Wednesday, June 09, 2004

ON REAGAN AND HIS LEGACY


Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research remembers Ronald Reagan:

Ronald Reagan was a man who fought for what he believed in, and he changed the world more than probably any American in the twentieth century. He changed not only the conservative movement, the Republican party, his country and the world -- but also his opponents, known as liberals. As a result of his achievements, the typical liberal Member of Congress today sits to the right of Richard Nixon on a number of economic issues, including tax policy.

...Income was redistributed to the wealthy as never before: during the 1980s, most of the country's income gains went to the top 1 or 2 percent of households...The median real wage failed to grow during the decade of the 1980s.

...Mr. Reagan is often credited with having caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, but this is doubtful. He did use the Cold War as a pretext for other interventions, including funding and support for horrific violence against the civilian population of Central America. In 1999 the United Nations determined that the massacres of tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly indigenous people, constituted "genocide." These massacres -- often involving grotesque torture -- reached their peak under the rule of Mr. Reagan's ally, the Guatemalan General Rios Montt. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans were also murdered during Mr. Reagan's presidency by death squads affiliated with the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military.

But it was Mr. Reagan's efforts to overthrow the government -- democratically elected in 1984 -- of poor, underdeveloped Nicaragua that almost brought down his presidency. Congress cut off aid to Mr. Reagan's proxy army, the Contras, as a result of pressure from Americans -- led by religious groups -- who were disgusted by the Contras' tactics of murdering unarmed teachers and health care workers.

The Reagan administration continued to run the war from the basement of the White House, and paid for part of it with the proceeds of illegal arms sales to Iran. Hence the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Mr. Reagan escaped prosecution because his subordinates claimed that he had no knowledge of their crimes.

The Reagan revolution continues today: the "war on terror" has replaced the Cold War as pretext for intervention abroad, including the disastrous war in Iraq. Tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending have revived the era of giant budget deficits. As the Great Communicator used to say, "There they go again."


Weisbrot sums it up well. But don't forget that he sold small weapons and a nuclear bomb to Apartheid South Africa, then vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986.

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