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Pam remembers Ronald Reagan
[Posted 16 June 2004, Last updated 3 October 2004]
For the past week, television channels have been bombarding Americans with lengthy eulogies on the late President Reagan. To be on TV, people have to speak highly of the former President, and can't really be honest. My readers know that I'll give them better than that. Here's how I remember President Reagan -- honestly, without the pretty sugar coating you see on TV.
I was finishing high school as Reagan was elected, and immediately Reagan began to frighten everyone with his admiration and jokes of nuclear war. Even high school kids were terrified, at least the smart ones. It seemed the man's brain wasn't completely engaged, or if not completely, then not at all. But this was only an early indication of the man's world view -- that as long as he wouldn't suffer personally, it was OK to do anything to other people.
One of the first things Reagan did in office was fire the striking Air Traffic Controllers en masse, showing that he wasn't concerned at all about their employee grievances or passenger safety. My father traveled frequently for his job at the time, and didn't like President Jimmy Carter's deregulation of the airlines because it made air travel more dangerous. Reagan's move was terrifying to my father, and after the Air Traffic Controllers were fired, near-misses and plane accident statistics skyrocketed. This is a point which was only occasionally mentioned in the press. In fact, airline accidents & in-air near-misses remained high long after Reagan's strike-breaking move, possibly even to this day. This was probably because of the quality of people brought in to replace the striking workers on such short notice, and also because the striker's grievances were probably legitimate but were no doubt never addressed.
Speaking of replacement quality, I remember one of my classmates in high school telling me that she was going to school to become an air traffic controller after she graduated -- there was such a shortage that the government was advertising for any potential employees they could find. Although the classmate was a friend of mine and I don't want to insult her, I was appalled that she might one day hold such a grave responsibility. She wasn't interested in or even aware of the field until the government went begging for bodies to fill the fired workers' chairs. And it was hard for me to imagine that someone who had no inclination toward math and physics, technical fields and aeronautics, or public safety, could muster the interest, concentration, technical knowledge, or responsibility for such a life-critical job. In fact, I couldn't picture that particular friend in any sort of technical role at all, just knowing her personally. She couldn't handle any technical classes in high school, and had to stay in the science and math classes meant for those students who could barely handle the subjects. Thank you, President Reagan, for putting a girl who couldn't even understand basic algebra or geometry into a job managing airliners' trajectory paths. I just hope my friend hasn't been responsible for any major air crashes over the years. She was just lured in by the promise of a good government paycheck, and I can hardly blame her in the bad economy that followed Reagan's economic policies.
Reagan and his adoring Cocaine Contras
Reagan's complete lack of concern for the suffering he caused others was also evident in his policy on Central America. Reagan was the President overseeing the illegal war perpetrated by the Contras in Nicaragua, in effect mercenaries for the fallen Somoza regime, a brutal dictatorship. (Here's a piece of Wisconsin gossip rarely mentioned outside of the state, although I'm not sure how much of it is correct, or if the monetary amounts are exact: The First Wisconsin Bank, now known as US Bank, has a dominating white building in the Milwaukee skyline. Reportedly First Wisconsin loaned Somoza $300 million just before he abdicated and fled Nicaragua, and of course First Wisconsin never saw the money again. Years later, First Wisconsin sold its skyscraper to the state for around $300 million and then leased it back, citing outstanding third world debt as the reason for the sale (this linked article said it was an investment group that included the state, and the price was "only" $200 million). Some local businessmen saw this as a government payout for a political loan gone bad. Incidentally, an elderly officer of the bank who reportedly retired the year prior to Somoza's abdication, and allegedly one of the few women mentioned in the first edition of Domhoff's Who Rules America Now, Catherine Cleary, attended one of my history seminars in college.)
The Contras, like Somoza before them, loved to torture and kill people. But most of all, the Contras loved to traffic cocaine, and were mercenaries for Oliver North's drugs for weapons operation covered in Webb's book Dark Alliance. Although most of the government's drug operatives claimed they worked for then-Vice-President Bush and not Reagan directly, Reagan and North were photographed together and seemed very friendly. Reagan, of course, later claimed complete ignorance of the operation. This was probably a lie, but again could have been his lack of mental capabilities coming through. Whatever his excuse, he was President at the time and therefore ultimately responsible.
Reagan's illegal war in Nicaragua earned the United States the only terrorism conviction so far from the World Court -- a body which Reagan ignored, effectively making it a paper tiger. And of course Reagan didn't stop with Nicaragua. He bombed Libya because the dictator there was mouthing off too much, invaded and conquered the island of Grenada because he felt the former dictator was a commie, and fought sanctions against the then-Apartheid state of South Africa because he was comfortable with white supremacy -- the sanctions eventually passed anyway and led to the toppling of that race-based government.
Reagan also ruined the economy, encouraging corporations to move their operations overseas, and funneling government money out to California aerospace companies for the failed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI/Star Wars) program. As no one ever believed that "Star Wars" would work, and it violated the ABM Treaty (now canceled by the current President Bush), this was a blatant diversion of government funds to his own state, i.e. pork barrel spending. The industrial north became known as the "rust belt" as jobs fled the country. And here's where I remember Reagan personally.
Reagan, like the Bush family, kept promoting the idea that it was the poor's own fault they were unemployed and impoverished. My father, a college-educated man who worked as a chemist, engineer, and just before Reagan was elected, an industrial sales manager, lost his job under Reagan. My father had worked all of his life, and at the time had 4 children and a wife to support, a mortgage and everything else. He obviously had the education and drive to succeed, but there were no jobs to be had. In the past it was easy for my father to find the next job -- he usually found one before leaving the previous job, but Reagan had ruined the economy. My parents couldn't go on welfare because they owned their own home, so my parents both struggled with odd jobs to survive the five years -- yes, I said FIVE YEARS of unemployment under Reagan. The only reason my father was able to break that lengthy period of unemployment was because he bothered to get a Masters of Education during previous jobs, back when industry actually cared about employee retention in the 60s and 70s. If they didn't pay for the school as an employee benefit, then they'd at least let the employee leave early on certain days to go to class. Fortunately for my father, the City of Milwaukee had just passed a policy that teachers had to live inside the city limits in order to teach in their school system. This caused many teachers to seek work elsewhere in order to keep their suburban homes, and so my father was able to take a teaching job there, which he kept until he died. His Masters of Education was very lucky, as that particular school system favored teachers who had higher degrees than the Bachelors, in fact preferred PhDs and required my father to work toward his PhD.
While ruining peoples' lives and ripping families apart with his failed "supply side economics" (another "trickle down" theory), Reagan would blame the poor for their own problems. In effect, he was changing the mood of the country from compassion to hatred. Former President Carter had an air of compassion toward his fellow man, as any true religious man would. Even former Republican Presidents weren't total hate mongers. Reagan, on the other hand, pretended to be religious while ignoring everything Christianity and most other religions teach -- charity, tolerance, love, etc.
There are many other faults with Reagan, but I remember him most for spending my parents' savings and scattering our family all the way out to Wisconsin due to his bad economic policy, followed by an even worse President Bush. Under former President Bush (the older Bush, now 80 years old), the economy was so bad that I moved cross-country twice to find a job, and they were pretty poor jobs at that, despite my college education. Under the current President Bush, the economy is even worse, with true unemployment figures (those estimating people not included in the official statistic) is over 10%.
Reagan's good point
The only positive thing I remember about Reagan is that he wasn't quite evil enough for the Bush family. Reagan was shot by a member of the Hinckley family, personal friends of the Bushes. (Notice now that Bush the younger is President, Hinckley is found to be "cured" of his mental illness and eligible for at least some visitation privileges.) Yes, thanks to the Bush family, Reagan will never have to suffer from the title "Worst President Ever".
Pam's personal "encounter" with Reagan
Somehow Reagan managed to be re-elected, unfortunately making him President during most of my college education. I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, all the while hearing about atrocity after atrocity committed in Central America by the U.S., courtesy of Reagan. (Here's a bizarre case -- remember Eugene Hasenfus, the Wisconsinite cargo-kicker who survived being shot down over Nicaragua during the covert war Reagan was fighting there? Well, he was arrested for masturbating in his truck at a K-Mart parking lot in Brookfield -- an upscale suburb of Milwaukee, then for killing a bear/protected species, then for indecent exposure again, etc. Check out the Wisconsin court system web site and search under "circuit court" cases sometime -- but be sure you have Eugene H. Hasenfus with birth date 01-22-1941, because there are other Eugene Hasenfuses in trouble with the law. Here are some case numbers to get you started: Brown County Case Number 2003CM000995; Marinette County Case Number 2003CM000028; Waukesha County Case Number 2000CM002558.)
One year, Reagan was coming to Milwaukee for some sort of Republican speaking engagement, and political groups were planning to protest in front of the event's building. Some of my friends told me about the big protest day and asked if I wanted to picket Reagan with them. I was delighted.
The big day arrived. My friends and I gathered at the university, then took the bus to the picket site, chatting it up & having a great time all the while. It felt good being able to protest such an outrageous president. When we arrived, the main group hosting the event handed us picket signs -- mine read "Reagan and Kasten -- The Ugly Americans," with little cartoon drawings of the men. Well, Reagan wasn't the prettiest man in the universe, and Kasten was just plain goofy-looking. (Another tidbit from Wisconsin -- a good friend of mine at UW-Milwaukee said that her conservative Republican aunt was on the committee advising Senator Kasten to get married, in order to conceal his homosexuality. Kasten and another Wisconsin politician had rumors about their homosexuality flying at the time, one being that a fire at Congressman Sensenbrenner's house resulted in 2 gay body builders running out the back door. Probably all true, not that I care about their homosexuality. I just don't like closet homosexuals and bisexuals -- like Bush -- who grandstand anti-gay policies while being gay themselves. Even if they can't be honest about their sexual orientation and keep their careers at the same time, do they have to harm the very communities they come from? Kasten is no longer a Senator, by the way, thankfully. Kasten was a pretty bad Senator all around. I think Congressman Sensenbrenner is still in office. He can be a right-wingnut at times, but supposedly farmers in his district like him because he's sometimes able to get them subsidies.)
The morning of the protest, I decided on a wardrobe strategy. I really couldn't be bothered with being arrested at the protest -- it would cut into my classes, and I always carried a heavy academic schedule. But police in Milwaukee could be freakin' jerks and arrest people for no reason. So I chose a snug red sweater which made my younger curvy figure look like I was all breast or something. I figured that the cops wouldn't dare grab a woman who looked like that, because it'd seem as though they were shopping for busty girls instead of doing their jobs. Also if the press caught them on camera, they'd have their motives questioned by everyone in town, be the brunt of jokes and whatnot. It worked pretty well -- at the end of the protest, a car swished by to pick up a little old lady standing next to me. She looked like she was 70+ years old, but that didn't stop a cop from yelling at her and her driver for an unknown reason. No one was misbehaving there, especially not the little old ladies. The driver -- a younger woman who was probably the elderly lady's granddaughter -- had angry words with the officer, the old lady got into her car, and they left. The cop didn't bother me at all though!
At the outset of the protest, the police didn't like the picket line forming in front of the building. As with Bush's policies on protesters today, they decided to move us out of the way. But unlike Bush's "free speech zones" miles away from his speeches, the Milwaukee cops let us protest across the street from Reagan's speech. This was next to an office building, and some of the older businessmen came down & stood in front of the building to heckle us. They really liked my sweater by the way, told me I was "really good-looking." Then the noise of a helicopter came, and we were told that Reagan was on the ground & walking into the building. We couldn't see him though -- the front of the building was obstructed by landscaping, police, and other people.
At this point the protesters were in the middle of a "1-2-3-4, we don't want a nuclear war, 5-6-7-8, we don't want to radiate" chant, occasionally turning "radiate" into "Reaganate". But as soon as Reagan's helicopter arrived, the volume of the protesters dropped, as though they were intimidated, or star-struck, or SOMETHING. I couldn't believe it -- protesters wimping out at the last minute, with everything they knew Reagan was responsible for.
That was it. I wasn't going to let them lose their voice during the one moment they had an opportunity to tell Reagan the way it was. So I decided to employ the weapon I'd inherited from my mother -- a loud voice on demand. It's not loud all of the time, just on an as-needed basis -- to be heard over a loud room, or when being used as a weapon. Only with my mother, she'd not only yell, but also use a tone of voice that'd just grate on your nerves so badly that you'd do anything she asked just to get her to stop yelling. But I had more than that. I'd also worked as a college DJ in the past, and had learned how to control my voice pretty well for the microphone. A deeper voice was easier to listen to, and in the case of the protest, it would be heard better if it was both deeper and loud -- not yelling, but loud -- with careful enunciation. I'd been trained to do this by both my mother and the radio station, so it just happened instantaneously as I decided to compensate for the other protesters' volume deficiencies.
"One, two, three, four... We-don't-want-a-nuclear-war" echoed off of the tall office buildings and down the streets. There were enough other people yelling the chant to indicate it was a large group of people, but my loud enunciation made the words intelligible, so that Reagan could understand what he meant to us as he walked into the building (or even if he was already inside, with that kind of volume). There was also a tone to those voices, and the echoes, that just made it sound so eerie... as though incoming nuclear warheads were about to rain down on us any second and destroy our civilization. Even the Republicans heckling us fell silent, seeming for a moment to comprehend the grave possibilities from that particular facet of Reagan.
I don't know if my chanting was ever heard by Reagan, but I can only assume that it was. And that was my one unseen encounter with the man. If anything, it might have damaged his self-image slightly, having announced him as a nuclear war waiting to happen when he arrived to speak that day. Was he intelligent enough to change his ways? Nah! The man was senile, I'm tellin' ya...
Senility or Diet Coke?
One final note on Reagan and his Alzheimer's Disease -- was it Reagan who used to drink Diet Coke in the White House, or was it Oliver North? I remember photos of a Diet Coke can on Reagan's desk in the White House, but can't recall if it belonged to Reagan or his good Iran-Contra buddy. This makes me wonder if Reagan's Alzheimer's was in effect brought on by aspartame consumption (see Dr. Blaylock's book Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills). Then again, back when Reagan was President, a lot of college kids like me already thought he was senile. Call it senility or call it Alzheimer's, but people with any intelligence at all could see that the man had problems.
Yes, it's traditional to say positive things when someone dies, but I'm just filling in for Reagan's shortcomings. He never cared about anyone but himself, and felt comfortable with bombing and killing people abroad -- so he lacked compassion. At home, he deliberately ruined lives to enhance the profit lines of his big donors, then blamed the victims of these policies for their problems which actually came directly from Reagan and his conservative gang -- so he lacked honesty. I'm just helping him out by providing some compassion for his victims and some honesty for Reagan. It won't get me the Republican vote, but hey, someone has to do it!
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© 2004 by Pam Rotella.
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