The 40 page section covering the Reagan Years in Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick's book provides enough documentation of chicanery, hypocrisy, doublespeak and sociopathy to confirm in spades those of us who were appalled at the time and to turn around all but the most dedicated Reaganites. These will flee into ever deeper depths of denial in order to keep mythology intact. So, while they stop reading, let us consider some of the disgraceful aspects and consequences of that time.
There is little exaggeration to the claim that Reagan was hired to be president by very wealthy and very ignorant conservative ideologues. And it would be difficult to exaggerate the damage done to that aspect of our nation that is serious about the “freedom and democracy” that for Reagan were meaningless and sentimental rhetorical devices for manipulating public opinion, perhaps even himself.
Jimmy Carter was astonished at Reagan's lack of interest when he attempted to brief him on things nuclear. His aids and administrators squirmed while he napped during cabinet meetings and stood open-mouthed as he told world leaders blatantly untrue anecdotes such as when he told Israeli Prime Minister Rabin that he had been present at the liberation of death camps in World War II. His belief that “Americans are a moral people who... have always used our power only as a force for good in the world” stood in sharp contrast to the series of brutal dictators and murderous “freedom fighters” he supported. The Right took it on as a project to instill Reagan in the public mind as a great and popular president and they certainly succeeded, at least among the gullible, or those who chose not to look beyond the right wing thinktank spin.
Some of his falsehoods were aimed to exploit and advance prejudice as when he repeatedly cited the invented “Welfare Queen” with many social security cards, hundreds of IDs and an income of over $150,000 a year. Reagan became so famous for misquotes that even his press secretary began to invent quotes to attribute to his boss. He utilized stacks of 3 x 5” cards to guide him through meetings and embarrassed his aids sometimes by reading from the wrong cards. In a meeting with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev his response to an unexpected proposal was to fumble through the cards looking for an appropriate answer, which he couldn't find.
The Reagan Administration funded death squads in El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Central American countries and described these forces as equivalent to our founding fathers. Inviting citizens into his paranoia he pointed out that Texas is only a couple days drive from Nicaragua, a small nation which had recently freed itself from a U.S.-supported dictatorship but which Reagan saw as a bastion of communism, you know, the Axis of Evil. Our dedicated and tame media rarely acknowledged that Nicaragua was a democracy and consistently portrayed any resistance to U.S.-backed repressive regimes as “leftist”.
The tiny island of Grenada was invaded as part of the hysterical anti-communism permeating Reagan and his advisors, with fanciful justifications and absurd claims that America is “standing tall” again, afterwards. Part of the motivation was to distract from the disastrous suicide bombing of U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon, to bolster one faction or another. A CIA car bombing, seeking revenge for the Marine deaths by assassinating a Hezbollah leader, instead killed over 80 innocent bystanders. When “they” do this it's called terrorism. When “we” do it, it's glorified or goes unreported. Many of these same actors were recast during the W Bush administration, to add another layer of damage to the damage, protecting oligarchy from democracy.
Some segments of sanity in the congress attempted to limit Reagan's violence on Nicaragua with the Boland Amendment. The administration's circumventing of that law led to the Iran-Contra scandal. The administration escaped serious scrutiny, and impeachment, by tepid congressional hearings, resulting in a few lower echelon wrist slaps and a few high-level pardons.
The mainstream media also saved us the embarrassment of hearing about the World Court judgement against the U.S. for mining Nicaraguan ports. The New York Times also saved us from accurate reporting on right-wing death squad activities and military massacres of civilians by pulling their correspondent, Raymond Bonner, out of El Salvador.
The Military-Industrial Budget
Reagan lowered tax rates for the wealthy from 70% to 28%. He increased military spending by 51% and substantially cut spending on programs aimed at ordinary or disadvantaged citizens. Increases in spending for an already bloated nuclear war-making program fueled Soviet fears of a first strike and U.S. suicidal fantasies of a “winnable” nuclear war. Added to this was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), Star Wars, another preposterously expensive Reagan fantasy of protection against nuclear-tipped missiles - if not fantasy then either part of a first strike strategy or a camouflaged space weapons program, or both, yet another means to domination, safety for the never-safe-enough cold warriors.
Perhaps his greatest crime, was SDI, this same fantasy project, that scuttled nuclear arms talks with the Soviets. We came very close to ridding the planet of the scourge of nuclear weapons, a continuing threat to our survival. This result can be traced to cold-warrior fear and the dreams of conquest and domination they utilize to comfort themselves.
A few more markers in disgrace:
The Iran-Iraq War:
The U.S. duplicitously, in a macabre maneuver, armed both sides, in the Iran-Iraq War and helped Saadam Huessein avoid sanctions for use of biological weapons, even in the case of the “ gassing of his own people”, the Kurds, that was used later to demonize him when that became useful, by many of the same people who covered for him earlier..
The Afghan-Russian War:
*Over one million Afghans were killed, a third of the population fled to Pakistan.
*The Pakistani dictatorship funneled arms, with U.S. knowledge, to the most fanatically fundamentalist Afghan rebels, after taking their “cut”. .
*U.S. ignored Pakistani development of nuclear weapons.
*Afghan Women were better off, by far, under the Soviet-supported regimes.
*Once Russia withdrew from Afghanistan the U.S. washed its hands of the mess created, leaving the most extreme factions well-armed and in power, including Osama Bin Laden, the loathsome Taliban and Al Gaeda, eventually turning these lethal and foolish gifts of weaponry back on the givers.
Lessons learned from this debacle of an administration? Numero one, nothing new, you look at what they do, not what they say. Failure to hold them accountable means that so long as they serve their wealthy benefactors, they can pretty much act out their sociopathology unhindered. The Stone/Kuznick collaboration is chuck full of disturbing bullet points, mostly ignored by mainstream media in its service to power. As the pollution, population and nuclear (or other WMD) threats mount, we are quickly running out of time to redress the discouraging array of issues coming down on our poor heads.