The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Reagasm

Hagiography Watch

Reagan finally escaped the suffering of a horrible disease this week, and the remembrances of him being played on TV and the radio have been amazingly treacly. Reagan was an interesting personality, charming, affable, optimistic. He was, to me, like a beloved grandfather whose Neanderthal-like politics did not take away fondess for him. But like that same grandfather, you wouldn't want him actually running the country.

The nation's ability to keep fooling itself into thinking we have a "liberal" media is being tested again this week, as the stories on Reagan have been, from what I've heard, completely filled with the conventional Republican wisdom on him, with hardly a balancing fact. On the wildly radical NPR, I have heard that Reagan single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union and won the Cold War. I heard that he was an amazing tax cutter. I heard how "proud" he made everyone feel. And that was all I heard. (NPR even interviewed many Russians who, to a person, agreed that Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union. For balance, the Russians disagreed that about whether this was a good thing or a bad thing). Let's briefly consider each of these statements.

On winning the Cold War, the claim is that Reagan, either through dumb luck or wily design, caused the Soviets to overspend on their defense budget due to Reagan's espousal of SDI, thereby destabilizing their economy to the point of collapse. I heard this theory put forward without reservation several times on the radio. But, first of all, we know that Reagan didn't espouse SDI because he knew it would be an end to the USSR. The "wily design" argument does not hold up, as everyone, including the CIA, was caught by surprise when the USSR collapsed in 1991. Instead, it makes much more sense to view Reagan's throwing billions of dollars at the military industrial complex on expensive boondoggles that do not work as standard Republican procedure. Bush II is still doing it (maybe he is hoping the USSR will collapse?) The other half of this story is the assumption that the economy of the USSR would have been just fine if Carter would have been re-elected and SDI not been funded. Though the CIA had been vastly overstating the robustness of the Soviet economy for years, I think in retrospect it is pretty clear that they were on the verge of collapse anyway. But in the eyes of the media, St. Reagan slew the dragon.

As far as being a tax cutter, this is a continuation of the media presentation of anything that cuts taxes for the very rich "cuts taxes", and anything which raises taxes for the very rich "raises taxes". Tax policy is always presented by the media from the point of view of the most wealthy individuals in society. Why is this? One small reason may be that most reporters, and certainly most people on TV, belong to that segment of society. And most of their editors probably do as well. But there is also the fact that all of our reporters are pretty much owned by the giant corporations that put their messages out. Giant corporations cooperate with putting huge sums of money into the hands of very wealthy individuals, because those same individuals have the power to make decisions that affect giant corporations. It is a chummy, quid pro quo atmosphere that also explains why giant media corporations do not go after other giant corporations, and why life is so good for the MBA/CEO class of people in our society.

Reagan is presented as a "tax cutter", again with no qualifiers, because overall he lowered the income tax for the very rich. It is an indisputable fact, however, that his policies raised overall taxes for the vast majority of Americans. You'll never hear that fact on the radio, on TV, or even in the vast majority of newspaper articles. (The exception being, as it often is, Paul Krugman's column in the NYT). Reagan raised payroll taxes massively. The stated purpose was to fund Social Security through the Baby Boomers, and in fact SS is in fine shape today. When Alan Greenspan started talking about having to cut SS benefits a few months ago, my head about exploded. The incredibly regressive increase in payroll taxes was a social contract. While screwing people who worked for a living, the wealthy and powerful assured them that this additional money would be used for Social Security, a benefit for all. This is what Al Gore's "lockbox" was all about. He was talking about honoring what was an agreement from the 80s, that the increased sacrifice middle- and low-income people had been making for all of these years would be protected for the cause of getting the Baby Boomers through their retirement years. Of course, the media ridiculed Gore and the "lockbox". And now, that box of money is filled with IOUs from rich people's tax cuts. When Greenspan, who of course remembers what happened in the 80s, starts talking about cutting SS benefits because of the dire financial straits we find ourselves in, he is advocating the worst screwing of the poor to pay the rich in US history. If W's tax cuts for the filthy rich result in SS cuts (remember that because of the increase in taxes on working people, SS is technically totally funded until at least 2044), borne on the backs of the poor and middle class through wage taxes, it will be the ultimate reverse Robin Hood con job. And all because our media cannot, or does not, remember the social contract from the 80s.

Reagan also presided over the largest tax increase (in constant dollars) in US history. The right likes to complain about Clinton's tax increase in 1993 as the largest in the universe (see this Daily Howler for hilarious examples), but Reagan's 1982 increase was larger. And I'll say this for Reagan's administration: they at least had some grasp on economic reality that Bush II does not. When Reagan's 1981 tax cut turned out to be financially unsupportable, they reversed themselves for the good of the country and raised taxes (the good press will never mention this, however). Dubya's crew seems to want to just keeps cutting taxes until our economy collapses, like Argentina.

Finally, Reagan seemed to be out of it most of the time, with his policy being run by his VP and other underlings. In this, W really is Reagan's successor. It's hard to really blame the US's support of Osama Bin Laden in the 80s on Reagan. It's hard to blame US support of Saddam in the 80s and early 90s on Reagan (it is easy to forget what a scandal Iraq-gate was when it was revealed all the weapons and support we had given Saddam). It's hard to blame him for trading weapons to the Iranians in exchange for hostages. It's hard to blame him for the death squads in Central and South America (we are sending Negroponte on to Iraq to continue that proud tradition). After all, what did we really expect him to know? His defense for these things, when he finally found out for them, is an echo of Bush's Abu Ghraib defense: "this isn't really America". Of the Iran-Contra crimes, he famously said "my heart tells me we didn't do this, but the facts tell me we did". Reminiscent of Bush's "listen to our words, don't watch our actions".

For some other balance on Reagan's legacy, please see Jesus' General, Slacktivist, and the Daily Howler.

See also Paul Krugman's columnn on Reagan and taxes.


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