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What Reagan Taught Bush
Source News for Social Justice Action
Date 04/06/11/22:47

What Reagan Taught Bush - The top 10 lessons for counterrevolutionaries.
By David Lytel
Web Exclusive: 06.09.04
http://www.prospect.org/web/printfriendly-view.ww?id=7817

Anyone old enough to remember the Reagan presidency is in shock. The right,
because their hero has died; the left, because the eulogizing is so
gloriously twisted and exaggerated it brings to mind Reagan himself, who
never let the facts get in the way of a good story. If you missed the
Reagan administration and need a crash course, here are the lessons that
the Republicans learned from the Reagan presidency and have passed on to
George W. Bush and America's current rulers.

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10. Even if tax cuts build a weaker America they build a stronger
Republican party: As economist Lester Thurow has written, "the epitaph of
the Reagan presidency will be: When Ronald Reagan became President, the
United States was the largest creditor nation. When he left the presidency,
we were the world's largest debtor nation." Under cover of his
"supply-side" theory, he massively expanded the federal budget deficit and
our trade deficit, both of which were harmful in the long run but allowed
the Republicans to juice the economy with debt-financed stimulus and win
re-election for Reagan. The Republican fable that Reagan returned America
to economic strength after the failure of the Carter administration is not
borne out by fact. Reagan continued Carter's regulatory reform policies,
and only in the final year of his presidency (1988) did employment return
to what it had been in 1979. There is no evidence that Reagan's "tax cuts"
had any significant economic impact, since they were really a shift in the
tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class. The long-term effect of
the Republican drive to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy is profound.
If U.S. taxes were equivalent to those of our European allies, the Social
Security Trust Fund would be solvent and sufficient funds would exist to
virtually eliminate poverty and provide significant investment in public
education -- so when you see substandard housing and underfunded public
schools, think of Ronald Reagan.
9. A President must take full responsibility for everything except mistakes
and illegal activities: Reagan's campaign manager, William Casey,
negotiated the sale of weapons to Iran to secure the release of America's
hostages held there, a direct violation of U.S. law and policy. Once in
office as Reagan's CIA director, he illegally oversaw the transfer of funds
to right-wing counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua.The official response to
the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib is eerily similar to the story
created to defend the Reagan administration's cover-up of Iran-Contra: that
it was the work of a few rogue employees who were operating at the highest
levels of the U.S. government. The Reagan Administration's official cover
story was that an employee (Oliver North) in the White House's National
Security Council brokered the illegal sale of weapons to America's enemies
and used the money to finance right-wing paramilitary groups in Nicaragua
and El Salvador. In reality, nothing like this was possible without the
tacit cooperation of the CIA, NSA, and the rest of the military
establishment, but the thin veneer of plausibility enabled the
administration to deflect blame from the leaders, who escaped prosecution
for their crimes. In addition to Reagan, whose knowledge of the activities
of his own government was sketchy at best, George H. W. Bush also claimed
to have been "out of the loop" despite the preponderance of evidence to the
contrary. The debate over culpability often glides right past the question
of what we were doing training and equipping forces widely cited by
international human rights organizations as being barbaric and inhumane.
Because they called themselves anti-communist, the Reagan administration
welcomed them as allies and refused to permit their crimes to be
investigated -- just as today we accept profoundly anti-democratic regimes
in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia because they are willing to help us
plunder Afghanistan and Iraq.

8. While overt racism is unseemly, a Republican leader should signal to
white-power proponents that he agrees with them: Reagan pioneered insulting
the poor and powerless and proved how popular this is with white men.
Launching his candidacy for the presidency in the deep south where white
civil-rights workers had been murdered, he invoked "states' rights,"
language that substituted for the discredited claims of Caucasian racial
supremacy as the racist's rallying cry. Reagan's characterization of black
women on public assistance as "welfare queens" enabled white people to
openly loathe them again, behavior that, during the height of the
civil-rights movement, had been considered rude and boorish. Had Reagan
genuinely cared about misappropriation of public funds, he would not have
been indifferent to corporate crimes that looted more money from both
public and private coffers than all of the black women in American history
(including Oprah Winfrey) have ever seen. The blindness of Reagan's Justice
Department permitted new forms of corporate fraud to be pioneered such as
junk bonds that stole billions from investors and the misuse of savings and
loan charters, creating a scandal that drained billions from the public
treasury. Neither of these massive rip-offs attracted Reagan's attention
because their perpetrators and the beneficiaries of these crimes were
almost entirely male Caucasians.

7. Nations that assist the United States in its foreign policy goals can
murder, torture, and imprison anyone necessary to maintain stability:
Reagan's ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, now in charge of the
reconstruction of Iraq, gave American moral and financial support to
Roberto d'Aubuisson and his ARENA Party in El Salvador, a barely veiled
political arm of the death squads that terrorized the country in the name
of democracy and freedom. Reagan also remained silent on the great crusade
against apartheid in South Africa, which he considered a matter for the
South African military to manage by itself with assistance from American
arms dealers.

6. Bust unions whenever you can, because those people are a danger to the
continued concentration of wealth and power in the hands of trust-fund
Republicans. Among Reagan's first acts in office was the crushing of the
air traffic controllers union. Reagan refused to negotiate and ordered the
hiring of more compliant workers. When Libyan agents brought down an
American passenger plane over Lockerbee, Scotland, he diverted attention
from the lack of security in the international airline system instead
unsuccessfully dispatching warplanes to kill Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi.

5. The most effective way to please corporate contributors is to appoint
regulatory chiefs who will undermine their agencies from within: In naming
James Watt and Anne Gorsuch to the top positions at the Department of the
Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, Reagan pioneered a method
not even Nixon dared use to undermine environmental regulation -- having
people resolutely opposed to the success of their agency in the top
leadership roles, resulting in dirtier air and water, improper handling of
solid waste, minimal efforts at recycling, delays in the cleanup of
hazardous wastes, etc.

4. If defense policies serve only to tie corporate interests more closely
to the Republican party without making the nation more secure, that's good
enough. Reagan's Defense Department spent billions of dollars on a "Star
Wars" missile defense system that did not work then and does not work now.
(and, even if it did work, would be preparation for a threat that no longer
exists). In conjunction with the privatization of military functions,
Reagan helped create a class of enterprise that could be trusted to give
generously to Republican causes and was almost entirely dependent upon the
maintenance of a high level of international hostility. These companies,
such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and others are the core constituency of the
Republican party.

3. No global problem is too big to be ignored. In the Reagan
administration, no urgent social and medical problem was more resolutely
ignored than the worldwide spread of AIDS. Reagan's indifference to the
plight of gay men who were among the first to be struck by the AIDS virus
led to thousands of needless deaths. His demonizing of homosexuals and
characterization of AIDS as a plague from God raised homophobia to a new
level of acceptability, from which it has only recently recovered. In the
Bush administration, the preponderance of the evidence for global warming
and the international consensus that it be addressed collectively have been
ignored with equal vigor.

2. If you are affable, the commercial news media will judge you on your
intentions rather than your actual results. Reagan proved that image is
everything. As long as he was charming, reporters who asked difficult
questions would be shunned by their peers as acting rude toward a nice old
man. Bush has held even fewer public news conferences than Reagan yet his
management of the news media has produced little backlash, despite his lies
about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, a link between Hussein and
al-Qaeda, the effect of massive tax cuts, etc. Like Reagan, Bush has
succeeded in getting the news media to judge him on the wellness of his
intentions rather than on the wisdom of his judgment.

1. Boldly claim credit for major historic events and make it seem that you
caused them: After 60 years communism in Russia and Eastern Europe was
falling under the weight of its inability to perform economically and its
massive worldwide military commitments. Its legitimacy was under
significant attack from within and was further undermined by the loss of
the Soviet Army to insurgents in Afghanistan. Communist Party leader
Mikhail Gorbachev's economic and political liberalization, intended to
improve openness and productivity, raised expectations that rapidly ran
ahead of actual results and led to a breakdown of public authority. This
was exploited by Boris Yeltsin and other reformers who seized power. It is
liberalization that could not be controlled that ended totalitarianism in
the former Soviet Union -- not the expansion of American military spending.
That Reagan and the Republican Party do not understand nor deserve credit
for the fall of communism in Russia can be more or less proven by two
observations. First, the Soviet Union had already maxed out its military
capacity long before Reagan's military build-up began. Second, the
Republicans are unwilling to use a warming of relations to bring down the
government of Cuba, instead maintaining a hard-line policy that has no
chance of working. Instead of being confronted with expanded trade and
cultural exchanges that could cause his people to seek political and
economic liberalization, Castro can count on persistent hard-line
opposition from the United States and the continuation of a useless
economic embargo against his country. This enables Castro to argue that
further tight economic and political controls are necessary and to shield
Cuban citizens from interaction with Americans. It permits the Republicans
to please the Cuban-American community, without which its tenuous hold on
power in Florida might be lost. Despite this, the Republicans will claim
credit for bringing down Castro when he finally dies of old age.

The sanitized version of history presented in the Reagan obituaries, in
which Ronald Reagan is the brave hero who saved America from economic
collapse and enabled a God-loving people to triumph over evil, is as far
from the truth as most stories you will ever hear. In reality, Reagan was
the first figurehead president, incapable of answering questions about the
policies of his administration that he understood in only the most summary
way, and responsible only as the public spokesperson for decisions made by
others. Reagan enhanced the role of the Republican Party as the primary
vehicle for the sale of influence to corporate decision-makers eager to
undermine the national government, the only institution powerful enough to
confront global commercial interests seeking to evade environmental, labor,
and other standards of conduct. By evicerating public authority,
bankrupting the public treasury, and projecting a sunny personality to
deflect the critical evaluation of his actual job performance, Bush
continues the tradition Reagan began.

David Lytel served in the White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy in the Clinton Administration. He holds a PhD in government from
Cornell and now runs ReDefeatBush.com, a political action committee whose
goal is to register a million new Democrats in key battleground states.
Join the online discussion of this article by visiting
http://www.redefeatbush.com/reagan

Copyright 2004 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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