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June 07, 2004

Reagan: Champion of Freedom, Free Markets and Free Lunch

I was in America for only the first of the Reagan years. And I was a kid. So I was not inspired, as 8-year-olds rarely get inspired by politicians (and 80-year-olds even less, perhaps).

Since I started paying attention, well I really haven't developed a great appreciation of his legacy. By all reports, he brought a new sense of confidence to an unconfident country; he and the men around him brought inflation under control. Those are plusses.

He survived an assassination attempt, which demonstrates how an inch to the left can change - or not change history. For most people that sealed the reverence he had - we loved JFK because he was killed, let's let this man know that we love him while he now lives.

I admire him for his humor, his ability to talk with Americans, not at them.

He is given too much credit for ending the cold war. Our stinging national debt (which just like our own personal debt we religiously try and forget about, but it's there and it's damaging) is the price we had to pay for the Reagan administration helping considerably in the end of the cold war.

But you have to give Mikail Gorbechev a tremendous amount of credit. Their relationship and how they were able to play off each other DID end the cold war. But none of it would have happened without the rise of a man like Gorbechev at the helm.

This weekend, I got tired quickly of watching the "news" and the kind, good words about a man who I never really connected with - before my time. In other words, I was glad people had kind, good words to say, but they didn't mean much to me. When Carter dies, it will be much the same. When George H.W. Bush dies (no. 41), I will feel something more because he was a part of my political consience. He was a good man but didn't seem to have done much. When George Bush Junior dies -- well, I believe he will die "young." In his mid-60s -- I'm not yet sure how I will feel.

Reagan was a B movie actor, who as president of the Screen Actor's Guild, thought he was being patriotic by fingering people he THOUGHT were Communists. He also pursued Martin Luther King, calling him a Communist. Iran-Contra happened under his watch - a stain many of his supporters want to forget.

But you know what I learned most about Reagan over the weekend - at least he admitted his mistakes, and did so while in office.

He was the one who signed the law making official a National Day of recognition for MLK Jr. He apologized to Corretta Scott King at the time for that and for opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Of Iran Contra, he said:
... 4 Mar 1987 On national television, Reagan acknowledges mistakes on Iran-Contra. "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake." His approval rating went up to 51 percent.

Link here. Also:

"October 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with 2.5 tons of TNT into the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The explosion killed 241 American servicemen. And the Iranians were behind it. They financed the operation. They coordinated it from their embassy in Syria. They trained the suicide bomber in Iran. They even manufactured the truck there. The Iranians were in it up to their eyeballs.

And we knew it. One month before the Beirut bombing, the NSA intercepted a phone call made by the Iranian ambassador to Syria. The ambassador described having given Hezbollah orders to kill American forces in Lebanon and also "undertake an extraordinary operation against the Marines" in Beirut. Somehow, this information got lost in the Pentagon until two days after the bombing.

... the Contras increasingly appeared to be a particularly ruthless and bloodthirsty bunch. Stories of atrocities against civilian noncombatants certainly didn't help. In the words of human rights group Americas Watch, "the Contras systematically engage in violent abuses ... so prevalent that these may be said to be their principle means of waging war." Another NGO compiled a year's worth of Contra atrocities, which included murder, rape, torture, maiming children, cutting off arms, cutting out tongues, gouging out eyes, castration, bayoneting pregnant women in the stomach, and amputating genitals.

An eyewitness to a Contra raid in Jinotega province said:
"Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off and their eyes poked out. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit."

Every President has SOMETHING to answer for, some for more important things than others.

UPDATE John Cole has a quality post about the reaction to Reagan's death, which strikes the right tone.

UPDATE 2 June 8, 2004 Admitting your mistakes while you're in office is a good thing btw.