Missing Ronald Reagan?  Not Much

W. A. Barrett, San Jose, CA


Additional comments by Barrett.

Also see:  Righting Reagan's Wrongs by Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist, fall 2007

Global Business




Here are a few quotes from the Gipper, apparently favorites of the conservative Republicans among us.  I did a Google search on Reagan and found hundreds of sites all echoing praise for our 40th president and his “wisdom”, wit and humor.

My comments are in brackets, [like this].


"Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We  win, they lose."- Ronald Reagan

[simplistic.  This sort of thinking comes from watching too much football.  In the "cold war", there were mostly skirmishes conducted through ignorance, misinformation and misguided patriotic zeal, with no real winners or losers, no referees, no particular rules of the game, and few real “war fronts”.  But there were plenty of killed and wounded innocents caught up in this epic confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union.]


"The  most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."  - Ronald  Reagan

[Reagan didn't invent this, according to http://listserv.linguist.org.  The earliest appearance of this quote was on March 7, 1976, by Edmund Muskie:  (Zanesville, Ohio) Times Recorder, March 7, 1976, p. 4-A, as follows:

“We like Sen. Edmund Muskie's list of the ‘three most commonly told lies.’  The first is ‘I put your check in the mail yesterday.’ Second is ‘I gave at the office.’ And third is ‘I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you.’

I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that no one from the federal government ever really said this to anyone.  But the spectre of an OSHA inspector showing up at a business to investigate complaints of unsafe working conditions has certainly resonated among the small business owners of the US.

In any case, this is an insult to thousands of government employees, local, state and federal, who are diligently carrying out vital public services in education, medicine, nursing, law enforcement, fire protection and more.  Some of these services necessarily involve penalties for infractions of the law.  That’s how law enforcement operates.  I understood that in grade school, and more clearly through my police officer father.  Why was it such a difficult concept for Reagan?]


"The  trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant: It's just that they know so much that isn't so." - Ronald  Reagan

[liberals ignorant?  That's insulting to thousands of authors, editors, university professors and more who consider themselves 'liberal' – or used to, before Reagan and the Bushes made this a dirty word. 

Liberals consider themselves defenders of the constitution and the bill of rights, and work toward equality under the law regardless of race, gender, color and creed.  Surely Reagan was not opposed to that?

I agree with my conservative friends that the government programs designed to work toward liberalization were often heavy-handed.  But at least we tried, rather than just settle for an unsatisfactory status quo, as in the Jim Crow days.]


"Of  the four wars in my lifetime none came about because the U.S. was too strong." - Ronald  Reagan

[four wars?  These apparently include his own wars against Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua and Chile.  The Panama invasion resulted in a lot of casualties -- its sole aim to capture its president Noriega on charges of drug trafficking.  Grenada was a small-scale invasion to 'protect' some American students from a growing communist threat -- but there was no real threat to anyone.  Nicaragua and Chile were CIA campaigns to undermine an elected government, because Ronnie decided they were 'leftist'.

As to the US being ‘strong’, I contend that our real strength lies in our dedication to rule by law through democratic means, and limitations on power by any one branch of the government.  Not just by rule of force, about which Reagan seemed enamoured.]


"I  have wondered at times about what the Ten Commandment's would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress."- Ronald  Reagan

[They would have read much better. 

Is it really any of the government's business whether a man "covets his neighbor's wife"?

Also, which God exactly are we supposed to have “before Me”, given the rather different Catholic, Protestant, Judiac, Muslim, Hindu, Bahia (and other) gods?

And, what does “before Me” mean, and how should one enforce it?  A sufficiently intimidated person will claim to worship any God their ruler chooses, and there’s no way to tell whether he means it or not.

Then there’s God’s “promise” -- But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands [of generations].  I contend that He has generally failed to keep that promise, least of all for the six million Jews sent to the gas chambers in Nazi Germany.  If God couldn’t keep a simple promise like that for his “chosen people”, why should we bother trying to keep our part of the bargain?  He could have arranged for Hitler and Himmler to have a little stroke back in 1936 when the final solution was being planned.  Or, He could have arranged for Hitler to have been killed, rather than just injured, in that bomb attack planned by his generals.

I could go on.  For example, what role are women supposed to play under the Mosaic law?  According to many OT passages, women were to shut up and play mother, or be part of a harem, or be sold off as slaves by their fathers, in any case subject to the whims of their father, husband or eldest brother.  The Decalogue in fact mentions “your slave”, which suggests that slavery is OK, if not blessed by the Lord.

I don’t wish to appear impious.  It’s just that this ancient document falls far short of any reasonable system of laws for any civilization.  The Greek and Roman legal systems were better framed than this.

A nice summary of the variations on the Decalogue is in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments#Text_of_the_commandments]


"The  taxpayer: That's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination." - Ronald  Reagan

[this is a canard against the purpose of taxes, which is to maintain government.  Since Reagan and his wealthy buddies hated any form of government, it's no surprise that they also hated taxes.

It’s interesting that Reagan himself, as a civil servant, had to pass no examination to become president.  Not even an FBI investigation.

You have to be super-rich to be able to survive without any government services.  Consider the cost of protecting yourself against an angry mob in the absence of any police or military.  Or managing any sort of profitable business in the absence of educated people that you need to run it, or in the absence of laws to regulate predatory business practices by your competitors.  What is it worth to a business owner to feel secure against theft, kidnapping, extortion, embezzlement, have contracts honored, have a stable currency, open markets, freedom to start or end a business, to make, break or negotiate contracts, etc.?  All these are the result of government policy and enforcement activity, and they require taxes to provide.

And what is it like in the absence of any of these benefits?  Just read any current newspaper about events in Iraq.]


"Government is like a baby: An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."   - Ronald Reagan

[a too-cute phrase, feeding the anti-government, anti-tax constituency.  See above. 

No sense of responsibility?  That would stem from a failure of the chief executive, namely our President, to take his oath of office seriously, or of the Congress failing to act with appropriate legislation, or of the court system failing to consider all factors in key cases.]


"If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under." - Ronald  Reagan

[Here's the problem -- we are NOT a nation under God, and never have been. 

We are nation formed through a written constitution and a body of laws chosen by a majority of its citizens, not through some act of God or even a church.

A 'nation under God' would be a nation ruled by theologians and ministers.  Jimmy Swaggert and Pat Robertson would like that very much, but do you and I really believe that our persons, homes and family members would be safe under the likes of them?  Religion in charge of our daily lives would be a reversion to the Dark Ages of witches and heretics burned at the stake, heretical writing burned, scientific knowledge suppressed, and worse.]


"The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program." - Ronald  Reagan

[FALSE.  Government programs come and go.  Some are lost through court challenges, others through removal of funding by Congress.  The beauty of our system of government is that unwanted programs CAN be and ARE removed through any of several mechanisms.  That is the business of the Congress and the court system.  It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than the old days of kings and queens, when draconian programs just lived on for generations.]


"I've laid down the law, though, to everyone from now on about anything that happens: no matter what time it is, wake me, even if it's in the middle of a Cabinet meeting." - Ronald Reagan

[that quote is truly funny, and characteristic of that president, the only one known to fall asleep at the switch on several occasions.  Ronnie could at least laugh at himself, a trait that endeared himself to us all, myself included.  My complaints are about what he did, not how charming he was.

Also, he didn’t really mean it.  See ‘David Stockman’ and ‘AIDs’ below, for two examples of how he ignored critical advice.]


"It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first." - Ronald Reagan

[We can all agree that there's plenty of corruption among political figures.  Does that mean that all political action should cease, that we should not bother to vote, or that we should stop discussing political issues? 

NO -- there's too much at stake, in the form of our liberties, our security, our nation’s laws and the use of our tax monies. 

Political corruption thrives when the public pays too little attention to what's going on, and candidates are forced into massive fund-raising in order to run for office or be re-elected.  When there’s plenty of corruption, yes, some politicians will become money-grubbers.

Incidentally, I resent his slur toward all prostitutes.  Few prostitutes actually choose that as a career.  Most are driven into it through white slavery, threats or violence from boyfriends-turned-pimps or through sheer financial desperation.  It remains a “career” of last resort for women who have been abused or deserted in marriage, and who have no other job skills.]


"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." - Ronald  Reagan

[another snide canard, one that is unworthy of someone who took an oath of office to "uphold the constitution", etc. 

The problem of who, what and how to tax will always be with us, regardless of the purpose of the tax. 

Should we tax citizens to pay for public schools?  Many could object on the grounds that they have no children, or have already raised their children, or their children are in private schools.  A more enlightened attitude is that a general tax to support public schools is necessary to us all to ensure that our neighbors, fellow employees, their children, etc. have all received a good basic education, are able to support themselves and will not resort to robbing, killing or kidnapping us.  That is worth paying taxes to public education.

Regarding regulation, we all know that Reagan hated all forms of government regulation.  I attribute that to his ignorance of basic economics, in particular the tragedy of the commons, plus the usual ha-ha bar stories from his business friends.  If you don’t know about the tragedy of the commons, shame on you!  Here’s a short description:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons.

As to subsidies, the Republicans have traditionally been against government subsidies to certain parties.  However, the political strength of the GOP rests with the midwest farmers, who get plenty of crop subsidies, and large corporations, who also get plenty of subsidies in the form of contracts and tax-reduction incentives.

One can argue that much of the runaway immigration from Mexico across the US borders is due to the generous farm subsidies granted in this country.  US farm products would demand a higher world market price without them, and that would make Mexican farm products (which are not so subsidized) more viable, resulting in more farm employment in those countries.  Eliminating the crop subsidies in the US would be tough on American farmers, for sure, but would also serve to reduce the number of immigrant Mexican workers crossing our border.  Reagan believed in fair trade and global markets, but he obviously wanted free trade policies to apply to the rest of the world, not to us.]


"Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book." - Ronald  Reagan

[another insulting canard against those who write books or run for office.

I don't know to whom he is referring here, but perhaps we should all ponder the case of Oliver North.  North truly disgraced himself and his country out of a misguided zeal to serve president Reagan, nearly went to prison for it, then wrote books, speaks for the conservative movement, etc.  Was he a politician?  North never ran for office, but was most certainly a Reagan appointee.  For a summary of North’s career, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_North/


"No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. - Ronald Reagan

[This is among his few worthy quotes.

However, I feel that Tom Paine expressed the power of freedom much more thoroughly and eloquently in his book 'The Rights of Man', first printed in 1791.  This single book provided much of the inspiration to the framers of our constitution.  You can buy a copy for three dollars from Dover Press, http://www.doverpublications.com.  Also consider reading Tom Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’, especially if you are a captive of one of the more vocal evangelical Christian churches or television evangelists.]


Some Additional Comments


You may gather from the above that I am not a fan of Ronald Reagan, may his soul rest in peace. 

You would be correct.

Here’s my summary of some the more odious actions and attitudes of Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States of America:


  -- Running up a trillion dollar federal deficit through a massive increase in defense expenditures and various tax cuts.  Those who credit the DOD expansion with bankrupting the Soviet Union are entitled to their opinion, of course, but that slights the rise of Gorbachev and the disaster at Chernobyl, as well as the misadventures of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  David Stockman documents Reagan's lack of interest in budgetary matters in his book The Triumph of Politics.  One of the more amusing of Stockman's tales is how hard he tried to get Reagan to understand the consequences of his spending/tax cut policies.  Stockman even resorted to making a special movie about it, to be shown to Reagan during his evening movie presentations.  It didn't help -- Stockman eventually resigned in disgust.  The federal deficit projections cited in his book have turned out to be pretty close to the mark.

  -- Reagan’s fascination with the Laffer curve, which purported to show that high tax rates resulted in less federal income and economic stagnation.  Most economists disagreed with Laffer, who could provide little evidence for his theory.  But it suited Reagan’s anti-tax, anti-government bias, and so he used it to advance his political ambitions.

  -- Reagan's fascination with the "end times" and "rapture theology" never quite found its way into federal policy, but disturbs me, coming from someone occupying the White House.  You can find an account of this in Gore Vidal's book Imperial America, page 69.  With an “end times’ philosophy held by our President, one can perhaps understand Reagan’s willingness to undertake the great risk of nuclear war in expanding our military and pushing his “star wars” initiative.  He perhaps believed that an all-out nuclear war would bring about the great milllenial apocalypse described in Ezekial and Revelations, perhaps even that nuclear war was necessary to bring it about.  Sort of like forcing God to finally step in and take charge.  One is astounded at the grandiosity of this vision, and I can fully appreciate that this man would be captivated by it and thrilled to play a key role in the “end times”.

  -- Presiding over an administration that topped the record of all presidents in the number of prosecutions for bribery and other misconduct.  These exceed the number of convictions rung up by Nixon's lieutenants in the famous Watergate investigations.

  -- Invading Panama with the purpose of kidnapping Noriega on trumped-up drug charges, then trying him and imprisoning him in the US on those charges.  The Panama invasion was a lot more bloody than the news media has let on.  What possible justification was there for this attack on a sovereign (and friendly, non-Communist) nation, that posed no credible military threat to the US?  The ostensible reason was the potential threat to the Panama canal, recently turned over to Panama – but Noriega had never expressed any such threat.

  -- Pushing his "star wars" initiative despite speeches and publications from virtually every knowledgeable sector of the space and scientific community, that (1) it was illegal under an international treaty between the US and the Soviet Union, (2) it couldn't work, and (3) it would heighten, not reduce the cold war tensions, possibly bringing on a pre-emptive strike by the Soviet Union.  Did Reagan really intend to heighten tensions (as his admirers now claim), or was he just simple-minded about it?  His speeches aren't clear.  It happens that many in the Politburo were convinced that America already had such a missile shield, and that provoked even greater space efforts – and expenditures – on their part.  (It isn’t clear that Reagan knew about that, or even foresaw that reaction.)  But see “rapture’ above for a possible explanation.

  -- Looking for any way to cut back on environmental protections, apparently to favor his business-oriented friends.  His EPA director James Watt once remarked about endangered birds -- "Protecting birds?  Hell, I run over them over day in the parking lot".  (Meaning pigeons, of course).

  -- Iran-Contra was clearly about a deal that he made with the Ayatollah Khomenei of Iran -- arms shipments to Iran in exchange for releasing the embassy hostages.  Congress expressly forbid him from doing that, but he did it anyway, using Oliver North for the purpose, mostly.  Remember how the hostages were released the day he took office?  Coincidence?  I don't think so.

  -- firing all the air traffic controllers as a way of settling a work-conditions strike that their union was contemplating.  The controllers weren't looking for higher wages -- they were quite well paid.  Instead they were asking for more resources to reduce the incredible and growing stress they were facing in managing an ever-growing airport traffic jam. 

How did firing them help anyone?  Of course, it destroyed their union, which I guess is what Reagan wanted to do, but it also left all air travellers in a dangerous situation for over a year while the airlines and airports frantically worked to replace the absent traffic controllers.  Also, the air traffic control systems were hopelessly obsolete by the computer standards of the day, and Reagan did nothing to upgrade them.

  -- using the CIA to undermine the democratically elected Sandanistas government in Nicaragua.  This was another government that was no direct threat to the US, rather was just "leftist" and therefore deemed by the Reagan administration as subject to any and all means to destroy it.

  -- supplying massive arms through the CIA to the Al-Quaida resistance fighters in Afghanistan.  As a short-term strategy of thwarting the Soviet ambitions in that country, one could justify it.  But Reagan was supposed to have possessed the long view of foreign affairs, and in hindsight, that decision appears terribly short-sighted.  We will pay for that mistake for generations to come.  Have we forgotten that Usama Bin-Laden was once considered a valuable ally of the US?

  -- stirring up divisions in the US that have never healed.  In particular, he made the words "liberal", "taxes" and "government" something to be abhorred.  That has insulted a lot of people, including many who are honorably and usefully serving in our government.  It has also helped justify the disastrous foreign and domestic policies of our current president.  Wasn't it George W. Bush who claimed that he was a "Reagan Republican" while running in 2000 and in 2004?

  -- failing to do anything to stem the tide of deaths from AIDS around the world, mostly in Africa, but also thousands of deaths in the United States.  With a stroke of a pen, he could have provided funding for educational campaigns, condoms, and research into cures and treatments.  He chose to do nothing.  One wonders if that stemmed from some religious belief of Reagan that gays were inherently “wicked” and deserved to die from their “sins”?

Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?


Published: November 13, 2007, New York Times

Let’s set the record straight on Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff in 1980.


Early one morning in the late spring of 1964, Dr. Carolyn Goodman, her husband, Robert, and their 17-year-old son, David, said goodbye to David’s brother, Andrew, who was 20.

They hugged in the family’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Andrew left. He was on his way to the racial hell of Mississippi to join in the effort to encourage local blacks to register and vote.

It was a dangerous mission, and Andrew’s parents were reluctant to let him go. But the family had always believed strongly in equal rights and the benefits of social activism. “I didn’t have the right,” Dr. Goodman would tell me many years later, “to tell him not to go.”

After a brief stopover in Ohio, Andrew traveled to the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a vicious white-supremacist stronghold. Just days earlier, members of the Ku Klux Klan had firebombed a black church in the county and had beaten terrified worshipers.

Andrew would not survive very long. On June 21, one day after his arrival, he and fellow activists Michael Schwerner and James Chaney disappeared. Their bodies wouldn’t be found until August. All had been murdered, shot to death by whites enraged at the very idea of people trying to secure the rights of African-Americans.

The murders were among the most notorious in American history. They constituted Neshoba County’s primary claim to fame when Reagan won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1980. The case was still a festering sore at that time. Some of the conspirators were still being protected by the local community. And white supremacy was still the order of the day.

That was the atmosphere and that was the place that Reagan chose as the first stop in his general election campaign. The campaign debuted at the Neshoba County Fair in front of a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!”

Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.”

Reagan apologists have every right to be ashamed of that appearance by their hero, but they have no right to change the meaning of it, which was unmistakable. Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan into a racially benign context.

That won’t wash. Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.

Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans — they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew.

He was tapping out the code. It was understood that when politicians started chirping about “states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you.

And Reagan meant it. He 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.

Congress overrode the veto.

Reagan also vetoed the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Congress overrode that veto, too.

Throughout 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.

To see Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in its proper context, it has to be placed between the murders of the civil rights workers that preceded it and the acknowledgment by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater that the use of code words like “states’ rights” in place of blatantly bigoted rhetoric was crucial to the success of the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy. That acknowledgment came in the very first year of the Reagan presidency.

Ronald Reagan was an absolute master at the use of symbolism. It was one of the primary keys to his political success.

The suggestion that the Gipper didn’t know exactly what message he was telegraphing in Neshoba County in 1980 is woefully wrong-headed. Wishful thinking would be the kindest way to characterize it.