffic controllers' strike in 1981, an augury of things to come from which the labor movement never recovered, Reagan certainly demolished the American left—what passes for the left, anyway. Since repeating "what passes for the left" strikes me as tiresome, I'll abbreviate it: WPFL. As you may recall, under veteran station manager Jesse Jackson, WPFL switched to an oldies format soon after the Great Communicator took office, and has remained too much on the defensive to come up with a new songlist since. Instead, in one of the great through-the-looking-glass paradoxes of Reaganism, "progressives" have become, in practical terms, reactionaries—cluckingly trying to protect this or that milestone (equal opportunity, Roe v. Wade), against a right wing that's singing "If I Had a Hammer—Oh, Wait: I Do." Meanwhile, so-called conservatives have been on a quarter-century radical spree, zestily pursuing their own version of "If it feels good, do it." From inside-trader Michael Milken to Oliver "What Constitution?" North, the worst disgrace to a Marine Corps uniform since Lee Harvey Oswald hung his up, to describe the Reagan era as any sort of rebuke to permissiveness is pure folly.

Even so, what most WPFL subscribers probably remain too hidebound to see—much less acknowledge—is that, as a cultural construct, Reaganism had beauty. Even if you knew better, it was seductive. The best description, or possibly just evidence, I know is the oddly forgotten Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere," from 1985's Americana-flavored Little Creatures. A hymn that evolves into a march tune and then a full-on cattle drive, complete with "Hah!"s and get-along-little-doggie percussion, it's one of David Byrne's most insinuatingly phrased preacher rips, with imagery swiped straight from the Gipper himself: "There's a city in my mind/Come along and take that ride/And it's all right." Even as the odyssey the listener is being asked to sign up for turns flagrantly nuts—"Maybe you wonder where you are/I don't care"—the song's eerily dissociated exuberance inveigles you; you still want to join. If it's an anti-Reagan song at all—and with Byrne, who ever knows?—it's anti-Reagan in the same sense that "Heroin" is anti-shooting up.

It helped that, just like a play, nearly all the worst stuff happened discreetly offstage, as far as most of the American public was concerned—like the thousands who died of AIDS on his watch or the 20,000 casualties in the Nicaraguan civil war Reagan promoted, illegally, when Congress tried to thwart him. I can still remember my patriotic thrill when he pronounced the thuggish Contras "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers"; so far as I know, George Washington never went in for mortaring hospitals, but that may only be because he didn't have mortars.

Sure, the Iran-Contra scandal was a worse threat to American democracy than Watergate—short-circuiting our whole system of government, as opposed to diddling an election that was a lock anyway. But nobody was about to impeach smiling Ron over it, partly because nobody really understood how it worked. Something people did understand, but noticeably couldn't get outraged about—for many go-getting American psychos, it was part of the turn-on—was the callousness that the Reagan administration's social Darwinism urged all good citizens to see as a virtue; even allowing that Democratic social programs hadn't fixed the inner cities' problems, why it was either more humane or more sensible to let them rot was never explained. But after all, if urban African Americans wanted to escape gangs, poverty, and despair, there was always the army.

At the core of the Reagan legend is the mantra that his presidency made America feel good about itself again—an interesting claim for Republicans to make, since it sounds like just the sort of self-esteem therapy they snort at when say, first-graders are the beneficiaries. Not entirely inappropriately, the picture it conjures up is of a commander in chief playing Julie Andrews as the governess in The Sound of Music: "You've brought music back into the house, Ron." In individual cases, bucking up a patient's spirits when his or her material situation isn't improving—or is, in fact, deteriorating, as ours was from infrastructure to multitrillion-dollar deficitis to yawning disparities between rich and poor—is usually accomplished with drugs; Reagan was one. In a wonderful Herblock cartoon from 1986, a headline reporting that the U.S. has just become the world's leading debtor nation is greeted by hordes of celebrating Americans all holding up proud forefingers: "We're number one!"

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