Sunday, February 6, 2011

Evaluating Reagan

A couple years ago I saw a documentary on PBS on George H. W. Bush, who served as 41st President of the United States and was also vice-president under Ronald Reagan. Someone interviewed for the program made the point that, while Reagan played the roles of star athlete and war hero on film, the elder Bush had really lived that life. Reagan is often cited as "The Great Communicator," and justifiably so, but much of what he communicated was a sham.

Across the country the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth is being marked today. He has become larger than life and an icon of the conservative movement. Some even want to add him to Mount Rushmore. The facts, however, belie this tale of hero worship. While he was in office I remember thinking that Reagan was the worst president the nation had ever seen. Of course, I couldn't conceive of George W. Bush then, and in comparison Reagan seems only mildly bad, but from his backing of murderous militias in Latin America to his foolish "trickle-down" ideas in economics to his refusal to fight AIDS to Iran-Contra and more, Reagan was a disaster for America. Now we read in his son's memoir that the old man had likely begun to suffer from Alzheimer's while still in office. What was the difference from how he behaved before that?

Reagan's legacy may have done the most damage of all: a revived conservative movement. The country suffered through eight years of Bush Jr. and we are still trying to clean up that mess. Reagan's best acting job was as president, and today he has more people fooled than ever.


dylan said...

I don't agree with much of what is here, but your point about the militias in Latin America is a strong one, I think. They murdered priests and nuns (most notably, Archbishop Oscar Romero), and received the backing of the US president because they weren't communists. I don't like socialism or communism very much, but the d'Aubuissons of the world (from what little I know) aren't going to receive my veneration, either.

About "trickle-down" economics, we might have a lively discussion. Economically, someone like Bill Weld (a tax-cutter of the Kempian mold) seemed to work well for Massachusetts. And during the presidency of Bush 41, the economy began to go south shortly after Bush abandoned his "no new taxes" pledge.

And on AIDS, this comment will probably make me massively unpopular in some circles, but one of the most effective ways of ensuring that one is not vulnerable to the dreadful scourge is to embrace Catholic teaching (or the traditional teaching of almost any of the great creeds) on human sexuality. Not foolproof, perhaps, but one believes that with a bit more caution and prudence, someone like Robert Mapplethorpe would still be alive today. And perhaps he would be a happier person than the pitiable soul who sought pleasure in S&M bars, and the like.

Jim said...

The militias murdered priests and nuns -- but that also murdered a whole lot of their own people.

dylan said...

Yes, precisely. I didn't mean to ignore their crimes against non-religious types, but the slayings of the priests and nuns received a good deal of publicity.

Kazak said...

No, that comment won't win you many friends. It seems if we follow the very traditional teachings of the major creeds, you get pig-ignorant fundamentalism that produces wonderful things like the unending bloodfest of the fight over the Holy Land, Muslim fundamentalist maniacs and Evangelicals hoping that things in the Holy Land get worse as it would indicate the "end of days."

Many people around Boston embraced Catholic teaching only to have their children raped by perverts in collars who had more in common with Mapplethorpe's S&M fantasies than the teachings of Jesus.

I believe education is probably the best way to prevent AIDS. If you want to prevent sex, well, good luck with that.