Friday, June 11, 2004

Ronald W. Reagan, 1911-2004

I can remember my senior year in Holy Cross High School, 1982. After-school curriculum had included classes on becoming a Conscientious Objector, or CO, so I could avoid the Draft.

Mind you, in 1982 there wasn’t any draft, but there was the Draft Registration that remains today. The teachers, mostly the Theology teachers, made these presentations. That always struck me as odd, these were the lay teachers, not the Brothers, conducting the classes on C.O., or as frequently stated, ‘beating the draft.’ It’s not that being a C.O. isn’t a Christian supported position. I found it odd that a Catholic High School would espouse ‘beating the draft’ at any time. But some of these men may well have served in Viet Nam, or at least were closer to that time than was a 17 year old.

See, I lived in those years before Ronald Reagan won election in the first of two landslides. The days of double-digit inflation, double-digit interest rates, and double-digit unemployment. Today the media bristles if the unemployment rate rises 5.601%. Where was that bristling when it was 10%?

People today complain their savings accounts pay a paltry 1.5%, or credit cards charging 19%. I was a bank teller in 1983; CD’s were paying 21%; people were cashing out there old, 5 year CDs that were paying half the rate, taking the ‘penalty for early withdrawal’ and the reopening the account at the higher rate – who wouldn’t?? Yet I speak to people under 30 and they either act as if they’ve never heard of such a thing or they dismiss it as if it’s fantasy. I lived it, let me tell you, and it was real.

I think that was when I first started to look at my peers and question their positions on a number of issues, social and political. It was when I started paying attention to the issues of the day and reevaluating what my positions was, and realized what I considered ‘correct’ thinking was often what my peers thought. I didn’t want to stand on this position or that merely because my buddies said so. I wanted to think for myself.

Drawing upon the values I was raised with, and my own reasoning, I came to the conclusion that a lot of what I believed in was embodied by President Reagan. This, naturally, didn’t play well with my peers.

Looking back, there are a number of criticism people who simply cannot say anything good about President Reagan always bring up. Here then are facts to refute them.

He’s going to start WW-III. This was a common refrain, and obviously history proved it wrong. But back then, it was very prevalent. In fact, one of my favorite bands, Pink Floyd, memorialized that theme in Two Suns in the Sunset from The Final Cut

The rusty wire that holds the cork
That keeps the anger in
Gives way
And suddenly it's day again.
The sun is in the east
Even though the day is done.
Two suns in the sunset
Could be the human race is run.

That summed it up; Reagan was pushing the USSR and ultimately, someone was going to push the button. Mind you, Roger Waters and Pink Floyd remain on my playlists, but they were as wrong as critics who claim Reagan was about to push button are today. It was OK if the Soviets kept expanding their reach, regardless of where it was. “Who cares what happens in So. America? And Afghanistan? You must be joking.” It wasn’t the Soviet Union that was the concern, it was those dang Japanese!

But of course, after decades of trying to make nice with the USSR, they continued to grow and place their missiles all over (remember Grenada?). We were trying to talk our way into disarmament, assuming our enemies would do likewise; a foolish thought no doubt.

It’s funny when you think of the Pershing missiles we installed in Western Europe to calm our allies; think of that expense and outlay of resources just 20 years ago, and think of who is harming relations today (hint: for a people who owe us, the US is certainly being treated roughly by our ‘allies’.)

Reagan infected millions of gays with AIDS: Using such inflamed rhetoric, you’d think he personally had relations with each and every one of them. The facts are clear: The Reagan Administration spent more than $5 billion on AIDS, and years later the research born from that research paid off. Clearly, could the Administration have moved faster? Certainly. But to accuse the man of actively taking part in the spread of the disease is looney. Don’t rely on my opinion, rely on that of Andrew Sullivan, who takes Reagan to task for delaying the effort, but gives credit where it’s due.

But the sad truth is also that there was never going to be an easy answer to HIV in the Reagan years. Throwing even more money at research in those days would not have helped much. Anthony Fauci's NIH, goaded by heroes like Larry Kramer, was already pushing for focus and resources; FDA red tape was loosened considerably; and the painfully slow scientific process continued. The fact that we got revolutionary drugs in trials by the early 1990s was itself an heroic scientific achievement - arguably the most miraculous progress in a medical emergency since the polio vaccine. Should Reagan have done more? Yes. Were people like Bill Bennett and Gary Bauer responsible for delaying a real prevention response because only gays were dying? You bet. But was Reagan ultimately responsible for so many tragic, early deaths? No. HIV was. Viruses happen. It's a blemish on his record, but not as profound as some, with understandable grief, want to make it out to be.

I would like to see what evidence Mr. Sullivan has in implicating the likes of Mssrs. Bennett and Bauer with the charge of bigotry, but the larger point remains.

Tax Cuts for the Rich: Why, oh why do people point to Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts as being only for the rich, when they were no more ‘for the rich only’ than was President Kennedy’s?? They were across the board and fair. End of story.

Supported Salvadorian troops despite rapes of nuns: Another of the twisted stories that have evolved over time. No doubt this atrocity happened, but it happened on Decemeber 3, 1980. It was committed not under Reagan’s watch but under President Carter’s. And in fact, the support was reestablished before Reagan took office. Arguably, a proper reaction could have done by Reagan in the early days, no doubt. But to heap the entire blame on him is completely wrong. I imagine the State Department, staffed with career positions, probably had a lot of sway over the Carter Administration, and too the early days of the Reagan Administration.

Arms for hostages: He took credit for the actions of those in his Administration. Those responsible faced punishment. Next?

Supported the likes of Saddam and Central American Death Squads: Backing Saddam in those days was the strategic thing to do (oh should Iran have run roughshod over the region, after the hostage fiasco?). Central America? We defended the rebels who were putting down the Soviet invasion; which side should we have supported?

Unsupportive of workers rights: Who? Which workers? PATCO workers? They were in violation of the law. They were warned. Not once. Not twice. Three times. Game over. Incidentally, my brother is a postal worker. He and his union were preparing for a strike while the PATCO was on the picket lines. That idea vanished after President Reagan fired PATCO. You think that was a coincidence??

Strategic Defense Initiative: a good idea then, and still today. We’re still getting positive test results, and that will help prevent any rouge nation from launching an attack. Why people can look at that the benefit of such and see say ‘its a bad idea’ and offer nothing better makes me question their motives; are they really thinking, or are they simply being dismissive?

Budget Deficits: Remember this quote? “Any budget submitted is considered dead on arrival”? That was the mantra of the Democratic controlled Congress. Reagan vetoed a number of budget bills, but in the end, in the spirit of compromise, he signed them in order to get his plans through. Sure, the President signs the Bills, but the Bills are passed in Congress (House in particular). Next thing you know, critics will say that President Clinton balanced the budget in his term; sure he signed the bills, but they were passed by a Republican House.

In the end, the budget soared in deficits. But we had a strong military (not so under Carter). We had the USSR on the ropes, and the Evil Empire later crumbled: instant end to the Cold War without a single shot being fired. Later on, the economy grew because of the Reagan tax cuts (see also: Pres. Kennedy’s tax cuts, also President Bush’s cuts).

Naysayers can always argue on Reagan’s policy. In fact, I welcome such a discussion. But this week has been more arguments that border less on facts on more on hate than anything else, and it’s pathetic people can’t see passed it. We as a nation are better off today thanks to President Ronald Reagan. He was a more popular president than the media want to admit. Consider his winning of 33 states in 1980. Consider, better still, his winning of 49 states in 1984 (and Mr. Mondale just narrowly won his home state). People think this week was undeserved, in varying degrees, for President Reagan. Some give token acceptance that he was President, therefore some accommodations were necessary. Some, like Ted Rall, think Mr. Reagan burns in hell as we speak.

Once again I ask: can anyone point the Conservatives -- Mr. Reagan specifically, the Conservatve movement in general -- and still call it mean-spirited and hateful?

God Bless President Ronald Reagan, who will be laid to rest shortly. May his vision and optimism be a shining model for others to follow. And while there may well be people who can carry his banner, the world may never see such a great man ever again.

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