Reagan, the moderate?

May 11, 2007 | By | 13 Replies More

Reason’s review of a new book, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History, by John Patrick Diggins makes a strong case that Reagan was no George W. Bush.  The review was well-written and persuasive on several fronts.

Diggins sets out to write an intellectual biography not just of Reagan but of his times, with special attention to the neocons who always urged the president to take a firmer line against the Soviet Union. The hawks in Reagan’s administration assured him he couldn’t reason with communists. One adviser, the historian Richard Pipes, told Reagan the Russian mind worked in ways fundamentally different from our own. The peasant mentality of the Russian muzhik, Pipes had written in 1977, held “that cunning and coercion alone ensured survival: one employed cunning when weak, and cunning coupled with coercion when strong. Not to use force when one had it indicated weakness.” Reagan disagreed. Ignoring the advice of hard-liners like Pipes and the neoconservative strategist Richard Perle, Reagan preferred jaw-jaw to war-war. “We must and will engage the Soviets in a dialogue as serious and constructive as possible,” he insisted in a 1984 address.

A nuclear close call in 1983, when Soviet early-warning systems wrongly reported American missiles on the horizon and nearly triggered a Russian retaliatory strike, reinforced for Reagan the imperative of building trust with the enemy. After that incident, “I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us,” Reagan later wrote in his memoirs. Negotiation was possible, regardless of what the hard-line “experts” said.

It was 1980 when I voted in my first presidential election. I voted for Reagan, at a time when he ran against a man for whom I now have much greater respect, Jimmie Carter.  I was often disappointed by Reagan as his presidency played out.   On the other hand, I find it incredible that admirers of George W. Bush often put Reagan on a pedastal, as though George W. Bush is a Reagan clone.  Yes, they both opposed abortion and they both invoked rhetoric that America needed to be strong militarily.  They both spoke of individual responsibility.  This book review makes it clear, however, that Reagan didn’t have a thirst for reckless military adventures.  Further, Reagan did believe in the power of diplomacy.  Reagan lacked Bush’s xenophobia, religious zealotry and parochial thinking.  In fact, I am absolutely convinced that had Ronald Reagan been part of the current Bush Administration, they would have had such differences that Reagan would have been fired by George W. Bush. 

Reagan is not on any pedastal for me, but I don’t despise him, as I do George W. Bush.

I’ve followed Reason over the years, because of its good non-partisan writing.  Tonight, Bill Moyers’ Journal featured an lively interview with the editor of Reason, Nick Gillespie.  I highly recommend viewing it when the video is made available on the PBS site.


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Category: History, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

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  1. Ben says:

    I'm glad you saw the Moyers last night. The ENTIRE show was enlightening to me…

    BILL MOYERS: I heard Condoleezza Rice say, if we leave, our credibility will suffer. If we leave, the dominos will fall. If we leave, we'll have to fight them here.

    MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, first of all, we can't stay there forever. It's impossible. 74 percent to 80 percent of all Iraqis of all factions want the United States to withdraw.

    BILL MOYERS: And just this week, although it got very little attention in the American press, over half of the members of the Iraqi parliament asked us to leave. Give us a timetable. They said, we want the occupation to end.

    MARILYN B. YOUNG: Exactly. Nobody wants that occupation. Now, the United States cannot confer legitimacy on an Iraqi government. That's not possible. It's quite right that the Iraqis have to gain legitimacy for themselves. But they can't do it so long as there's an occupation.


    MARILYN B. YOUNG: The very fact of an occupation compromises the legitimacy. They're all locked up there together in the green zone. Condoleezza Rice says, you ask anybody in the region and they say please, don't leave. Well, where exactly is she walking around in the region? In Iraq, she's only walking in the green zone.

    (Rhetorical) Question: How does Bill Moyers *afford* to get all the wonderful guests which he does? Does he pay them the same amount they get to go on Letterman and Leno? Or do they respect his unbiased journalism and strong reputation so much that they feel they are obligated to appear and are thus reimbursed?

    Here is another recent episode…….

    -Interview with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show

    -Blogging for Truth

    -Bill Moyers Remembers David Halberstam

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another take on Reagan, this one by Paul Krugman:

    But Republicans shouldn't cry for Ronald Reagan; the truth is, he never left them. There's no need to reclaim the Reagan legacy: Mr. Bush is what Mr. Reagan would have been given the opportunity.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    Reagan started his campaign in the birthplace of the KKK for a reason. Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. More of Nixon's "Southern strategy" to pander to racism and separatism in the South for votes.

    Reagan's administration was fraught with corruption on a scale that dwarfs W's debacles.

    Reagan got us into war in Grenada when his poll numbers were down because he saw how the Falklands helped Maggie Thatcher.

    Reagan had psychotic murderers working out of the OEB bombing innocent mothers, infants and the unborn in Nicaragua using contract killers paid for by money from arms deals with Iran while Iran supported Hezbollah in murdering 219 Marines in Beruit. Reagan tucked his tail between his legs and ran out of Lebanon, giving spawn to the suicide attacks against the US which culminated in 9/11.

    Reagan claimed he could cut taxes, triple defense spending and balance the budget. It took Clinton and the Democrats to clkean up that mess which W immediately trashed all over again on an even greater scale of reverse Robin Hood, robbing the middle class and the poor to make the already too rich even more comfortable.

    It was not Ronald Reagan which brought down the Berlin Wall but, the consistent pressure upon the Soviet Union for human rights by Pope John Paul II and President Jimmy Carter which loosened emigration for dissidents and created a wave of rising expectations in the USSR and Warsaw Pact nations which forced freedom upon the leadership rather than slaughter of their populations on a huge scale.

    We got more racism, more debt, more disparity between the rich and poor, less of a middle class and more corruption and more death by proxy from Ronald Reagan then any president until George W. Bush.

    Sheeesh, I guess George W. Bush is Ronald Reagan if he had the opportunity. It's certain they both had no connection to reality in their Presidencies. It remains to be seen upon an autopsy if Bush has the excuse of Alzheimers for his perfidies.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Yes, Reagan is considered a moderate by many people today, but that is because America itself has swung so far to the right that Reagan's right-wing policies of 1980 are no longer considered right-wing. One good example is the one Erich mentioned: Reagan rejected the neo-con argument, whereas George W. has embraced it…or fell for it, if you consider that Bush is more incompetent than Reagan was with his Alzheimer's. Likewise, today's corporate-controlled media — deeply conservative by any objective measure — is now called "liberal" by hard-core Bush supporters, again because Bushites are so far to the right that they consider anyone who doesn't goosestep to W's moronic speeches to be an America-hating terrorist supporter. "You're either with us or against us," they scream, in their paranoid, delusional rage, as if they, alone, know all the answers. They don't, of course, but that doesn't stop them from making the claim, especially when so many of the Democrats they are up against are such patsies.

    I can think of two reasons why America has swung to the right since 1980. One is the flood of lies that has poured out of the GOP propaganda machine. Their platform consists of convincing America of two Big Fat Lies: 1) global terrorism is a gigantic threat to America, even bigger than was the Soviet Union; and 2) Republicans are the only people who can save America from this threat. It's bullsh*t, of course, but it worked for them, and that's why they used it.

    The second reason for America's shift is probably the aging population. Baby Boomers, despite being anti-establishment hippies forty years ago, are now entering their retirement years, and it's a good bet that many of them have moved their political beliefs to the right. America's aging demographic would also explain the increase in religious membership — a major factor in the past two elections: people tend to become more religious when they begin to see their own death on the horizon.

    Time will tell whether America continues its rightward swing, but recent elections suggest that the nation has had its fill of neo-con politics and is ready to swing back toward the center. Today's center, perhaps, not the one of Reagan's time, but at least it would be a move in the right direction.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Christopher Hitchen on Ronald Reagan:

    "Some of us on the left had also been very glad indeed to see the end of the Russian empire and the Cold War. But nothing could make me forget what the Reagan years had actually been like."

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a compact summary of Ronald Reagan's accomplishments and "accomplishments," as his 100 birthday approaches, from Politics Daily. Here's an excerpt:

    "The Reagan administration routinely made common cause with tyrants. It got cozy with the fascist, anti-Semitic, and torture-fancying generals of the Argentine junta and backed human-rights abusing governments throughout Latin America. The administration tried to cover up a massive massacre of civilians in El Salvador, because it was backing the rightwing military there. It resisted efforts to oppose and isolate the racist leaders of apartheid South Africa, instead opting for "constructive engagement" with the white minority government of Pretoria. It enthusiastically endorsed the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, with Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1981 toasting Marcos, "we love your adherence to democratic principles and the democratic process." (Five years later, when a popular uprising threatened Marcos, the Reagan administration did cut him loose.) Much of this despot-coddling was done in the name of anti-communism, revealing that Reagan and his crew had a rather narrow and situational approach to championing freedom and democracy.

    — Its crusade against communism led the Reagan administration to support a not-too-secret secret war in Central America, aiding the Nicaraguan contras fighting against the socialist government of Nicaragua."

  7. Mike M. says:

    President Ronald Reagan belongs in the Serial Killer Hall of Fame, along with most modern US presidents. If Charles Manson (who never murdered anyone by his own hand, but instructed others to kill innocent people for him and his "greater cause") is considered a serial killer, then by the same standards the label fits Ronald Reagan perfectly.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    More on Ronald Reagan, this excerpt by Robert Borosage at Huffpo:

    Deregulation gutted consumer protection, environmental protection, workplace safety and the right to organize under Reagan. It led to many scandals that made his administration one of the most corrupt in history, with a record 138 officials investigated, indicted or convicted. But the biggest change was deregulation of banking, which led to successive financial wildings and crashes that have cost taxpayers literally trillions. The first was the Savings and Loan debacle that followed on Reagan's reforms that empowered banksters to gamble with other people's money, with their losses guaranteed by the federal government.

  9. MikeFitz17 says:

    I, too, am cringing at the tsunami of celebratory narratives that will crash through the media with the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth.

    I know I will recoil when I hear the robotic pronouncements from media heavyweights that Reagan was one of America's greatest presidents, on the same plane as Washington and Lincoln.

    The upcoming hagiography will clash with my still vivid memories of the Reagan era: the scandals, the screw-ups, the Oval Office astrologer, the times The Gipper went off script and joked about bombing Russia or claimed that trees caused pollution or, most tellingly, admitted that "Facts are stupid things."

    I remember the jingoism and the idiotic campaign slogans — "It's morning in America" — and the orgy of military spending, with billions wasted on projects like "Star Wars." A foreign policy based on lies and arrogance, and fueled by more of the same. The utter indifference to civil rights and the threat of HIV and AIDS.

    Every time some conservative on TV proclaims Reagan one of the best presidents, I feel a jarring sense of cognitive dissonance. One of the best? Huh? For me, Reagan will always rank as one of the worst.

    That's because one the most pernicious aspects of the Reagan legacy was his success in selling the notion that too much government was the biggest threat to Americans, and therefore the less government the better.

    This philosophy is summed up in one of Reagan's favorite lines: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

    So, to drive his point home, Reagan and his underlings stuffed the cabinet departments they hated most — HUD, the EPA, and the departments of Labor, Education and Interior — with crooks and hucksters; industry lobbyists, shills, and a long roster of nitwits. He gutted the enforcement divisions of regulatory agencies, declared war on unions and worker rights and applauded big business at nearly every turn.

    Reagan's animosity toward the federal government (except the Dept. of Defense, of course) became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reagan could show big government was a failure by doing all he could to ensure it failed.

    In sum, Reagan was a disaster for America, and he did much to set the stage for Dubya, an even bigger disaster.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    "People mostly associate Reagan with recovery from a lousy economy, they associate him with the fall of the Iron Curtain, and they associate him with rebuilding America's prestige in the world. Maybe this is right, maybe it's not, but it's pretty understandable. Generally speaking, even decades later presidents are mostly judged by how they did and how things were going during their last year in office."

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    Rachel Maddow sums up why Ronald Reagan would have been kicked out of the republican party.

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Republicans love Jesus, even though they are flummoxed by his commandments that we feed the poor and heal the sick without condition. # 2 on the Republican list of heroes has to be Ronald Reagan, but Reagan also did more than a few things that would get him kicked out of the modern day Republican Party:

    1. Paved the way for Obamacare
    2. Amnesty for undocumented immigrants
    3. Successfully pushed for an assault weapons ban
    4. Grew the federal government, big time\
    5. Dealt with Russia to build a world free of nuclear weapons
    6. Wanted to make millionaires pay more in taxes
    7. Passed environmental regulations that are now being used to fight climate change

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