Sarah Palin, stupidity's cheerleader, said recently that the problems in this country were due to America's being out of step with Ronald Reagan's values. I won't go on about Palin here, largely because she's far too easy a target and Will does a fine job without my help. But I've heard so many people talk about Reagan as if he were a modern savior and the last, best hope for the future. I came to adulthood in Reagan's America and I think it's time to set some things straight.
If the United States is out of touch with Ronald Reagan's values, perhaps it's because his values were out of touch with reality.
Reagan was a great president if you were white, Christian, heterosexual, male and rich. Everyone else was unimportant and only worthy of derision as being lazy, sinful and dishonest. I remember him droning on about a "welfare queen" while failing to mention the billions of dollars in needless subsidies to corporations. It's worth mentioning that his people couldn't produce this welfare queen when asked for proof of Reagan's story.
While on the subject of Reagan's stories, he once regaled a group of Medal of Honor recipients with the heroic tale of a pilot who stayed aboard his plane so the poor man stuck in the ball turret of their failing B-17 wouldn't have to die alone. When he was informed that the event never actually occurred but was from the movie "On a Wing and a Prayer," he simply dismissed it saying, "Well, it made a great story, didn't it?" He was in the presence of real heroes but he found a movie more memorable. But what can we expect from a man who once referred to military uniforms as costumes?
When HIV reached the shores of this country, rather than mobilize the Center for Disease Control to combat it while it might have been contained or research its prevention and cure, Reagan cut the budget for the CDC and ignored the problem. After all, it only effected Haitians, gay men and intravenous drug users. HIV was like a gift to Reagan because it only seemed to be a threat to people he saw as undesirable. When it hit white, middle class, Christian America, then he saw it as a problem.
After gutting budgets for scientific research, he asked, "Why should we fund their intellectual curiosity?" This makes me wonder how far we'd have advanced in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease if adequate funding had been available to researchers in the 1980's.
His economic policies set he stage for today's financial crisis. Rather than rein in the corporate greed that was threatening to corrupt and destroy our financial institutions, Reagan celebrated wealth and excess. He believed that by allowing the rich to get richer with no oversight, the wealth would "trickle down" and benefit everyone. I don't know how others feel but I don't like it when someone pisses on me and tries to tell me it's rain to make my flowers grow.
Probably the most heinous bit of the Reagan legacy was his climbing into bed with fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and the like. Now the leader of this secular nation had given a single religious group political clout from which this nation might never recover. Domestic and foreign policy were being determined by people who saw those unlike them as sinners and who perceived Armageddon as a desirable goal. For the eight years of Reagan's reign and the four years of his trained lapdog, George H.W. Bush, the world was held hostage by these buffoons who read the Book of Revelation like an instruction manual. Many feared that "the day after" could be the next day.
When I go on about the Reagan legacy, invariably someone will point out that he won the Cold War. Yes, this is true. It's because he was willing to do the one thing that Mikhail Gorbachev refused to do: mortgage the future of this nation for generations to come. The first time the word "trillion" was used in association with the national debt, it was in Reagan's fiscally conservative America.
That's how I remember the Reagan era and maybe this country is out of step with his values. Looking back thirty years and how he damaged this country and its standing on the world stage, I can't see this as a bad thing.