Where Our Troubles Began

3 Mar

It was difficult enough understanding Ronald Reagan’s allure but that a young mediocrity,George Bush, was twice elected president is beyond the world of the rational. Well, he wasn’t actually elected the first time—but even if you believe (as I do ) that he was given the election by a partisan Supreme Court, he did garner a significant plurality. And the in second election, his opponent was one decidedly unlikeable Senator from Massachusetts but still Bush had created and prosecuted a war that made him a fitting candidate for a war crimes indictment.

Thomas Frank’s What’s Wrong with Kansas? frames the issue and forms a basis for reappraising Ronald Reagan—how did Republicans, the party of union busting, tax cutting for the wealthy jingoists convince working men and women that they(Republicans) stood with the middle class? It is one of the great (if not the greatest) political sleights-of-hand in American political history.

Well regarded, veteran journalist Richard Reeves’s President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination published in 2006, did lift some scales from my eyes about Reagan I began to understand him as a skillful politician and charismatic leader— which was some distance from the notion I previously held of a simpleton puppet controlled by a staff of conservative zealots and operatives.

Recently, columnist Bob Herbert alluded to a new HBO documentary Reagan and concludes:

What we get with Reagan are a series of disconnects and contradictions that have led us to a situation in which a president widely hailed as a hero of the working class set in motion policies that have been mind-bogglingly beneficial to the wealthy and devastating to working people and the poor…

…But when all is said and done, it is the economic revolution that gained steam during the Reagan years and is still squeezing the life out of the middle class and the poor that is Reagan’s most significant legacy. A phony version of that legacy is relentlessly promoted by right-wingers who shamelessly pursue the interests of the very rich while invoking the Reagan brand to give the impression that they are in fact the champions of ordinary people.

The new insight about Ronald Reagan I came away with from Eugene Jarecki’s documentary was that above all the American electorate bought into Reagan because they liked him and therefore, astoundingly, he could do no wrong.

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