The Sunny Legacy of Ronald Reagan: A Myth

Beware the warm, engaging smile! It can lure so many of us into taking actions that go against our own best interests.

As we approach the 2008 elections, we must look behind the appealing demeanor and pretty phrases of some of the candidates to see just what their political priorities are. It’€™s just such benevolent images that are propelling Mike Huckabee into a surprisingly competitive position in the Iowa Republican primary. This Bible-thumping conservative is indeed a charmer, perhaps a 21st Century Elmer Gantry who will win your favor while milking your pocketbook. Similarly, there’€™s the grandfatherly Fred Thompson. His rather avuncular shepherding of his staff attorneys on ‘€œLaw and Order’€ has made him most appealing. Perhaps it’€™s his ‘€œaw-shucks’€ approach to campaigning that so many voters find attractive.

Both of these candidates, who currently seem to be on the upswing, are not what they seem to be at first glance. It’€™s important to look carefully at their past and their promises. Neither one of these men is hiding their true positions; they are just sugar-coating themselves so that the voters won’€™t get past the sweet outer surface to see what harm they would do to low- and middle-income Americans if they, by unfortunate happenstance, were to be elected in 2008. It’€™s no secret: these two candidates, as well as their opponents for the Republican nomination for President, will continue their policies of weakening labor laws and worker protections, of supporting wide-open trade practices to the detriment of U.S. workers, of cutting back on health care insurance access to poor and middle class people, of supporting privatization schemes for Social Security and Medicare, of continuing the war in Iraq indefinitely (except for Libertarian Ron Paul), of favoring tax cuts for the richest, and of any number of other actions that will lead even more destruction of the living standards of ordinary Americans.

Huckabee and Thompson, in particular, can be looked upon as reincarnations of Ronald Reagan, whose ‘€œmorning in America’€ approach fooled a whole generation of Americans and led the way to the ongoing tragedy that has become a fact of life for so many working people and their families in the last 25 years. Make no doubt about it, Ronald Reagan smiled his way into the hearts of many Americans, proving that his acting skills may have been far more adroit than many gave him credit for. Recently, there has been attention given to his decision to speak at the county fair in Neosho, Mississippi, immediately after his nomination to President in 1980. Many said it was a blatant part of the Republican ‘€œSouthern strategy’€ to win the votes of whites in the South, many of who had been Democrats. As we all know, that strategy sadly worked.

In his speech in Neosho, Reagan called for a renewal of ‘€œstates’€™ rights,’€ which has always been code word for racist and anti-union policies. Reagan indeed may not have been racist in his heart, but who knows for sure. What he felt in his heart, however, is not important; it’€™s what he did that’€™s important.

As Bob Herbert wrote in his column in The New York Times (Nov. 13):

‘€œHe was opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the same year that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered. As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation. ‘€œCongress overrode the veto.”  Reagan also vetoed the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Congress overrode that veto, too.

‘€œThroughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record.’€

Most African-Americans weren’€™t fooled by the sunshine wash of Ronald Reagan, but most white working Americans were. They were lured by the ‘€œcandy’€ handouts: Reagan’€™s myth of the welfare cheat, his jingoistic approach to patriotism, his supposed toughness on national security, and his idea of ‘€œless government.’€

What they didn’€™t realize was that Reagan led the way to a weakening of their labor unions, and the resulting destruction of middle-class life. It was his action in firing 13,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 that turned the attitude of corporations and Republicans to outright warfare against labor. Prior to that, these entities had recognized the right of workers to organize and to have collective bargaining. This basic ‘€œsocial contract’€ was ended with the air traffic controllers’€™ firings. His anti-union actions were further highlighted by appointments to the National Labor Relations Board of business-oriented, anti-union types whose rulings made a mockery of a worker’€™s right to organize; his appointments to agencies like OSHA and the EPA were characterized by corporate types whose own firms had been fined for worker safety and environmental transgressions.

The litany of how Reagan began the downfall of middle America continues in many other ways, such as the weakening of the Federal Communications Commission and the deregulation of the trucking industry which has put thousands of unsafe, dangerous trucks on the road. And on and on. Thus, as you may be lured by the smiles and happy talk of Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and others in the current campaign, remember that behind all that joy and comfort may lie more disastrous times for workers and their families.

Some sites of interest: The Myth of Ronald Reagan An interview with Dolores Huerta and Francis Piven on Reagan as the ‘€˜most dangerous President’€™ 

Who is George Bush taking clues from? Bob Herbert’€™s column of Nov. 13, 2007:

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