Communicator, My Ass
me while I barf. I’m in no mood to join the joyful eulogies
upon the passing of Ronald Reagan—remembrances that prove,
once again, the staggering size of our country’s memory hole.
I missed the 1960s. I grew up in Middle America, with Watergate,
barely, and the benign buffoonery of Presidents Ford and Carter.
When Reagan was elected president, it was an inexplicable,
savage turn for a country that I’d never realized was capable
of such things.
It’s not just that George W. Bush would have been impossible
without Reagan. The presidency of Reagan himself was so bad,
on so many levels, that as young adults a sizable number of
us could only sputter in impotent rage, a rage summed up nicely
by the Crucifucks song “Hinckley Had a Vision.” It simply
made no sense that an entire country could be run by sinister
thugs, all because its spokesperson was a washed-up actor
with the professional training to deliver the most ridiculous,
venal lies with a calming “Great Communicator” demeanor.
Great Communicator, my ass. Tens of thousands of us died of
AIDS on his watch, and he never even once mentioned the word.
He also refused to adequately fund AIDS research—a critical
delay that, we now know, could have saved countless lives.
We seem to have forgotten that now.
We’ve also forgotten the corruption: not just the Constitution-shredding
outrage of the Iran-Contra scandal, but a modern record for
the number of criminally indicted officials.
It was the Great Communicator whose era gave us the term,
and scourge, of homelessness. It was Reagan who launched an
illegal war in Nicaragua, Reagan who unleashed and praised
Guatemala’s genocide and El Salvador’s death squads. Reagan
whose tax cuts and funding choices launched a class war at
home, a class war still being waged, successfully, by many
of the same officials, 20 years later.
And, excuse me, but Ronald Reagan did not end communism: Hundreds
of thousands of courageous people, in Moscow and Gdansk and
Prague and across the communist bloc, deserve the credit for
risking their lives to bring down tyrannical governments,
often with nothing more than the willingness to sacrifice
their own bodies. They risked everything. Reagan risked nothing
but an inadvertent record deficit it took a decade and a Democratic
president to heal.
To honor Reagan as the triumphant Cold Warrior, without even
mentioning the courage of all those ordinary people, is an
insult of staggering proportions. Ronald Reagan had a historic
meltdown of an empire happen during his tenure; he was no
more responsible for it than George W. Bush was responsible
for another, less positive cataclysm in 2001. Less, even.
At least the CIA knew something like 9/11 was in the works.
They had no idea the Iron Curtain would collapse.
Last week, I mourned the passing of David Dellinger, a contemporary
of Reagan’s who exemplified, far better than Ronnie ever could,
courage and integrity and compassion. Dellinger spent his
adult life speaking truth to power; Reagan spent his making
things up for an audience. One was an apostle of selfless
love; the other presided over the Gimme Decade.
Not all of us spent that decade obsessing over our investments
and stepping over the homeless. For much of my 20s, I helped
organize protests of hundreds of thousands of people on the
Mall and at the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington, D.C.
Most of us are still around. Most of us remember the profound
sense of shock as we watched our country become a place we
didn’t recognize, led by a genial, seemingly clueless man
with an agenda that was on many levels simply evil.
Sound familiar? Forget the obituaries; I can hardly wait to
unseat Ronald Reagan’s heir in November.