I was ranting a couple of posts ago about the publication of Playing the Field back during the Reagan years, and I said I would re-publish a column I wrote three years ago for Hustler magazine about Reagan. The column was sparked by the introduction of a bill in Congress in 2010 to put Reagan’s face on the fifty dollar bill. Not long ago there was also talk of putting him on Mt. Rushmore too, all of which proves what I have said many times: the conservative right is an endless source of amusement.
The Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon.
Ronnie: Queer as a fifty dollar bill
Of all the evil foolishness created by the conservative dingbats in Congress, the Ronald Reagan fifty dollar bill is perhaps the most daffy. Republican Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina recently introduced legislation to remove Uylsses S. Grant from the fifty dollar bill and substitute a portrait of the fortieth U.S. President, Ronald R. Reagan.
Among Republicans, merely uttering the name “Reagan” is a form of prayer. Republicans of a certain age get all misty-eyed at the mention of the Great Communicator and long for the bygone days when Ronnie was in the White House, Nancy was running the show by consulting astrologers, and supply-side economics was making the rich richer even as it drained the life out of the American middle class.
Some of the dimmer Republicans credit the sainted Ronnie with the destruction of the Soviet Union, though it was on the verge of collapse for decades before him. And the popular fiction is that somehow Reagan restored respect for America after the debacle of the Iranian hostage crisis, when 53 diplomatic personnel were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days by militant Islamist students. In fact, Reagan’s people were negotiating behind the scenes with the students, encouraging them to continue holding the hostages until after the U.S. election. They cooperated and released the hostages just hours after Reagan was sworn in.
The most anti-labor, anti-middle class president since Hoover, Reagan was also one of the most aggressively imperialist presidents, spreading the American empire into central America and the Middle East. The reason behind this is clear: Reagan was a creature created almost entirely by BIG OIL. I was present at his creation.
In the mid-1970s, I was married briefly to the late Ross McClintock, Vice President of Fluor Oil Corporation. (It was my try at marrying for money, something I’ve never been especially good at.) Ross wanted me to give up my career and become Mrs. Vice President of Fluor Oil, his wife and cheerful celebrity hostess for all the events that his high octane job called for. (Another thing I’m not good at: Trophy Wife.)
I accompanied him to a number of meetings of the major oil producers, and at one meeting in 1973 during the dark days of the growing Watergate scandal, the agenda was deciding whether or not to salvage Reagan’s candidacy after his unsuccessful bid for the 1968 presidential nomination. There was a good bit of chit chat about his electability, since Reagan was not a particularly bright guy, though he presented an affable public facade and learned scripts quickly. There was also some sharp criticism of Nancy, being THE ONE that Ronnie listened to, confided in, and obeyed. Finally, over dessert and coffee, the decision was made and the money committed for Reagan’s 1976 campaign. Though he failed to get the nomination that year, his momentum (along with millions more from BIG OIL) would carry him to the presidency in 1980.
Cut through all the dreamy right-wing blather about “Reagan’s Legacy,” and there are a few of the things that we can really thank Ronald Reagan for:
- Introduction of the toxic half-wits in the Bush family to the presidency. His Vice President, George Herbert Walker Bush, would become the 41st President, thus paving the way for the First Half-Wit himself, Dubya
- Dismantling banking regulations put in place after the Great Depression, and cutting taxes for the wealthy, leading us to the financial disaster in which we languish today.
- Weakening the FCC’s regulatory powers, allowing greater consolidation of news media ownership, creating today’s media oligarchy, which functions chiefly as a propaganda arm for our corporate-owned government.
- Perhaps our most racist president since the civil war, Reagan vetoed both expansion of federal civil rights legislation and imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. (Congress overrode both vetoes.) He also did his best to eliminate the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination.
- Removed airline regulation, helping to create the mess that is air travel today.
- Closed federal mental institutions, dumping seriously ill people onto our streets, and condemning them to sleep in doorways and eat out of garbage cans.
- Financed Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, thus helping to create Osama Bin Laden.
- Through his homophobic rhetoric and delay in focusing federal government resources on the growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS, Reagan left an endowment of misery and death that remains a powerful indictment of his presidency today.
No American president gets out of office with a perfect record. The compromises of politics and the pressures of world events shape a presidency in ways not dreamed of on Inauguration Day. Probably no president deserves the honor of a picture on our money until a century passes. Certainly not Ronnie, who did so much to institutionalize racism, brutalize the working class, pander to corporate power, and expand American empire, all the while shamelessly lying to the home folks about a Shining City on a Hill.