Some cynics say that Heaven’s newest sunbeam, Ronald Reagan, was called "The Great Communicator" because he delivered his innumerable lies in words of one syllable. But this is just a typically vicious liberal canard.
For Reagan truly was a great communicator, though not with words – or with facts, which he once called "stupid things." No, his genius lay in the manipulation of symbols to convey powerful messages that could no longer be voiced openly in polite society – messages of hate, envy, fear and violence.
Reagan officially launched his successful 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia – not the Quaker-founded "city of brotherly love" in Pennsylvania, but a small town in the piney swamps of Mississippi, where three young civil rights workers had been brutally murdered by local officials in 1964 for the heinous crime of registering black people to vote. This was the famous "Mississippi Burning" case, a stark symbol of the era of violent race-hatred and government-sanctioned oppression. The decades-long struggle to bring full constitutional liberty into this system was fiercely resisted under the rubric of "states’ rights" – a codeword for the preservation of white privilege and black subjugation. Every Southerner raised in that system (such as yours truly) understood this secret language of public bigots.
To win in the South – and to counterbalance the heavy black vote for Democrats in large cities across the country – Republican elitists adopted this ugly, divisive code. Their deliberate stirring of base emotions was also aimed at preventing working-class whites from making common cause with blacks and other minorities against the elite’s systematic destruction of Franklin Roosevelt’s "New Deal" social contract, which had placed a few mild restraints on the worst excesses of corporate greed.
Reagan, a long-time shill for corporate sugar-daddies, was a master at playing the race-card game on their behalf. Of course, he couldn’t actually come out and say, "We’re gonna put these darkies back in their place." But he didn’t have to. Instead, he chose to stage the symbolic kick-off of his campaign in the symbolic city of Philadelphia, where – to make his intent unmistakably clear – he declared in the symbolic language of race-hatred: "I believe in states’ rights." This was a great communication indeed: Reagan carried every Southern state but one – against a Southerner, the tepid New Dealer, Jimmy Carter.
And he began as he meant to go on. Once in power, Reagan slashed civil rights protections and supported the use of public money for private "religious" colleges that discriminated against blacks. He decimated housing, health, education and economic development programs for the poor. He helped flood the nation’s ghettos with cheap cocaine through his criminal Iran-Contra scam, where the CIA countenanced – and sometimes facilitated – drug-running by the Central American ganglords that Reagan employed to funnel illegal arms to his terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua – as the CIA itself admitted in 1998, Consortiumnews.com reports
Reagan then championed draconian drug laws and "mandatory sentencing" rules that transformed the American justice system into a vast, draconian gulag-state that imprisons more people than any nation on earth. When Reagan took office, there were approximately 300,000 people in prison; when he left, the figure was 800,000. Now, under his ideological soulmate, George W. Bush, the number has topped 2 million, Reuters reports. Incredibly, one in every 75 American men is now incarcerated; 68 percent of these are racial minorities.
But we don’t mean to imply that Reagan was personally a racist. No, his toxic legacy shadows every race, creed, color and nationality. His crimeful enterprises at home and abroad – all of them smothered in the symbolic and cynical language of flag, family, faith and freedom – set the stage for today’s lawless, murderous Bush-bin Laden world.
In Afghanistan, Reagan armed and trained hordes of Islamic extremists in terror tactics, and schooled their children in unrelenting hatred of infidels. In fact, the Taliban adopted the U.S.-written jihadi texbooks as their own; al Qaeda’s supporters in Pakistan are still using them today. Osama bin Laden was a prime beneficiary of Reagan’s unholy Afghan alliance with the sinister intelligence services of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Communist China, MSNBC reports. This lunatic policy of arming virulent fanatics was accelerated even though the CIA and other intelligence agencies reported that a jihadi triumph over the Soviet-backed Afghan regime – for all its faults – would backfire.
Reagan also embraced Saddam Hussein, ignored his brutal domestic repression, gave him U.S. military intelligence to help coordinate his attacks on Iran, including assaults with chemical weapons. Reagan even approved the sale of anthrax, West Nile virus and other poisons to Baghdad. The Iran-Iraq War, with its vicious atrocities and million fatalities, was kept stoked by Reagan’s cyncial support of both sides.
Reagan willingly abetted the murder of countless thousands of innocent people throughout Central America, killed at the hands of American-trained death squads and military units – more than 200,000 civilians murdered in Guatemala alone, as Consortiumnews.com reports in chilling detail. Many more were tortured and raped by U.S. proxies and CIA operatives – all this with the connivance of top Reagan officials, who lied to Congress about the atrocities. One of these liars, Elliot Abrams, was convicted of perjury; pardoned by George Bush I, he now directs Middle East policy for George Bush II.
In 1980, candidate Reagan and his running mate, Bush I, committed treason by bargaining with Iran’s extremist mullahs to prevent the release of American hostages before the election: a dirty deal confirmed by, among others, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who as president of Iran in 1980 had full knowledge of the negotiations, and former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. At the request of Congressional investigators probing the Iran-Contra conspiracy, Stepashin, then head of the Supreme Soviet’s Defense and Security Committee, carried out an extensive review of Kremlin intelligence files and sent Congress a remarkably detailed report on the Reagan-Khomeini pre-election tryst. All of this evidence, along with testimony from other direct participants in the covert op, was ultimately whitewashed by the timorous – or strong-armed – Congressional investigators. Again, the indispensible Robert Parry has the full story at Consortiumnews.com.
This is of course just an abbreviated list of the many malefactions of the Reagan Era; a full accounting of his crimes – and their continuing reverberations – would require many volumes. However, we would be remiss if we failed to mention one of the most important – and sinister – legacies that Reagan has bequeathed to his nation and the world: it was he who finally brought the ruthless Bush family into the center of world power. For generations, this ambitious clan has used war, weapons, oil and espionage to advance its senseless quest for more loot, more leverage, more privilege – just more. Reagan armed them with the full might and authority of the U.S. government to work their greedy will on the entire planet.
Yes, as the laudatory headlines noted incessantly this week, Reagan indeed changed the world. It’s a harsher, uglier, more unjust, more violent, more ignorant and fear-ridden place because of his leadership. God save us from any more communicators this "great."
POSTSCRIPT: Of all the false accolades now being heaped on Reagan’s head, the one most repeated – even many of his erstwhile foes – is perhaps the most howlingly inaccurate of all: the notion that his military buildup led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe from Communist tyranny. A look at the facts, rather than the Hollywood fog that has always surrounded Reagan’s career, shows clearly that Soviet military spending remained constant throughout Reagan’s tenure and afterward; he didn’t "force the Soviets into bankruptcy" by trying to match his buildup or anything of the sort, as the Atlantic Monthly pointed out – 10 years ago.
The Soviet economy was indeed dangerously unbalanced toward its military-industrial complex (as is ours today), and this indeed led to fatal economic rot; but this imbalance had existed since the days of Stalin. The decay it caused was a decades-long process; the Kremlin actually made virtually no budgetary response at all to the U.S. military expansion of the 1980s.
The Soviet Union collapsed because its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, liberalized the regime’s repressive political, social and economic structures, allowing long pent-up frustrations with the unworkable system to emerge safely, without retribution. The Soviets’ East European empire collapsed, without a shot, because Gorbachev made the decision not to defend it by force.
The only way Ronald Reagan could be credited with "the collapse of the Soviet Union" is if he personally selected Mikhail Gorbachev as the leader of the USSR. Not even Reagan’s most ardent worshippers would make that preposterous claim – although if the current historical revisionism and posthumous deification continues, we may hear it from them yet.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored stories of 2002. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org