by William Rivers Pitt
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
- e.e. cummings, "Buffalo Bill's Defunct"
Ronald Reagan is dead now, and everyone is being nice to him. In
every aspect, this is appropriate. He was a husband and a father,
a beloved member of a family, and he will be missed by those he
was close to. His death was long, slow and agonizing because of
the Alzheimer's Disease which ruined him, one drop of lucidity at
a time. My grandmother died ten years ago almost to the day because
of this disease, and this disease took ten years to do its dirty,
filthy, wretched work on her.
The dignity and candor of Reagan's farewell letter to the American
people was as magnificent a departure from public life as any that
has been seen in our history, but the ugly truth of his illness
was that he lived on, and on, and on. His family and friends watched
as he faded from the world of the real, as the simple dignity afforded
to all life collapsed like loose sand behind his ever more vacant
eyes. Only those who have seen Alzheimer's Disease invade a mind
can know the truth of this. It is a cursed way to die.
In this mourning space, however, there must be room made for the
truth. Writer Edward Abbey once said, "The sneakiest form of
literary subtlety, in a corrupt society, is to speak the plain truth.
The critics will not understand you; the public will not believe
you; your fellow writers will shake their heads."
The truth is straightforward: Virtually every significant problem
facing the American people today can be traced back to the policies
and people that came from the Reagan administration. It is a laundry
list of ills, woes and disasters that has all of us, once again,
staring apocalypse in the eye.
How can this be? The television says Ronald Reagan was one of the
most beloved Presidents of the 20th century. He won two national
elections, the second by a margin so overwhelming that all future
landslides will be judged by the high-water mark he achieved against
Walter Mondale. How can a man so universally respected have played
a hand in the evils which corrupt our days?
The answer lies in the reality of the corrupt society Abbey spoke
of. Our corruption is the absolute triumph of image over reality,
of flash over substance, of the pervasive need within most Americans
to believe in a happy-face version of the nation they call home,
and to spurn the reality of our estate as unpatriotic. Ronald Reagan
was, and will always be, the undisputed heavyweight champion of
salesmen in this regard.
Reagan was able, by virtue of his towering talents in this arena,
to sell to the American people a flood of poisonous policies. He
made Americans feel good about acting against their own best interests.
He sold the American people a lemon, and they drive it to this day
as if it was a Cadillac. It isn't the lies that kill us, but the
myths, and Ronald Reagan was the greatest myth-maker we are ever
likely to see.
Mainstream media journalism today is a shameful joke because of
Reagan's deregulation policies. Once upon a time, the Fairness Doctrine
ensured that the information we receive - information vital to the
ability of the people to govern in the manner intended - came from
a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Reagan's policies annihilated
the Fairness Doctrine, opening the door for a few mega-corporations
to gather journalism unto themselves. Today, Reagan's old bosses
at General Electric own three of the most-watched news channels.
This company profits from every war we fight, but somehow is trusted
to tell the truths of war. Thus, the myths are sold to us.
The deregulation policies of Ronald Reagan did not just deliver
journalism to these massive corporations, but handed virtually every
facet of our lives into the hands of this privileged few. The air
we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are all tainted
because Reagan battered down every environmental regulation he came
across so corporations could improve their bottom line. Our leaders
are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the corporations that were made
all-powerful by Reagan's deregulation craze. The Savings and Loan
scandal of Reagan's time, which cost the American people hundreds
of billions of dollars, is but one example of Reagan's decision
that the foxes would be fine guards in the henhouse.
Ronald Reagan believed in small government, despite the fact that
he grew government massively during his time. Social programs which
protected the weakest of our citizens were gutted by Reagan's policies,
delivering millions into despair. Reagan was able to do this by
caricaturing the "welfare queen," who punched out babies
by the barnload, who drove the flashy car bought with your tax dollars,
who refused to work because she didn't have to. This was a vicious,
racist lie, one result of which was the decimation of a generation
by crack cocaine. The urban poor were left to rot because Ronald
Reagan believed in 'self-sufficiency.'
Because Ronald Reagan could not be bothered to fund research into
'gay cancer,' the AIDS virus was allowed to carve out a comfortable
home in America. The aftershocks from this callous disregard for
people whose homosexuality was deemed evil by religious conservatives
cannot be overstated. Beyond the graves of those who died from a
disease which was allowed to burn unchecked, there are generations
of Americans today living with the subconscious idea that sex equals
The veneer of honor and respect painted across the legacy of Ronald
Reagan is itself a myth of biblical proportions. The coverage proffered
today of the Reagan legacy seldom mentions impropriety until the
Iran/Contra scandal appears on the administration timeline. This
sin of omission is vast. By the end of his term in office, some
138 Reagan administration officials had been convicted, indicted
or investigated for misconduct and/or criminal activities.
Some of the names on this disgraceful roll-call: Oliver North,
John Poindexter, Richard Secord, Casper Weinberger, Elliott Abrams,
Robert C. McFarlane, Michael Deaver, E. Bob Wallach, James Watt,
Alan D. Fiers, Clair George, Duane R. Clarridge, Anne Gorscuh Burford,
Rita Lavelle, Richard Allen, Richard Beggs, Guy Flake, Louis Glutfrida,
Edwin Gray, Max Hugel, Carlos Campbell, John Fedders, Arthur Hayes,
J. Lynn Helms, Marjory Mecklenburg, Robert Nimmo, J. William Petro,
Thomas C. Reed, Emanuel Savas, Charles Wick. Many of these names
are lost to history, but more than a few of them are still with
us today, 'rehabilitated' by the administration of George W. Bush.
Ronald Reagan actively supported the regimes of the worst people
ever to walk the earth. Names like Marcos, Duarte, Rios Mont and
Duvalier reek of blood and corruption, yet were embraced by the
Reagan administration with passionate intensity. The ground of many
nations is salted with the bones of those murdered by brutal rulers
who called Reagan a friend. Who can forget his support of those
in South Africa who believed apartheid was the proper way to run
a civilized society?
One dictator in particular looms large across our landscape. Saddam
Hussein was a creation of Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration
supported the Hussein regime despite his incredible record of atrocity.
The Reagan administration gave Hussein intelligence information
which helped the Iraqi military use their chemical weapons on the
battlefield against Iran to great effect. The deadly bacterial agents
sent to Iraq during the Reagan administration are a laundry list
The Reagan administration sent an emissary named Donald Rumsfeld
to Iraq to shake Saddam Hussein's hand and assure him that, despite
public American condemnation of the use of those chemical weapons,
the Reagan administration still considered him a welcome friend
and ally. This happened while the Reagan administration was selling
weapons to Iran, a nation notorious for its support of international
terrorism, in secret and in violation of scores of laws.
Another name on Ronald Reagan's roll call is that of Osama bin
Laden. The Reagan administration believed it a bully idea to organize
an army of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet
Union. bin Laden became the spiritual leader of this action. Throughout
the entirety of Reagan's term, bin Laden and his people were armed,
funded and trained by the United States. Reagan helped teach Osama
bin Laden the lesson he lives by today, that it is possible to bring
a superpower to its knees. bin Laden believes this because he has
done it once before, thanks to the dedicated help of Ronald Reagan.
In 1998, two American embassies in Africa were blasted into rubble
by Osama bin Laden, who used the Semtex sent to Afghanistan by the
Reagan administration to do the job. In 2001, Osama bin Laden thrust
a dagger into the heart of the United States, using men who became
skilled at the art of terrorism with the help of Ronald Reagan.
Today, there are 827 American soldiers and over 10,000 civilians
who have died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a war that
came to be because Reagan helped manufacture both Saddam Hussein
and Osama bin Laden.
How much of this can be truthfully laid at the feet of Ronald Reagan?
It depends on who you ask. Those who worship Reagan see him as the
man in charge, the man who defeated Soviet communism, the man whose
vision and charisma made Americans feel good about themselves after
Vietnam and the malaise of the 1970s. Those who despise Reagan see
him as nothing more than a pitch-man for corporate raiders, the
man who allowed greed to become a virtue, the man who smiled vapidly
while allowing his officials to run the government for him.
In the final analysis, however, the legacy of Ronald Reagan - whether
he had an active hand in its formulation, or was merely along for
the ride - is beyond dispute. His famous question, "Are you
better off now than you were four years ago?" is easy to answer.
We are not better off than we were four years ago, or eight years
ago, or twelve, or twenty. We are a badly damaged state, ruled today
by a man who subsists off Reagan's most corrosive final gift to
us all: It is the image that matters, and be damned to the truth.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout.org.
He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two
books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and
'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'