Why would anyone choose Ronald Reagan as the best President of the United States of those who have served in that capacity since 1945?
First of all, you don’t need to look further forward than 1945, when Harry S. Truman took over the Presidency. He dealt, just as Barack Obama has, with an obstructive Congress. But he literally jawboned them into a cave. He acted far more boldly and decisively than and President that followed him, which included stopping aggression in Korea, forcing both unions and industry into mediation, firing a potential autocratic and hugely popular general, and bringing an economy back from postwar doldrums when munitions were no longer needed and millions of men returned to the workforce. He was a giant, mostly because he was fearless. He did what he thought was right, in about 90% of cases…not 100% (like all Presidents) after all he was a politician…and didn’t look back.
Reagan was a man who showed that he could change his opinions easily. Not based on new information, but based on new opportunities. If he had been a true Liberal, and he seems to have been…and says he was, then the indoctrination given him over several years by Lem Boulware of GE was his brainwashing into Conservatism. He became a self-acknowledged front-man for GE to their 250,000 workers, to soften them up for management initiatives.
Ronald Reagan’s life was relatively uncomplicated. He was discovered by Hollywood, signed to make pictures, proved popular with the public. He was a seemingly reasonable man, reasonable, Democratic, and somewhat Populist. There is a joke that when Samuel Goldwyn heard that Reagan was running for President, Goldwyn said, “No. Not Reagan. Errol Flynn for President. Reagan for best friend.” While there is every indication that he was a good-natured, small-town kid who became famous and tried to keep his feet on the ground, it is also true that he tended to be a bit shaky when it came to his inner core.
And that is the point. Reagan said that the Democratic Party moved away from him, not the other way around. But the facts are otherwise. So if he did switch…the Democratic Party didn’t change its policies…then why? And why would he not admit the real reasons why he switched not only to the Republican Party but to the Conservative wing of the Republican Party ? There were a large number of moderate Republicans in those days…in fact, the majority of Republicans could have been called moderate.
The important thing is that Ronald Reagan, still pretending to be a man of the people had really become a man of merely the rich people and corporations. The people didn’t change. They didn’t suggest that he lower taxes on the rich, cut welfare programs, quadruple the size of the military, remove fairness from broadcasting, encourage people to put second mortgages on their most valuable investment, their homes, and destroy unions. The rich and corporations suggested those things, and Ronald Reagan obliged them.
But the important thing really is that he went away from the People and said that it was the People who had changed, not he. To say that he was lying may be too harsh. But the facts are clear. Ronald Reagan, far from being a Man of the People, was a man owned and operated by General Electric and similar large corporations. And all that he did, and all those who were elected because of him, and the things that hey did to this country—criminally negligent and criminally active things, like wars and creation of huge swaths of poverty, and huge reductions in the quality of life of the Middle Class, and the return of racism—all these things are the result of Ronald Reagan, his charismatic but false personality, and his loyalty, not to the People, but to those who had made him rich and popular and President. That is what actually happened.
And if you look carefully at his life story, you can see it happening and see why it happened right there in front of you. The only things you don’t have are the actual words in the conversations with the GE executives who encouraged him, built up his ego, told him that compromising his principles was a good thing for business and understood that they needed to merely give this strong-looking, independent-sounding, but actually weak character the means to let him rationalize changing from a good man to a sycophant for his masters, the leaders of the global corporate network.
Reagan said that the Democratic Party left him, not the other way around. Sounds good, as a lot of Reagan’s b.s. did, but let’s examine the premise. Did the Democratic Party change in the 1950s? I don’t think so. The Democratic Party supported labor. Reagan was a labor leader, the President of the Screen Actor’s Guild. He served from 1951-1957. The Democratic Party at that time, had as its standard bearers, Liberals like Truman, Johnson, Humphrey, Kennedy, Symington, and other great Democratic Liberals such as Pat Brown of California and Richard Daley of Chicago. Nothing changed in the platform. They weren’t weak on Communism. Truman stared down the Russians in Berlin, went to war with the Communists in North Korea, created the CIA, and was hardly aftaid to use strong military force. He used the atomic bomb twice.
It was Eisenhower (not that he was a bad President) who was attacked by Joe McCarthy for being weak on Communism and who shut down the Korean War (although to Liberals, not a bad thing.) So the Democrats were going nowhere to the left and certainly not as far Right as Reagan would have had them go. He became more Conservative. He did television speeches that warned dramatically of the damage that Medicare (one of the most valuable programs in our history) would do to the country. It was Reagan who supported Barry Goldwater who supported more wars.
But how and why did Reagan change? In the early 1950s he was divorced by his first wife, Jane Wyman, a big supporter of the Democratic Party. She had dumped him unceremoniously, some would say cruelly and embarrassingly after acknowledging that she was having an affair. He was, it seems, legitimately hurt and emotionally drained. Then he met Nancy Davis.
Reagan had already shown tendencies to do what was politically favorable to him at the expense of others. While he was the head of the Screen Actors Guild, we know now that he worked with the FBI as an informant on members who had been known for some prior connection to the Communist Party of the United States (not illegal at the time they did it.) The information found its way to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) who used it to find Communists but eventually corrupted it into a political football that cause some 300 Hollywood actors, writers, directors and producers to be blackballed and, with only about 30 exceptions, never work in Hollywood again. He was the President of their union. They didn’t fire him. (He did it secretly. They didn’t know he did it.) By the way, some of these people who, unlike Reagan, would not testify against people whom they knew had at some prior time had Communist connections in the Depression years but also knew were dedicated and loyal citizens prior to and during the war (it wasn’t hard to tell…their words were being said by actors 20 feet tall in movie theaters) would end up in prison for not turning in their friends.
So Reagan had already persuaded himself that being an informant on the members of his union for being Communists that he, even more than others, knew was long in their pasts and was no longer relevant. The writers involved were some of the finest and wrote many of the famous war movies supporting our troops. But it is important to note that some of these men and women, like the famous playwright Lillian Hellman, also wrote famous films decrying anti-Semitism and racism. To many on the committee of that still-Segregationist, still anti-Semitic era, that alone told them that people who had at one time been influenced by Communism were bad, bad, bad.
The Congress in 1947 was totally Republican. And the Republicans even in those days were anti-fine arts. For example, earlier, in the late 1930s, a Republican House Committee chose to investigate the Federal Writers Project of the WPA as being Communist. That would be people like Orson Welles, Arthur Miller and John Houseman (whose “communist” affiliations did not prohibit his later making the famous “We make money the old fashioned way; we earn it.”—television commercials for EF Hutton, the Wall Street investment firm.) It was more than just a minor attack. Even in 1938 it forced the overwhelmingly popular Roosevelt to close down the Federal Writers Project the following year.
These were serious issues. As with the Federal Writers Project in 1938, jobs for writers and directors in a Depression were not in vast supply. Out of this project could mean for the many who worked in the theater…there were a number of them around the country, no work, none for months, perhaps years. So beginning in 1947, when movies were still popular but were about to wane because of television, losing a job could be very difficult but being blackballed could be, and was for many, disastrous.
So these were the stakes. And everyone knew. Reagan, the union president, took the side of the studios and J.Edgar Hoover against the majority of the actors in the union. That was in 1947 when he was still supposedly a Liberal Democrat. Some would say that he was a weasel, a weak-kneed, back stabber. Was he?
Why didn’t the Screen Actors Guild vote him out? First of all, no one knew he was an informant for the FBI. Second, if you read his statements, he collaborates with the committee but makes it sound as if this is the most important, most principled thing he has ever done. He sounds more Patriotic than Patrick Henry. And he makes it sound as if the Commies are on their way up from Long Beach or San Diego to take over Beverly Hills. Here’s another example why. People who simply came before the committee to testify would not talk about what they may or may not have known about others because once having been a member of the Communist Party were black balled, simply fired by the studios. But if they took the fifth amendment, they were considered collaborators and were fired.
It was one of the worst witch hunts in our history. And anyone who had been a member of the Communist Party, or knew anyone who had ever been a member of the Communist Party even if it was as far back as the 1920s could be fired or black balled, so very few people wanted to rock the boat. And finally, not all members of SAG were anti-HUAC. Many movie stars, directors and producers were very rich, cared little about politics and didn’t want to be disturbed. Reagan, working well with the movie studio owners (and the FBI) seemed like a good negotiator. He would have been little help to them if they did not give him some concessions to take to SAG members.
In 1952, Ronald Reagan, still maintaining that he was a Liberal, married Nancy Davis. Who was Nancy Davis? Nancy Davis was a young actress who was the daughter of an minor actress and the step-daughter of Dr. Loyal Davis, a brilliant Chicago surgeon who was also one of the most arch-conservatives in the United States. By this time, he was living in Arizona near Barry Goldwater. Although the popular myth is that neither Nancy Davis nor her father had much influence on Ronald Reagan, his past actions as a turncoat tell us that he was a pretty pragmatic guy. He informed to the FBI. He outed a number of people who were not really Communists. He pandered to studio executives. He was nothing if not agreeable, especially to those who could help him, and even at the sacrifice of his former friends.
Nancy Reagan, because Ronald Reagan now had someone totally devoted to him, after having been dumped by his previous wife…which he must have felt was unjust and unkind—remember, looking back at history—she was a famous, well-regarded actress and he was a second-billed, often referred to as “B-movie” actor. She was the one who had an affair, and yet he was publicly willing to take her back, but she dumped him. Now he had an adoring wife, and she seems really to have been. Outwardly, Ronald Reagan was personally a very nice man. So does it seem unusual that he would try to please his new wife? How hard was it for Dr. Loyal Davis, the stepfather that Nancy Reagan adored, or Senator Barry Goldwater, to influence Reagan to switch to the Republican side? Not hard at all, one might surmise, when the devoted Nancy Davis was sharing his bed.
Most people think that Ronald Reagan changed sides when he began hosting and occasionally acting on the television series, General Electric Theater, in 1954, two years after he married Nancy Davis. While certainly her father was well acquainted with executives in the country’s most conservative corporation, Ronald Reagan actually got the job through Lew Wasserman, his agent for whom Reagan had made a huge business concession while President of Screen Actors Guild. Talent agencies were not supposed to be motion picture producers. It would be a conflict of interest for a variety of reasons. As movie producers they could steer acting jobs to their clients. Those benefits did make MCA a huge movie and television production company, which eventually became Universal studios and made Lew Wasserman a very rich man. Later in the 1960s, Wasserman worked on a real estate deal for Reagan that made him a multi-millionaire.
So if you were Reagan, why wouldn’t you become a Republican? You probably seriously dislike your first wife and she is a Democrat. Your film career was going down the tubes and all these Democrats (except Wasserman) weren’t doing anything to help you. General Electric, arch conservatives, and the father-in-law of your devoted, adoring wife is a strong conservative. You have to make speeches talking about how government should stay out of business and how workers should be happy to have a job. You never want to be reduced again to putting on a one-man show in Las Vegas to make a living. So, deep convictions about “Communism” aside, it is simply easier, much easier to make up a story about why you became a Conservative than it is to remain a Liberal. Your job and your marriage will be secure if you become a Conservative.
For all his “morning in America” enthusiasm, he was a cynic. Does anyone think he was so stupid as to imagine that he could cut taxes by 50%, increase military spending by 400% and balance the budget? Remember…that was his stated goal, his promise as a candidate. Fiscal responsibility. He came in when the economy was in near-runaway inflation. So, right away, what is going to happen? When you bring that inflation down, jobs are going to be lost and business will close. That’s what happened. Unemployment went to 10.8%.
The unproven (to this day) idea that you can leave government the same size, cut taxes on the wealthy and everyone else and the economy will start to climb is ridiculous. Reagan said that the money lost by tax cuts would create sufficient new business activity to increase government revenues greater than the amount of the tax cuts. CBO studies proved what every Democrat knew already—that it would never even come close. In 8 years, the national debt nearly tripled. Under Bush I, the deficit actually hit $500 billion at least one year. Clinton came in with $4 trillion in debt on the books. But he raised taxes a little, cut government a lot and eventually balanced the budget.
Ronald Reagan was not a true conservative nor were or are any of those who wish to carry on his policies. If they did, they would raise taxes, turn all natural resources not in private hands into the government for public development. That’s why I think Reagan should be way down on the list of top Presidents since 1945. Truman, LBJ, Clinton, Carter, Bush I, Ford, Reagan, Nixon and Bush II.
All of our current problems were begun by Reagan, the debt, the deficit spending, the privatization and selling off of our assets, assets belonging to the American people, the sharp drop in educational standards, the return of racism, deliberate income inequality, the political lies and propaganda….all of it started with Reagan. So this is the man you are going to call one of the best presidents of that last five decades, a man whose only redeeming quality is that he looked good on television? He was a great president because he had a nice smile? Are we all that stupid?
Not all of us.