Saturday, February 5, 2011

Relics Of The Saint

A Long Howl

Richard Avedon, Portrait Of Ronald Reagan, 1976

Ronald Wilson Reagan, former film actor and Governor of California, became the Fortieth President of the United States just short of his 70th birthday in 1981. He served two terms, leaving office just before turning 78, in 1989. It was announced publicly in 1994 that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and he passed away in 2004 at age 92, having spent the last ten years of his life in seclusion and the slow, sad disappearing act which characterizes that illness.

He would have been 100 this past January 28th, and that Centennial anniversary has kicked off a series of celebrations, documentaries, teevee shows, books, and traveling exhibits (most, funded by conservative political organizations in America), all intended to remind the world of the wonderful legacy of a man who is the closest thing the Right has to a saint.

Bad Dreams

For years, after the Presidential election of 1980 and again in 1984, on more days than not, nearly the first thought I had on waking was Ronald Reagan is President of the United States. It wasn't an obsessive thought, but persistent -- like a commercial jingle stuck in your consciousness that you remember for a few moments but takes a long time to get rid of.

It was History, Joyce's idea of the bad dream; like a sick joke ("Ha ha ha ha; okay. No, really; that's not funny. It isn't true, right? What??). This person wasn't a politician. He was an entertainer, an actor; and not a particularly good one. He'd been Governor of California from 1966 to 1976, and not a particularly good politician, either. He was a stiffnecked, teevee-Daddy with Sta-Press hair that never seemed to show any grey: As they called him at Woodstock, he was "Ronald Rayguns": Brown Shoes Don't Make It; a personification of the System; unhip, uncool, and ultimately a joke.

California's First Family, 1965 (Photo: National Archives)

During his reign as Governor, I remembered budgets for social programs and funding of state hospitals for the mentally ill were slashed -- a future taste of Reaganomics: Pushing a California state problem off on municipal governments. The number of homeless and crazy on the streets rose dramatically.

And (despite being part of the 'Stop Nixon' effort at the 1968 Republican convention), Ronnie was a supporter of the Nixon Presidency, and the continuing war in Vietnam. In 1969, I remember Reagan's calling out the California Highway Patrol, then the state National Guard, to deal with protests at UC Berkeley -- not an unusual practice in America, then; African-Americans were rioting in many major cities, every summer, between 1965 and 1971. On televisions across the country via the nightly news, ghettos burned and the National Guard patrolled the streets. I remember all that very well.

National Guard On Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, 1969 (

Reagan's public comment about antiwar protests I remembered, too: If it's a bloodbath they [the protestors] want, let's give it to them. No more appeasement. And, after Patty Hearst's SLA kidnappers demanded distribution of food to the poor as a condition of her release, Reagan quipped, "It's just too bad we can't have an epidemic of botulism."

I asked no one in particular, then, nearly every morning: This tabula rasa, this empty filmscreen for projection of whatever image, had been elected President?? And Twice?? Reagan's double election seemed to be proof that illusions being fed to America were being swallowed whole.

Reagan, a professional actor, was chosen as a figurehead for those on the Right who have a common self-interest in what benefits them directly, rather than the common good for all Americans. That people had lined up to drink that Kool-Aid, twice, was a warning: Because Americans were showing a preference for Lies, rather than the Truth, our collective future would be more bleak and dangerous.

After the idealism and Counterculture of the Sixties and early Seventies, I just couldn't reconcile all that with Reagan's election. And, as if to prove me right about the level of deception and sleep Americans appeared to prefer -- Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker; a number of my friends, former Hippies who had moved from from antiwar activism to Mahatmas and Satgurus, suddenly turned into consumerist Yuppies, and the era of Reagan had become the 'Me Decade'.

The Emperor Has No Prefrontal Cortex

First Mondale-Reagan Debate, 1984: Dazed And Confused

Reagan's youngest son (by his second marriage to Nancy Davis Reagan), Ron Jr., released a book last week -- "My Father At 100" -- which noted:
Today, we are aware that the physiological and neurological changes associated with Alzheimer’s can be in evidence years, even decades, before identifiable symptoms arise … the question of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s while in office more or less answers itself.
The younger Reagan recalled that during a presidential debate in 1984, during a televised debate with Democrat Walter Mondale, his father “began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true... My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered.”

Doctors first saw signs of Alzheimer’s in 1989 when Reagan underwent brain surgery after a fall from a horse. The diagnosis was not definitive (or, not made public) until 1994, almost five years after leaving office, and before his death in 2004.

During the final years of Reagan's second term, there were rumors coming out of the White House that the President was... not all there. That on occasions, he would be so confused that... things would happen: He would wander, lost in the White House (and who's going to ask the President, 'Hey! Where're you goin'?'), or physically lash out at aides as they reached to assist him in his apparent stupor.

Back To The White House After The Second Inauguration, 1985

And there were other rumors -- that after 1986, the country was effectively run by Nancy Reagan and a few trusted advisers, in the belief that revealing the President was Goo-Goo would embolden the Commie Enemy, lead to wholesale legal challenges of Presidential decisions, and be bad for the Reagan Image -- that illusion of the Film Daddy bravely leading the country, which is why Reagan had been elected in the first place.

Ron Reagan is a mild conservative, if one at all; I've had the impression that he, and his sister Patti, are the two children in their family to personally admit and confront its dysfunctionality. On the other hand, his older half- brother Michael (also his older sister Maureen, who died in 2001) resolutely faced off against Ron both personally and politically over the years. Michael Reagan (whose conservatism almost by definition must be more intense, because of who he is) went on Twitter recently to make his comment about Ron's "My Father At 100":

Sending The Love: Half-Brother Michael's Message to Ron, Jr.,
Posted On Little Michelle's Website,

About the younger Ron's book, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation only said in a statement: “We believe Ron has written a wonderfully warm and engaging book about life with his father, Ronald Reagan... As for the topic of Alzheimer’s, this subject has been well documented over the years ... signs of Alzheimer’s did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House.”

Just as I did while watching Nixon on television quietly weeping through Pat's funeral, after learning of Reagan's diagnosis with Alzheimer's I had some empathy for the B-grade ex-actor and C-grade ex-leader's decent into The Long Goodbye and what that meant for his family -- who weren't characters out of Bleak House; they were people. I hated the things Reagan had done, but not enough to want to deny him his essential humanity at the end.

Do Not Disturb Dread Cuthulu's Eternal Sleep: The Right-To-Life
Crowd Must Have Paid Serious Money To Have The Last Line Added

He lies on the grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi, California -- buried under lots of concrete and flagstone, like so many other despots, imperial leaders, and evangelical hate-spewers. It's not to prevent grave-robbers (as happened with Lincoln), or desecrators (as has happened to some notable figures)... but to make sure their Undead corpses can't claw their way back into the sunlight and trouble us again.

Vote For Dead Guy: This Bumper Sticker Is Actually Available

Defending The Perfect Faith, Because It Pays

'Intellectual Engine' Of The Right, And A Friend To Working Boys

Yesterday, Lard Boy spoke with one of those liberals, calling in to his syndicated radio program.

The newly-married Zeppelin thought he'd have a little fun with Teh Liberal -- easy, since it's Lard Boy's show, and he's gifted as a bully. But when confronted with a simple, factual statement ('Reagan raised taxes'), The Zep was confused, and didn't didn't know how to respond (That could have been the effects of medication you can only get through prescription, but maybe not):

(Courtesy, February 4, 2011)

(The same caller has his own recording of a globsmacked Lard Boy on UTub, and you may see it here if you wish. If you're a lazy, good-for-nothing dirty hippie on unemployment who hates Teh Freedom, and don't want to wait for the video to load, see the transcript here.)

This was my favorite part:

LARD BOY: 'Why is Reagan a hero to conservatives?' I don’t think you -- given what you’ve said, and I’m not trying to avoid the question, I don’t think you’d ever understand it.

CALLER: Well, he’s a tax raiser, an amnesty giver, a cut-and-runner, and he negotiated with terrorists. Why is he a hero to conservatives? I don’t think you understand it.

LARD BOY: No, I do. Most assuredly I do. I just don’t think that you would understand it. Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes... Where did you pick that up?

Because it's true. And, on the Right, even when confronted by a fact which is supported by impartial data, people like Lard Boy claim Oh; the data is wrong.

Adolf Schrödter, "Falstaff und sein Page" (1867; Wikipedia)

Lard Boy's response -- to lie -- is typical, and for him in particular. Why should he agree that everything he spews over the air is wrong? His income is based on ignoring, even denying, the truth. When it pays in gold to be loyal to the memory of the king, you behave like Falstaff and raise your glass.

Don't Ask How The Sausage Is Made

Summing Up The Reagan Presidency: 'Role Of A Lifetime'

The Gospel Of Saint Ronald is that he did not compromise his core conservative principles -- he lowered taxes; reduced the size of government; he brought the U.S. through (what used to be) our worst economic period since the Great Depression through Supply Side ("trickle-down") economics and a belief in the Free Market; he stood up to Reds and Terrorists abroad. The collapse of Communist Eastern Europe and Russia in 1989-1991 was all due to his wise stewardship of America.

At The Reagan Presidential Library: Conservative Illusions

This is almost wholly a pack of lies, of course [Please Note: The list of taxes raised shown below is (with additional research) based on a comment made at Media Matters by 'DrMatt2003'; hat tip to him or her].
  • During his two terms in office, Reagan raised taxes seven times -- in 1982 alone, he signed into law not one, but two major tax increases: The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year; and the Highway Revenue Act raised the gasoline tax by another $3.3 billion.
  • In 1983, Reagan signed legislation raising the Social Security tax rate. This increase lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base.
  • In 1984, Reagan signed another large tax increase through the Deficit Reduction Act. This raised taxes by $18 billion per year (or 0.4 percent of GDP). A similar-sized tax increase today would roughly equal $44 billion.
  • The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 raised taxes yet again -- and even the Tax Reform Act of 1986, designed to be revenue-neutral, contained a net tax increase in its first 2 years -- and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 raised taxes still more.
  • 1988, Reagan's final year in office, was one of only two years during Reagan's Presidency in which taxes were not raised through new laws (the other being 1981, his first year in the saddle).
  • And, Reagan's tax increases continued into following years -- a bit like his Governorship of California, pushing problems down the road -- and, according the 1990 budget (Under George H.W. Bush), the net effect of all prior Reagan tax legislation mentioned above raised taxes by $164 billion (or 2.6 percent of GDP); this is equivalent to tax increases of nearly $300 billion in the 2011 economy.

  • When Reagan took office in 1981, the National Debt was $934 billion.
  • When Reagan left in 1989, the National Debt was $2.6 Trillion -- a 270% increase.
  • The United States, by increasing Defense Expenditures in 1981-1989 and beyond, forced the structure of Soviet State Capitalism into bankruptcy. But in plain terms, Reagan spent more than the taxes he raised, and so boosted the National Debt for eight years... which Reagan and other conservatives were confident would handled by other, future Presidents... again, kicking the problem down the road.
  • Economist Paul Krugman noted that the 'Reagan Recovery' wasn't really due to Supply-Side economics at all -- but because we'd been down so long that anything looked like up.

    The secret of the long [economic boom] after 1982 was the economic plunge that preceded it [Krugman has said]. By the end of 1982, the U.S. economy was deeply depressed... the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression. So there was plenty of room to grow before the economy returned to anything like full employment. The Right claims the boom in GDP and jobs was all due to Reagan's "trickle-down" economics -- and the Right uses this 'proof' to demand more, always more, tax benefits for the rich.
  • The Federal government increased in size and cost, not decreased; and corporate America and its lobbyists grew in political influence, during Reagan's Presidency.

We would have to wait until "Lil' Boots" Bush for another Leader to do precisely the same as Reagan: Cut taxes for wealthiest of Americans, increase Defense spending through the War On Terra, more than double the National Debt (from $4.9 Trillion in 2001, to $10.6 Trillion in 2009) during his eight years as appointed leader; and allow corporations -- particularly in the finance and banking sector -- to go almost unregulated and wield more influence than before.

The seeds of the financial collapse we're still experiencing are part of the legacy of Saint Ronald. But there was more:

  • There was Iran-Contra, a rat's nest of conspiracy, of negotiating with an Iran which had just overthrown the Shah and which was labeled a 'terrorist state', of and drugs-for-arms and the Contras being (as Reagan said), "the moral equivalent of the founding fathers".
  • The involvement of George H.W. Bush, the Vice-President (and former DCIA), Admiral John Poindexter, or then-CIA Director William Casey, is of little interest to the American Right; and the session of Congressional inquiry, where Committee Associate Counsel John Keker (himself an ex-Marine officer) effectively deconstructed Oliver North's lies on live television, is something they'd prefer not be mentioned.
  • There was the American involvement to support any military junta or regime who declared themselves anticommunist across Central and South America (and therefore eligible for U.S. funding, and CIA assistance) -- and their murder squads, their secret police and the repression of any dissenting political opinions, and the numberless "disappeared" who are still being searched for.
  • There was Lebanon -- where Reagan had famously sent the U.S. Marines, saying we were there to stay and finish the job (what, precisely wasn't defined); and when 260 Marines died in a suicide bombing, the United States cut and run, and the Corps was removed.
But, then we invaded Grenada in 1988, and that turned out just fine. And, there were plenty of other fun moments -- like Ron and Nancy's trip to Bitburg and the graves of some SS Rotenführers and Schützen. Or, the Berlin Wall speech (Mister Gorbachev -- tear down this wall!"). Or "Ol' Blue Eyes", crooning for Ron and Nancy from the East Wing stage at the White House at his second Inaugural. And Ron's defense of the 'Pro-Life' movement.

So what if Ron had an occasional problem remembering things (Nancy's sotto voce, "We're doing the best we can" prompt to him as he tried responding to a reporter's question)? And, sure, there were some questions as to who exactly was running the country -- diminished capacity, and Constitutional succession, and all that. But, I mean; the guy's in his Seventies, for god's sake. Cut him some slack. Country's fine, right? Yeah, we're all just fine.

Just be positive. Remember the Good Times. Remember how great America can be.

And if you have to complain -- because you're being tortured by the security police in your misbegotten Spanish-speaking or Arabic country; or because you live in West L.A. and just committed a murder to get money to buy more Crack that originated in Central America in a drugs-for-arms swap; or, your lungs are filling up with fluid because you have a devastated immune system due to AIDS... well, just keep it to yourself. It's important that things look nice. Don't spoil the party for others.

This is the crux of it, for me: Reagan and his Presidency represents the worm at the heart of the Rose for this country -- all the mistaken belief-systems, the delusions, of the Right in America. He represented believing a Lie before acknowledging the Truth; the dichotomy between America The Ideal, and its history, and any reconciliation with actual events.

Reagan stood for a continuation of the illusion -- the Hollywood happy ending, the 'Shining City On The Hill' -- which was just a Potemkin Village, a backlot film set. He stood for a continuation of the Lie, and I rejected that, instinctively, because (as Thomas of the Gnostic gospels related), if you do not bring forth that which is inside you... [it] will destroy you.

It was always ironic to me that Reagan, whose entire life seemed bent toward convincing everyone to look away, toward an illusion of the future (the barker at General Electric's Disneyland "Carousel Of Progress") and urging us to forget about the past, ended by losing his own, an inch at a time.

The Future

Little Sarah, Plain And Tall, Who Claims She's The Anointed One

In the stumbling, carnival-like atmosphere of the American Right after the end of the Bush era, the election of Barack Obama and the rise of the Teabaggers, everyone who's anyone wants to pass the Ronald Reagan scratch-n-sniff test. Any possible Republican (or Teabag) nominee for President in 2012 will have to prove -- to, uh, somebody, I guess -- that they are worthy to claim the mantle of Saint Ronald The Dim.

Sarah Palin was invited to be the keynote speaker at yesterday's conservative Youth America Foundation's celebration of Reagan's 100th birthday in Santa Barbara, CA. She invoked Reagan's legacy, saying that America had "strayed" from Reagan's values, saying Obama and Democrats are 'retreating from greatness'.

Record Album, Mid-1960's: Medicare, A Socialist Plot

Palin is a junkie for attention, and driven by a belief that her desire to exercise power is actually a mission from god (somebody's god, anyway). She's like Reagan in that her view of politics and America continue lies and the illusions; they don't address our experience or choices for the future in any honest or reality-based way. The key elements of her speeches since the 2008 elections only repeat that America's Left is all about division and defeat, and that Little Sarah is all about a return to greatness, recapturing Our Glory Days; a time of... well, whatever people think that means.

It's a variation of Reagan's theme in his 1980 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention: America, A Shining City On The Hill. And it was just as hollow an image then as it is now.

Ask Palin to describe what she means by a "return to greatness", and she'll provide a torrent of similar, empty phrases -- all Illusion, not Reality, and politics nakedly designed to manipulate base fears and hatreds. That's all she, and most politicians on the Right, have to offer.

Palin's comments irked Ron Reagan, Jr., enough to prompt a public statement: “Sarah Palin is a soap opera, basically,” Reagan told The Associated Press. “She’s doing mostly what she does to make money and keep her name in the news... She isn't like my father... [and she] is not a serious candidate for president and never has been."

But, the truth has never stopped America's Right from trying to convince the citizens of this country to believe The Illusion Reagan represented, and ignore Fact and Truth.

Not ever.

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