Today would have been my mother’s 100th birthday.

When Ronald Reagan ran for governor of California, I thought it was a joke. When he won, I thought it was just Californians being their kooky California selves. When I found out my mother had voted for him, I was both horrified and confused. Were we not an enlightened, humanist, family of Democrats?! She was unable to explain her vote to me, except to say something like “Oh, I don’t know. I just like him.”

Yesterday was the first time I realized that Reagan was almost exactly the same age as my mom. I’ve always suspected that she married my father because, in a certain light and wearing a certain hat, he looked like Humphrey Bogart. Now I realize that she had another secret affair with Ronnie the dashing young actor who was not just of her generation, but whose entire life paralleled her own, if only chronologically.

Reagan has been a thorn in my side ever since he became governor and started cutting funds to education in California. When I graduated from a California state college it was his signature on my diploma, but I’m sure he would much rather have dismantled the whole college system rather than let freeloaders like me get a decent, affordable education. Then as President one of his first official acts was to fire all the air traffic controllers, who had a union and were striking for better wages and working conditions. Imagine!

Now that he’s dead there’s an entire industry in this country devoted to making him the “Greatest President of the 20th Century.” But let’s take a brief look at who he really was, and what he really did.

For one thing, he was a Democrat before he was a Republican. A staunch, hard-left liberal Democrat. And a union leader to boot. So much for loyalty and principle. When General Electric hired him to shill for them, the Democratic hat didn’t fit, so he changed it.

As for that whole tax-cutting myth, he raised taxes six of the eight years he was in the White House, including one increase that was the largest in history. I owned a small business during those years, and I was seriously gouged.

A law abiding man of honor? While President, he used his office to commit at least two felonies. He sent money to the Contras in Nicaragua to support their insurrection against the communist Sandinista government, an action prohibited by Congress under the Boland Amendment. And where did he get that money? From the sale of missiles and other weapons to — say it with me — Iran! Never mind that Iran was then (and now) under an arms embargo. Both of these actions were impeachable offenses, and even though Reagan admitted doing them in a televised speech, the investigation was impeded when his administration destroyed documents relating to the scandal. Reagan, as we know, skated.

I could go on. He kicked off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, using the veiled racist code phrase “states rights.” Gorbachev was already well into glasnost when Reagan made his grandstand demand for him to “tear down this wall.” Aren’t you sick of seeing that clip over and over? Then there was his totally made-up slur about the “welfare queen,” making baby after baby and driving to pick up her various entitlement checks in her new Cadillac. His wacky “Star Wars” missile defense system, which was supposed to shoot down Soviet rockets in space but has never worked and is still draining the budget 25 years later. And of course the ultimate insult to the American worker, his theory of “trickle-down” economics, which basically says that rich people should always get all the breaks and the rest of us should be happy with whatever money they happen to spill as they become unimaginably wealthier. Let us eat cake, brothers and sisters.

Reagan began a war on the middle class that continues to this day, and his obsession with getting government out of the way of big business leads in a straight line to the economic meltdown we had in 2008 and which is still robbing millions of ordinary Americans of their homes, their livlihoods and their dignity.

Was he senile and mentally incapacitated during the latter part of his term? Who knows and who cares? Maybe I can’t hold him directly responsible for all the damage that was done in his name in the eighties and beyond, but somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Despite all this there is actually an organization whose mission it is to get a building or an airport or a monument named after Ronald Reagan in all 50 states. Actually, I don’t know if they’re still around. From the looks of things they may have reached their goal by now and settled into smug retirement.

So anyway, happy 100th birthday, Mom. I loved you dearly and still owe you big time. But you know you were wrong about Reagan, don’t you?

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3 Replies to “Centennial”

  1. My parents loved Ronald Reagan. They voted for him twice for governor here in California and twice for president. He was not good at either job, and both the state and the country have suffered for it, but you’d never know it if all you knew about him was what the adoring media says about him.

    Another well-written, thoughtful post, Larry. Bravo.

  2. I liked a comment from Hitchens about Reagan:, something like “he could have had anyone in the world over for dinner, but he ate his on a tray in front of the TV.”

    Good summary, Mr. Jones.

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