ON JUNE 5, a very
old man finally passed on, not violently and not in pain, but from the inevitable onset of age and disease, after having spent
his last years in the lap of luxury receiving the best medical care available to any one.
The man in question
was not the sort of good, kindly old man who had made no enemies who many might be expected to grieve for even in circumstances
so fortunate. Quite the opposite. A
former head of state, he had overseen a particularly violent turn in the policies of the most powerful empire in the history
of the world. A pathological liar, he broke the law to sell weapons to sworn enemies and conceal the act from his public and
from the highest elected body in the land. He used the funds from those sales to subsidize the actions of vicious terrorism
against a diplomatically non-aligned, democratically elected government that displeased him, and was condemned by the World Court for war crimes for mining the harbors of that nation. All in all, he ordered or had a hand
in the killings of thousands of soldiers and civilians around the world.
A life-long, notorious
and unrepentant bribe-taker who accepted all manner of expensive personal favors from those with a stake in his political
decisions, he bankrupted his country buying worthless and redundant weapons systems and paid for it all by cutting social
services to the most desperately poor residents of his society. The man in question,
of course, was Ronald Reagan, and since he died a torrent of grief for him and tribute to his many great deeds has dominated
the radio and television airwaves and filled the pages of mainstream newspapers.
The New York
Times memorialized him as the very personification of “old-time values.” Here
in Michigan, Governor Jennifer Granholm heaped praise on Reagan’s
“optimistic vision” and “ability to inspire the people to great things.” President Bush praised him in terms that might sound mildly exaggerated if applied to the likes of Abraham
Lincoln, and his nominal “opposition candidate” John Kerry suspended all campaigning for five days in mourning
for, in his words, the “great man.” In his official statement on
the matter, Kerry gushed that Americans from “sea to shining sea” should “bow their heads in gratitude”
that the “great man” left an “indelible mark on the nation.”
TO BE SURE, he did
leave an “indelible mark.” One of Reagan’s many lasting contributions
was the first in a series of “free trade” agreements of the sort that have weakened labor, health, safety and
environmental standards, and resulted in massive job loss. Doubtless laid-off
industrial workers working non-union, service industry jobs as a result of the “Gipper’s” advances in this
area will echo Kerry’s sentiments, not to mention the thousands of air traffic controllers he fired (in what the New
York Times memorialized as a “bold move”) for daring to go out on strike.
Mention must also
be made of his administration’s ruthless prosecution of his “war on drugs,” a “war” that of
course has yet to lead to any decrease in actual use of banned narcotics but that led to an explosion in the rates of imprisonment
in the 1980s, mostly of the very poor and disproportionately of Blacks and Chicanos, and mostly for non-violent crimes. Many inmates of notoriously humane and comfortable correctional facilities serving
life sentences for “conspiracy to deliver cocaine” may doubtless be bowing their heads in gratitude for the indelible
mark even at this very moment.
Similarly with refugees
from Latin American countries who came to the United States to escape the “anti-communist” death squads sponsored
by the U.S. government when Reagan was at its head. Certainly, the family members of the 241 U.S. Marines who Reagan sent
to their deaths as part of his bloody colonialist efforts to (as he put it in the 1980 election) “make America stand
tall again” will be bowing their heads as well. Certainly, the widows and
orphans of the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, should be bowing their heads in gratitude at the “indelible
mark” left on their own lives by the policies of the man who oversaw massive covert operations in Afghanistan in the
1980s, arming and training Osama bin Laden and his cohorts for the purposes of waging “holy war” against the USSR.
For some strange
reason, the obituary that filled several whole pages of the New York Times failed to touch on that point, just as most of
the testimonials of grief and tribute which filled the corporate-owned mass media to overflowing have chosen to leave out
or brush past Reagan’s own most notorious act of grieving for the martyred dead.
When President of
the United States, on an official visit to Germany, Reagan chose for reasons best known to himself (while declining to visit
the sites of any death camps) to lay a wreath of flowers at the cemetery of 49 Waffen SS stormtroopers at Bitburg,
taking the opportunity to point out that Hitler’s most ideologically zealous inner core of killers “were victims
Perhaps the man
who ordered the deaths of thousands in order to battle the pernicious influence of “godless Communism” felt a
sense of kinship with the men interred there, who had, after all, dedicated themselves to the same goal, inspired by similarly
rousing nationalistic appeals to make the fatherland “stand tall again.” Physically,
he will be buried in the United States, but spiritually he rests at Bitburg.
THE QUESTION THAT
begs asking is why the New York Times no less than Fox News, Granholm and Kerry no less than Michigan GOP head Betsy
DeVos and Bush, feel such a profound sense of kinship with “the great man” who laid that wreath. Superficially,
this seems odd. It would seem that for any one concerned as such ruling-class figures are liable to be, with the empire’s
“prestige,” Reagan would be an almost uniquely embarrassing presidential figurehead.
For one thing, he
was an almost pathological liar, practiced in the skills of deception from an early age. Before he was ever an actor, he was
a sportscaster known for his remarkably captivating blow-by-blow accounts of baseball games.
The little redheaded
boy who managed to catch the ball in the stands, the roar of the crowd. Audiences loved it. The thing about it was, of course,
that Reagan never attended the games he was reporting on, but stayed far away in the radio station the whole time, having
the developments telegraphed to him and making up most of the details. Once, when the wire went dead, he narrated what would
have been the longest series of foul balls in history until it came back up. This is not a personal smear from his detractors,
but a favorite story of Reagan himself, which he told and retold for its sentimental value.
While these came
in handy when he secretly sold arms to Iran to subsidize terrorist operations against the democratically elected government
of Nicaragua, he was constantly lying when he had little to gain from it, more or less out of habit or desire to appeal to
whomever he was talking.
In a 1983 meeting
with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Reagan (who had spent the war in Hollywood doing training movies for the Army) claimed to have been present at the liberation
of the death camps at the end of WWII.
not forget, this was the towering intellect that thought that ketchup should be considered a “vegetable” for school
was, above all, the representative of a major turn in the policies of the ruling class of corporate owners.
STARTING IN THE
1930s, they had felt the need to make important concessions to those at the bottom of society. The great symbol of this policy
was Franklin D. Roosevelt, just as Reagan was the great symbol of its reversal. Roosevelt is often portrayed (both by liberal Democrats who admire him and by Reaganites who see
him as na´ve) as a man motivated by humanitarian compassion for the suffering of the poor and downtrodden.
In point of fact,
Roosevelt himself was always quite open and public about his real motivations. When he first achieved the presidency in 1932,
his backers were very, very worried by the shift in consciousness from below resulting from the massive poverty, misery and
unemployment that accompanied the economic crash. In an interview with the New York Graphic during that campaign, Roosevelt recited a conversation with “an old friend who runs a great western
railroad. ‘Fred,’ I asked him, ‘what are the people talking about out there? ‘Frank,’ he replied,
‘I’m sorry to say the men out here are talking revolution.’” Driven by that understanding, the capitalist
class as a whole, however much some of its individual members may have grumbled about it and resented FDR, much the same way
that people resent the dentist even as they schedule appointments, was willing to make important concessions from above to
avoid having to have their fortunes expropriated entirely from below.
This was, after
all, the same period that saw some of the fiercest episodes of class struggle in American history, like the great Flint sit-down
strike of 1936, where factories were temporarily seized by those who worked them, it took pitched battles to get food to the
strikers inside and armed guards were stationed at the entrances to the tunnels leading up to the plants. The fears that Fred
confessed to Frank were hardly delusions.
In this context,
“short-term demands” were quite literally lifted from the campaign platform of Socialist Party presidential candidate
Norman Thomas and incorporated (in a watered-down form) into the legislative agenda of Roosevelt, as the latter established
a social safety net against the worst ravages of poverty and opened the purse strings to public works programs to provide
work and income to otherwise angry and restless unemployed workers.
Of course, for Thomas,
these were steps in the direction of the qualitative transformation of American society, not sops to help co-opt resistance
to the status quo.
While later in life
he capitulated to important parts of Roosevelt’s politics,
at the time he understood this.
When a friend remarked
that at least Roosevelt was carrying out his platform, Thomas replied bitterly
that it was being “carried out on a stretcher.”
Even after the immediate
danger Fred and Frank had conferred about had largely passed, the bipartisan consensus for decades was that, to one extent
or another, it would be wise to keep everyone happy by maintaining important aspects of the Rooseveltian “welfare state.”
Indeed, when conservative
ideologue Barry Goldwater managed to win the Republican nomination in 1964 on a platform of prematurely Reaganite opposition
to all of this, the Republican establishment largely abandoned him.
THE SOCIAL TURMOIL
of the 1960s, as the inner cities exploded in long-suppressed rage against racism, poverty and oppression, social change movements
grew seemingly out of thin air and resistance to the draft and internal resistance by GIs played a critical role in ending
the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, all at least temporarily cemented this consensus.
By the time the
Reagan presidency rolled around, however, all of this had long since passed.
The militant unions
of the 1930s and been turned into neutered, bureaucratized shadows of their former selves that could be counted on to mount
no serious resistance to the reversal of earlier concessions and the export of American jobs to areas of the “Third
World,” free from inconveniences like elections, unions and the minimum wage.
The radical movements
of the 1960s and early-1970s had largely been destroyed by a combination of cooptation into the Democratic Party, concessions
such as the end of the military draft, and outright government repression such as the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program
and the assassinations of prominent Black Panthers.
The left was mostly
weakened, disoriented and incapable of causing any problems that the establishment couldn’t handle.
There was little
reason to maintain large scale concessions to those at the bottom, and the Empire’s effectiveness was still hampered
by what Norman Podhoretz calls the “sickly inhibitions against the use of military force” accrued in the Vietnam
In this dramatically
changed context, Reagan was the man of the hour.
With whatever charm
and charisma he had developed in his career as a second-rate actor, he was fit to be something like a spokesman for an ideology
of renewed zeal in the Cold War “struggle of good against evil,” and a pseudo-individualistic “anti-government”
stance that justified redistribution of wealth from the bottom up.
With his expertise
at lying and his soothing, grandfatherly persona, he was the ideal front man for attacks on the economic interests of most
of the population and for crimes against humanity abroad, such as his brutal “preemptive” invasion of the tiny
and defenseless nation of Grenada for the crime of (horror upon horrors) building an airport.
After all, one can’t
rule out the possibility that the Soviet Union could have
used that airport to launch air strikes against the United States!
THE CAPITALIST MEDIA
mourns Ronald Reagan because he is the hero of the segment of society that owns the media. He made their empire “stand
tall again,” with mountains of corpses abroad and vast reserves of poverty and misery at home to show for it.
economic and military policies has set the bipartisan agenda has been followed by the representatives of both corporate-funded
parties for the last twenty four years. One can put it like this: Reagan is not
so much dead as undead, like a vampire who walks at night after ceasing to draw breath.
His body may be dead, but his policies continue to terrorize the world.
The greatest political
imperative at this point history is to build a democratic socialist alternative to the bipartisan Reaganite consensus, capable
of collectively organizing his victims to drive a stake through the old bastard’s heart.