Monday, February 18, 2013

The Ghost Of Presidents Past

So, it’s Presidents’ Day.
In the 9 presidential elections I’ve voted in, I have a respectable 4-5 record … but that first one really left a mark. It was November 4, 1980, and let’s just say I did not vote for the guy who won. Quelle surprise, I know.
I guess I’ve borne a grudge against Ronald Wilson Reagan ever since. He was a modestly skillful politician, a masterful bullshitter, and a completely overrated president. Earlier today Think Progress summed it up nicely:
President Reagan ushered in the misguided era of massive deficits, bloated military spending and tax cuts for the very rich that America still struggles to this day to put to an end. Yet Reagan wrongly receives credit for the economic boom that began a few years into his presidency due to events entirely outside of his control. When Reagan took office, America faced double-digit inflation rates matched with a sharp spike in unemployment. Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, a Carter appointee, chose to break the first problem by exacerbating the second — driving up interest rates in a successful effort to break inflation. When Volcker finally took the brakes off the economy and ended the recession he created by lowering interest rates back to more normal levels, housing and auto sales took off, the economy boomed back to life, and Reagan rode the undeserved credit to a second term in the White House.
As Rosalynn Carter once said, Reagan made America “comfortable with our prejudices.” Reagan infamously began the final leg of his presidential campaign by traveling to the Mississippi town where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered and proclaiming “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan ignored the AIDS crisis for years. He gave us Justice Antonin Scalia. And he tried and failed to appoint another justice who once claimed that the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters is rooted in a “principle of unsurpassed ugliness.”
Of course, we could go on from their. Reagan supported brutal rightwing dictatorships in South and Central America, turned his back on the nascent democratic revolution in Nicaragua (all but ensuring that the provisional government would turn to the Soviet Union for aid), exacerbated Pres. Carter’s missteps in Iran and Cambodia, and largely undid the good work Carter had done trying to bring peace between Israel and its neighbors. Reagan also dragged his feet on South Africa, pursuing a weak policy he called “constructive engagement” that likely forestalled its inevitable progress towards majority rule.

Reagan gets credit for hastening the end of the bloated, top-heavy Soviet Union, but before the USSR disintegrated both it and the United States – largely at Reagan’s behest – treated the world like an oversized chess board, propping up dictators and fighting surrogate wars from Central America to Southeast Asia to Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Hence, today’s bonus Clash song, “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” from Sandinista! (1980):
He turned it on – cool and slow

He tried a payphone call to the Pentagon

A radar scan – a leviathan
He wiped the Earth – clean as a plate

What does it take to make a Ruskie break?

But the crowd are bored and off they go

Over the road to watch China blow!
When Ivan meets G.I. Joe
To be fair, this song was released just before Reagan took office. But it nicely captures the mood of the U.S. at a time when Reagan’s star was rising and the U.S. and the USSR divvied the world amongst themselves.
Of course, Reagan wasn’t unique among American presidents to view the world as a board game. To a greater or lesser extent, every American president has. What is unique about Reagan, though, is the hagiographical treatment he got even when he was alive. We’re still living with the consequences not just of Reagan’s policies, but of the blind acceptance of Reagan’s worldview.
But, hey – Happy Presidents’ Day!

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