January 21, 2008

The Reagasm

By Mary Lyon

Let it be proclaimed far and wide: there actually is something that any self-respecting Republican presidential hopeful loves more than Jesus and 9/11: Ronald Reagan. Amazingly enough, that name rolls off Rudy Giuliani's tongue even more than September 11th does. Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan.

Enough already! Of course, I was saying THAT multiple times throughout the Greed-is-Good '80's. Enough already indeed. Reagan-schmeagan. I had more than enough by 1988 - no, make that a few days after his first inauguration in 1981.

This campaign year is shaping up for Republicans as a race between Ronald Reagan wannabes, all earnestly claiming to be THE guy who invokes that hallowed name the most, and fits into his empty shoes (and even emptier "ideas") better than the other guys do. In Catholic school, our catechism classes taught us little kids that the proper term for the short, staccato prayer, any recommended one-liner that you could repeat over and over for salve on your sinful soul was called an ejaculation. Honest-to-God. I wouldn't make that up. And back then, the repetition of many ejaculations, we were taught, earned you spiritual brownie points. Centuries ago, various prayers, patronage, good works, church attendances and so forth were worth given numbers of days indulgence - days you would have had to do penance in sack cloth and ashes but from which all that reverential repetition excused you (or, in some eyes, how many days sweating off some of your sins in the Purgatory sauna before you were deemed fit to enter Heaven). Ejaculations were quickies you could rattle off many times in a single sitting - or kneeling, I suppose - compiling spiritual time-off-for-good-behavior the way so many people now use Sky Miles credit cards to rack up mileage for quicker upgrades to first class. Clearly, Ronald Reagan is the ejaculation-du-jour for Republican campaigners these day. Perhaps if you invoke his name a sufficient number of times, you'll gain all the political brownie points you'll need with the voters to upgrade yourself to the Oval Office. Call it a Reagasm.

As I said above - ENOUGH ALREADY! I had it up to here with Reagan years ago, and I'm still up to here at this late date.

I'd like to put this as delicately as I can: the best thing I can say about Ronald Reagan is that he is only a memory now. Thankfully, he's not in any position to hurt anybody anymore. He's not in any shape to push his horrendous Reverse Robin Hood policies on gullible, unsuspecting Americans with that legendary "Reagan charm." He's not around any longer to sweet-talk us into supporting the reviled "trickle-down" economics that made so many of his fat-cat friends and supporters richer than Midas - while the poor and middle class took it in the shorts. Reagan's influence, clearly, still rides high, and to hear some of his would-be heirs talk, you'd think he was still here. I am grateful that all they have left of him is the repetition of his name.

Ronald Reagan hurt people. He hurt the little people - many who, astoundingly, had such faith in his message because he was so likeable and plain-spoken, were the most vulnerable to the impact of the changes he would bring about, and had the most to lose. He was so congenial and authentic and regular-guy that he couldn't possibly be peddling snake oil to anyone. The kindly old uncle with all those fun stories, Hollywood memories, irresistable slogans, and that adorable crooked smile who sat so tall and photo-friendly in the saddle on his picture-perfect Southern California mountain ranch had to be the last man on earth who would ever maneuver to see you get screwed. Would he?

Well, lo these many years later, much of America has indeed been screwed because Ronald Reagan had his way. He told everyone his priorities were "jobs, jobs, and jobs." He told everybody government was bad and was best done away with. Yes, he was another one of those: federal government haters who wanted nothing more than to play a leading part of that same federal government. So if I regard my dog's poo littering the backyard as a bad thing, I should make sure I roll around in it as much as possible every day, right? Makes about as much sense.

Ronald Reagan hurt a lot of people - most of whom were already hurting. He raised the concept of pennywise/pound-foolish to a high art. Cut the butter but keep the guns. You didn't need that dumb ol' safety net, now, did you? People who depended on federal assistance, whether it was Aid to Families with Dependent Children or Food Stamp programs or funding for homeless shelters or tuition supports or any other domestic supplementation to help make ends meet when the wolves were at the door, were rudely shoved out that door to fend for themselves. Here in California, the Reagan-as-Scrooge effect could be seen (and still can, to this late date) anytime you walked down a commercial sidewalk or past a public park. The homeless population mushroomed here after then-Governor Reagan cut the funding for state mental hospitals, and everyone being helped in those facilities had nowhere else to go. So they were turned out onto the street, doomed to huddle in doorways and on park benches, and in the bushes surrounding any freeway onramp. So he saved a few bucks in the short run. The decades of pain, suffering, agony, despair, and neglect we all got in return was WAY too high a price to pay. The man who professed to be a dedicated Christian pushed policies that defied Christ's teachings about how we're to treat "the least of our brethren"
every day of the week and 150-million times on Sundays. The rich got richer, and the poor - well, you know how that one ends.

Ronald Reagan hurt a lot of working people. His single smack upside the head to PATCO, the onetime union of overworked and underpaid air traffic controllers, marked the beginning of the end of the union movement. Suddenly, it became okay to trample on the worker, take away hard-won pay increases, job security, benefits and pension protections, workplace safety standards, and the right to address grievances. The very concept of unions was transformed under Reagan to something vile - a blight to the American landscape.
Never mind that unions became a necessity decades ago because of near-criminal corporate policies of greed, abuse and neglect of the employees at the bottom of the food chain.

Ronald Reagan helped accellerate the sickness of the planet with his idiotic, myopic attitudes about trees being the worst polluters of all, plus the most ungodly choice for Interior Secretary - the hapless, witless James Watt, whose reputation for foot-in-mouth disease and a storied belief that when the last tree is cut down, Jesus will come back. Ronald Reagan helped further the careers of Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush family, and, in turn, the likes of Oliver North, John Negroponte, Elliott Abrams, Roger Ailes, and any number of other world-class fiends whose influence has lived on after him to cripple the rest of us, foreign policy-wise. After all, it was Reagan who was the first in recent history to make it okay to negotiate with, even wheel-and-deal with, terrorists (Iran/Contra, anyone?).

And no, kids, Ronald Reagan alone did not end Communism. He played a role, sharing a stage with other historical giants such as Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Lech Walesa, whose contributions toward the unraveling of the Iron Curtain were just as critical (if not moreso), and deserved equal if not greater credit. The seeds of the murderous tensions between the Islamic world and the West were planted during the Reagan era.

Ronald Reagan hurt our bottom line. He made it acceptable to drive up the national debt, going deep into the hole to buy a lot of fancy toys and other boondoggles for the Pentagon, some of which helped and some of which didn't. He made it safe not to care about such annoyances as paying as you go, paying down a debt, and living within your means - especially if you were the military or the fabled military-indusrial complex which never needed the help to begin with. In the meantime, however, deficit spending became the gospel of the Economic-Responsibility Party and Reagan Red meant more than just Nancy Reagan's favorite fashion color.

Ronald Reagan hurt the free exchange of ideas. Conservative hatchet-jobbers and hate radio moguls got their first leg up on his watch, with the deregulation of broadcasting, and the dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time provisions (that meant steady employment for hundreds of thousands of us on the radio and in TV - myself included). Media owners no longer had to justify their licenses by proving they were broadcasting in the public interest, and serving their communities responsibly. Under Reagan, the pirates took over and made sure that you no longer were offered many different viewpoints. You now only heard the company line. The Walmartization of broadcasting drove the little-guy owners out of business as bigger corporate juggernauts ran them over, and bought each other out until only a small handful of moguls were left standing. Diversity was out. Accountability too. Listeners and viewers wound up being served as well as consumers would be - usually at the end of some fat-cat's fork.

And if you loved Karl Rove and his sordid, amoral Machiavellian dirty tricks, you would have adored Lee Atwater, the ruthless 1980s Republican party boss who wrote the book of record on dirty tricks (after the Watergaters were discredited - mainly because they'd broken the 12th Republican Commandment - they had the bad taste to get caught). Newt Gingrich and other vile, scheming slash-n-burn monsters got their start under Reagan's wing, and gained power after riding into national prominence on his coattails.

The GOP sees him as Saint Ronnie. They never hesitate to remind you of this as often as possible. They utter his name in the most hushed and reverential of tones. I'm surprised they haven't paid off the Pope by now to add him to the canonization list. Ronald Reagan was the best thing that ever happened to them, and the worst thing that ever happened to the rest of America. I'm glad he no longer darkens our political landscape, except in anecdotal recollection. Those Republicans vying to inherit his mantle yammer on nauseatingly about those good old days when he turned common sense and wise longterm governance on its ear, and left every available hen house in the capable supervisory paws of ravenous foxes, coyotes, and jackals. It was proof of God's mercy that Saint Ronnie never lived long enough to have to see the poisonous results of the movement he started. Even if he had lived, the ravages of Alzheimers Disease meant he'd never recognize or have to face the demons he caused to be unleashed upon our land and its people.

The Republican candidates will writhe and moan in their nonstop Reagasms until Doomsday, and beyond. Reagasms are so powerful and alluring that even Barack Obama flirted briefly and indirectly with one, although he withdrew prematurely from his assessment of Reagan as a generic change agent when he omitted the phrase that should have been the last word on the subject: "change for the worse." The name Reagan embodies all that ails America, and things definitely did change for the worse on the heels of his arrival in Washington. What perhaps his disciples really yearn for most is a return to the "good old days" before much of the country finally started waking up, and wising up. Their friends in conservative pundit circles are now lamenting how Young George has set back the Party of Ronnie by a factor of years, souring the milk for a whole generation of the young, many of whom recoil in disgust from what they've seen happen when Republicans are allowed to run amok with their lying, cheating, and smash-n-grab-onomics. During the Reagan era, we liked the messenger because he was so warm, folksy, and persuasive, and we allowed him to sing us to sleep, not caring about what he'd implement when we closed our eyes and ears and let down our guard. We went along with what he did because we trusted him, and found him so likeable - such a pleasant old gent wouldn't screw us all like that, would he? It was a sickness most of us soon got over after Dubya adopted that same sort of schtick and proceeded to run it into the ground along with whatever we had left of our money and our national reputation. As Reagan went to sleep in his elegant Simi Valley, California, gravesite, George W. Bush made sure to pound a few extra nails into his coffin.

Hopefully, we may finally have moved beyond the era when a Reagasm was enough. His followers have had their long, wild, and unfettered night of perverted passion, and it seems they're not in any hurry to rouse from it. It's the rest of us who woke up in the morning and saw the hideous results in the light of day. We don't even have any money to leave on the nightstand when we let ourselves out. But at least we can see our way to the exit.


Mary Lyon is a veteran broadcaster and five-time Golden Mike Award winner who has anchored, reported, and written for the Associated Press Radio Network, NBC Radio "The Source," and many Los Angeles-area stations including KRTH-FM/AM, KLOS-FM, KFWB-AM, and KTLA-TV, and occasional media analyst for ABC Radio News.  Mary began her career as a liberal activist with the Student Coalition for Humphrey / Muskie in 1968 and helped spearhead a regional campaign, The Power 18, to win the right to vote for 18-year-olds. She remains an advocate for liberal causes, responsibility and accountability in media, environmental education and support of the arts for children, and green living. Mary writes for,, World News Trust, and's We! Magazine. Mary is also a parenting expert, having written and illustrated the book "The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood."

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