2011/05/15

Ronald Reagan's legacy as seen by Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee puts out an, uh, interesting set of short videos that purportedly, allegedly, theoretically, tell us important facts about American history that everyone should know. Huckabee includes a segment that praises President Ronald Reagan for getting Americans fired up and enthused and believing in America again. I believe that assertion is essentially true (Witness the popularity of Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the USA,” even though the song was actually more critical than it was celebratory, it was enthusiastically played and sung as an uncomplicated and jingoistic celebration).
Of course, a truly enlightening film (And yes, I realize that the film's extremely short length makes any detailed historical examination impossible) would have covered the fact that Reagan's two terms left behind an America with an extremely poor reputation for its observation of international law, that Reagan attempted to get the extremist Judge Robert Bork onto the Supreme Court, Reagan's officials were hardly examples of uprightness and propriety:
Surely Tumulty, who was born in 1955, is old enough to remember the 20-odd top Reagan administration officials convicted of felonies in the Iran/Contra, HUD and other assorted scandals. As with Zakaria’s fond remembrance of Reagan’s benevolent foreign policy, Time [Magazine] is recalling a Reagan administration that never existed.
Reagan tromped all over the rule of law in the Iran-Contra scandal. FAIR describes Reagan's Central American policies:
Reagan's fervent support for right-wing governments in Central America was one of the defining foreign policies of his administration, and the fact that death squads associated with those governments murdered tens of thousands of civilians surely must be included in any reckoning of Reagan's successes and failures.
Reagan's stewardship of the economy was hardly any better. As the economist Paul Krugman points out:
The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.
[snip]
Eventually productivity did take off — but even the Bush administration’s own Council of Economic Advisers dates the beginning of that takeoff to 1995.
The independence of the press corps took a severe hit. From a piece where the Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch comments on Reagan's funeral in his book “Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy,”
“I was worried about that.” Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said at week’s end on CNN. “I mean, I think what you’ve had is a sort of 30-year campaign on the conservative side to say the media is liberal, and now I think you’re having another reaction from liberals who are saying, wait a minute, when we look at a week like this, a week of praise for Ronald Reagan, it is very hard to say we have a liberal media anymore.”
Hard indeed. Even the right-wing Fox News Channel presents more liberal Democrats in a normal week than a viewer saw on any of the cable channels in the second week of June 2004, in which viewers were treated to a non-stop cavalcade of right-wing stars such as Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan, each with his or her own adoring memories of the patron saint of their conservative movement, each reinforcing the headline, picture, story that Reagan had won the Cold War and restored America’s faith.
In the beginning of the Reagan campaign against the independence of the press corps, the reporter Mark Danner covers the massacre in El Mozote, El Salvador, in December 1981 and the ensuing reactions by the press corps. The Reagan Administration came down on them for their accurate, but inconvenient reporting:
Yet as an institution, their paper has closed ranks behind a reporter out on a limb, waging a little campaign to bolster his position by impugning his critics.
[snip]
Oddly missing from these paragraphs, and from the rest of that very long editorial, was any acknowledgment that the two reporters had actually seen corpses — in Guillermoprieto’s case, at least, dozens of corpses — and that Meiselas had taken photographs of those corpses. Instead, the editorial said that the two journalists “repeat interviews in which they were told that hundreds of civilians were killed in the village of Mozote,” and then said immediately afterward that Enders “later cast doubt on the reports” — as if Enders, or his representatives, had actually made it to the village, as if the kind of evidence he was purveying were no different from what were, after all, two eyewitness accounts, if not of the events themselves, then of their aftermath.
Did Reagan win the Cold War? No. The Soviet Union was very clearly suffering enormously from a poorly-organized economy. It's important to keep in mind, while reading the following accounts, that the reason the American North and South went to war in 1861 was because the agrarian economy of the South was economically incompatible with the industrial economy of the North (Slavery, was of course, the ultimate cause of the war because without slavery, the South could not have maintained an agrarian economy). Likewise, the centralized, communist economy of the Soviet Union, simply couldn't survive alongside the capitalist economy of the West.
From Russia: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress
During several distinct periods, Soviet leaders attempted to reform the economy to make the Soviet system more efficient. In 1957, for example, Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) tried to decentralize state control by eliminating many national ministries and placing responsibility for implementing plans under the control of newly created regional economic councils. These reforms produced their own inefficiencies. In 1965 Soviet prime minister Aleksey Kosygin (in office 1964-80) introduced a package of reforms that reestablished central government control but reformed prices and established new bonuses and production norms to stimulate economic productivity. Under reforms in the 1970s, Soviet leaders attempted to streamline the decision-making process by combining enterprises into associations, which received some localized decision-making authority.
Because none of these reforms challenged the fundamental notion of state control, the root cause of the inefficiencies remained. Resistance to reform was strong because central planning was heavily embedded in the Soviet economic structure. Its various elements--planned output, state ownership of property, administrative pricing, artificially established wage levels, and currency inconvertibility--were interrelated. Fundamental reforms required changing the whole system rather than one or two elements. Central planning also was heavily entrenched in the Soviet political structure. A huge bureaucracy was in place from the national to the local level in both the party and the government, and officials within that system enjoyed the many privileges of the Soviet elite class. Such vested interests yielded formidable resistance to major changes in the Soviet economic system; the Russian system, in which many of the same figures have prospered, suffers from the same handicap.
From Ronald Reagan's 30-Year Time Bombs by Robert Parry
However, a strong case can be made that the Cold War was won well before Reagan arrived in the White House. Indeed, in the 1970s, it was a common perception in the U.S. intelligence community that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was winding down, largely because the Soviet economic model had lost the technological race with the West.
That was the view of many Kremlinologists in the CIA’s analytical division. Also, I was told by a senior CIA’s operations official that some of the CIA’s best spies inside the Soviet hierarchy supported the view that the Soviet Union was headed toward collapse, not surging toward world supremacy, as Reagan and his foreign policy team insisted in the early 1980s.
The problem with the history produced by the Reagan Administration is that America has never really recovered from much of the evil that Reagan and his people did. The press corps never fully recovered from the discipline that the Reagan Administration imposed on it. The left blogosphere has certainly helped to restore some independence to the general field of reporting, but as Rachel Maddow observed, the Sunday talk shows, right after the “biggest story in American politics right now (The killing of Osama bin Laden),” featured a line-up of... Bush Administration officials! The Sunday talk shows, which apparently represent what all the serious people are talking about, featured what the last administration thought of what the new administration (Which had been in office for over 28 months) had accomplished.

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