Ronald "Shotgun Wedding" Reagan

A study in cognitive dissonance

All links were good when this was originally written, in October of 2003.

The question isn't so much why dittoheads like Ronald Reagan, the question is why do they love him so slavishly?

Ronald Reagan had major character flaws: Our only divorced president (on the grounds of "mental cruelty"), forced to marry a pregnant Nancy in a shotgun wedding, was greatly influenced by astrology in events, senility by 1983, surrounded by corruption and incompetence and found guilty of "failing to meet presidential obligations" (bottom of link), and investigated for being a Communist in 1947.

Ronald Reagan was not a good president: Campaigned for 16 years, since his Goldwater acceptance speech and won in 1980 on a balanced budget platform, yet the first thing he did was massively increase the deficit, and for wholly political reasons said his Budget Director. This is the biggest flip-flop in US political history, and it drove conservatives crazy. The corruption in his SAG term of office was reflected in massive corruption in his presidential terms (some attribution here and here and... Indeed, it's worse than reported, going so far as to terrorize church officials for their politics and having the CIA illegally infiltrate church sanctuaries. He didn't defeat "communism". The Soviet Union was less than a quarter the number of people that remain under communist regimes. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a major victory for the people in Russia and the repressed states, but Reagan's sabre-rattling kept it alive several years after it was obviously dead. Star Wars not the reason: There was no increase in the Soviet Union's military spending in response to Reagan's build-up. He screwed up at Reykjavik, proposing a deal to completely eliminate US and Soviet nukes, then backing off when it looked like Gorby would accept. Credit should go to Carter for setting exactly the right policy with a selected arms build-up, in Afghanistan, and with Solidarity. As we've seen since, the Soviet Union wasn't much of an empire and most of the people in it aren't particularly evil. Perhaps if he hadn't fired the air traffic controllers, there would have been more experienced people who would raise the alarm faster on 9/11.

He was all too willing to sell out. As mentioned above, he was investigated by Hoover for Communist leanings. Hoover scared him, but not straight. During the height of the McCarthy Witch Hunts, Reagan was head of the Screen Actors Guild. The basic result of the "investigation": No important spies were caught, and a bunch of actors' and writers' careers were ruined. Why in hell did the paranoid right go after Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte when Kim Philby was still at large? HUAC was one of the prime reasons more countries went commie: Clearly, any country that could do that to its citizens was the worse of the two. The main effect here in the states, aside from tightening a lot of sphincters, was to remove most of the Jews from power in Hollywood. More Beach Blanket Bingo and less Spartacus and Roman Holiday.

So... why Reagan? Why not Eisenhower? True, he wimped out when McCarthy and co. went after the real hero in the fight against communism, Gen. George C. Marshall. On the other hand, he ended 20 years of Democratic control of the White House and propelled the career of Richard Nixon. He took over from the French in Vietnam, etc. Why not Nixon? Oh yeah, he was a sleazy crook and even the right can't stand him. Why not Poppy Bush, the president when the SU dissolved and Eastern Europe was released, who successfully fought the Gulf War? But Reagan made the few very wealthy people more wealthy, quadrupling the number of billionaires by 1987. The Trickle Down Theory didn't, and the average Joe and Jane didn't do all that well... but they don't give thousands in campaign funds.

Cognitive Dissonance is the theory that people can't hold two competing ideas at the same time. When presented with two completely different views of reality, they'll pick one... and defend that one far more than it really deserves. In this case, Reagan had spend 16 years excoriating Republicans and Democrats alike if they even ran a deficit. This wasn't a plank in his platform, it was his main campaign theme. For him to completely flip-flop on the deficit issue so completely must have done odd things to the heads of the Republican party. On one hand, the guy broke his main campaign promise. On the other hand, they were making money hand over fist. On one hand, a guy who didn't go to church during his presidency replaced the devout Born Again Jimmy Carter. On the other hand, he kept talking about "family values" as if it meant something to him. On one hand, Reagan never went overseas during WWII, spending his time in uniform making films for the army. On the other hand, he lied so smoothly about his participation in the war, freely putting himself in war movie scenarios. On hand, he was obviously senile at the end of his first term. On the other hand, he read his cue cards well and played the part of president better than any real president. On one hand, he stood up to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he trained and funded Osama bin Laden and sent an autographed bible to Ayatollah Khomeini. On one hand, he projected honesty and integrity. On the other hand, his administration was incredibly corrupt and incompetent. On one hand, Grenada. On the other hand, Lebanon.

Then there was that whole Iran-Contra thing. Traitors to the Constitution working out of the White House, Reagan giving photo ops to people who bought arms for terrorists fighting a democracy. And there was the massive HUD scandal that gets barely a mention these days. Republicans love this stuff. Republicans are soft on crime... when it's theirs.

When faced with these contradictions, no conservative will admit to himself that he was wrong. He'll look at Reagan and the Reagan presidency through rose-colored glasses, remembering a past that didn't exist and a man that never was. They'll kiss his ass from now 'till doomsday because they can't handle the truth, and will lie that much louder.

By all accounts, The Reagans is favorable to Ronnie and Nancy. It shows him resolute in the face of internal criticism, credits him with many accomplishments, etc. The hue and cry over the movie was by people who hadn't seen it. No such criticism was leveled again DC 9/11, which lied about Bush, or Primary Colors, the unflattering portrayal of a Clinton-like president. No, the neocons just couldn't stand a piece that wasn't pure Soviet-style propaganda. Sphincters tight, they went after CBS. CBS caved, just like they caved 30 years earlier over The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (And later caved when they finally told the truth about George W. Bush going AWOL from the National Guard).

Even more than with Bush Lite, being armed with the facts about Reagan just doesn't sway an arch conservative. They've lived with the lie for decades, spending hours and hours listening to Rush and other hatemongers. They've spent more time praising Reagan than they have making love to their spouse. It may be too late for their redemption; it's not too late for ours.

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