Saturday, February 7, 2004

The Truth About Ronald Reagan And Its Importance In Today's World

Ronald Reagan is dead. In coming days, he will be eulogized by the media,by assorted other pundints and by politicians alike as a great president. In reality, I believe the invasion of Grenada, during Ronald Reagan's watch, put the United States back on its feet as a military adventurer. In addition, Ronald Reagan as a champion of free markets and free enterprise is largely a myth. Few see things this way today and few saw them as such during Reagan's presidency. Only Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) in a journal article, The Reagan Phenomenon, was able to see through the actor's polished
style to the true consequences of Reagan the presidency.

As best as I can determine, the Rothbard journal article was written sometime in the mid-1980's.The article is quite remarkable, in that Rothbard was able to see, back then, many of the trends in government that currently dominate today.

Rothbard starts by warning that:

The presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan has been a disaster for libertarianism in the United States,and might yet prove to be catastrophic for the human race.

He then identifies the contradictions in the Conservative Movement of modern times:

The Conservative Movement of modern times has had three basic, and
mutually contradictory, tenets: (1) 'Getting Big Government Off Our Backs'by rolling back statism and establishing a free market economy; (2) crushing civil liberties whenever crime, 'national security', or 'morality' are threatened, i.e. whenever civil liberties become important; and (3) seeking an all-out political and military confrontation with 'atheistic world Communism'

Certainly in this day and age of the Patriot Act and "material witnesses" being held without basic rights, Rothbard's point regarding the contradictory nature of "Getting Big Government Off Our Backs" and the crushing of civil liberties in the name of "National Security," should be more obvious than ever. Yet Rothbard was able to see this trend developing in the Reagan Administrations more than a decade ago.

The all-out political and military confrontation Rothbard wrote about in his article was, back then, chiefly about the Soviet Union. But seeking "all-out political and military confrontation" has not been eliminated as a characteristic of the modern day conservative movement, it has merely been replaced with confrontation in the Middle East.

Rothbard also wouldn't be surprised by George Bush's ties to the religious right and Bush's declaration that it is beacause of "God's will" that we are occupiers in the Middle East. He saw it in Reagan and wrote:
For conservatives, the State as Theocrat and Moral Enforcer and the State
as Mass Murderer have always taken precedence over the feeble goals of freedom and free markets.

Following the disaster in Vietnam, United States citizens were, in general,not in favor of United States military adventures in foreign lands. The public had had it with war. Ronald Reagan changed this with the invasion of Grenada. It is my contention that Reagan's invasion of Grenada was the first step in United States post-Vietnam military adventures. It was an important step and Reagan started it all. It was the taste of victory against the tiny island of Grenada that set the stage for the invasion of Panama, Iraq War I and the current occupation of Iraq. Reagan's adventure into Grenada and its quick victory wiped out the hesitation to go to war that the Vietnam experience engendered in the masses.

Rothbard explained this desire for quick victory:

Conservatives know that the average Americano, while scarcely an enthusiast for civil liberties, doesn't like the FBI (or still more, the Internal
Revenue Service) snooping in his private papers, and doesn't like the idea of government busily stamping out sin in his backyard. And while the average American cheered the U.S. invasion of Grenada to the rafters, righteously enjoying the sight of the U.S.clobbering a tiny island devoid of even a regular army, he has quite a different view of getting bogged down in some hellhole in a perpetual and losing war, or in being incinerated in a nuclear holocaust.The average American, in short, possesses that "complex of vaunting and fear" that Garet Garrett noted as the hallmark of citizens of Empire. On the one hand, emotional identification with 'your' nation-State,and a desire for it to bully and dominate the entire world. On the other, hysterical panic at the machinations of some satanic Enemy or other, an Enemy who is monolithic, omnicompetent and malevolent, and who can only
be faced down with continuing shows of force, the only thing which he can 'understand'. To the extent that he is non-interventionist, the American is
interested not in justice, but in fear of stalemate, fear of loss of face, fear of
not being able to show that his nation is the best and biggest by winning a relatively quick victory.

Rothbard also wouldn't be surprised by the problems the United States is having in Iraq, back then he wrote of the United States experience in Lebanon:

And so the U.S. sends the Marines, like a bull in a china shop, into Lebanon,without knowing or caring about any of the dozens of ethnic and religious
groups that have been there, and have been hating and battling each other (often with good reason) for literally hundreds of years. We land there, and all of a sudden there are these pesky folk with rifles, calling themselves Druze, or Shiites, or Sunnis. Bunch of Arabs, undoubtedly all tools of Moscow. And so when the U.S. Embassy or military headquarters is car-bombed, the U.S. comes to the conclusion that whoever did it are "pro-Iran Shiites". Not being able to find the people responsible, the U.S. engages in a Nazi-like spiral of ascribing collective guilt. If these are "pro-Iran Shiites", it must mean that the Iranian government is behind the bombings...

On the domestic front, Rothbard explains how Reagan sold out even before he was elected:

The Reagan Revolution, in contrast, sold out before it even began. The tip-off came at the Republican convention of 1980 when Reagan surrendered to the Liberal Republican enemy after having defeated them decisively for the nomination. It was not just making the defeated George Bush Vice-President; that much of a concession to party unity is traditional in American politics and usually means little. For Reagan also summarily got rid of almost all of his hard-core ideological advisers, and let back in to run the campaign, and then his Administration, the very pragmatists and Trilateral Commission adherents he had previously fought strongly against.

The Reagan sell-out was the most thorough and complete on 'Plank One'- the free-market part - of the conservative triad. Understandably: since conservatives don't really care about the free-market as they care about compulsory morality and especially war with Communism. The sell-out on the free-market is massive and enormous. A quick rundown will suffice. Reaganomics, as enunciated by Reagan himself before the convention and by conservatives generally, promised the following programme: a sharp cut in the federal budget, a drastic cut in income taxes, a balanced budget by 1984, deregulation of the economy, and return to a gold standard. Reagan has managed to convince both conservatives and liberals, and the American
public, that he did accomplish the first and second points of this list... Conservatives bought this myth because they wanted to see Reagan accomplish what he had said he would; liberals were happy to adopt it so that they could wail about how Reagan was causing untold misery and starvation by his drastic cuts. Actually, the budget was never cut; it has always skyrocketed under Reagan. Reagan is by far the biggest spender in American history. He is also the biggest taxer. Taxes were never cut. The piddling and. much publicised income tax cut was always, from the very
beginning, more than compensated by the programmed Social Security tax increases, add by 'bracket creep', that sinister system by which the federal government prints more money, thereby causing inflation, and also thereby wafting everyone into a higher tax bracket, whereupon the government completes the one-two punch by taxing away a greater proportion of his income.

Reagan was of course the biggest spender in American history until George W. Bush. It should be instructive that Bush claims to model his presidency, not based on that of his father, George H. W. Bush, but on that of Reagan. Bush is doing nothing but traveling further down the path of war, the stomping on civil liberties,theocracy and huge government spending that were the essence of the Reagan presidency. Indeed, it is helpful in understanding the complete picture to think of the current Bush
Administration as nothing more than the Reagan Administration on steroids.

Rothbard concluded his article this way:

Meanwhile what we have to worry about is a question far more serious than the key to the puzzling Reagan personality. Not only as libertarians, but still
more as human beings and members of the human race, we have to ask ourselves the question: Is There Life After Reagan? The jury is still out on that one.

Indeed, the jury still remains out on this question. While the public in general will this week, on news of Reagan's death, hail him as a great leader, the consequences of the trends he set: war, huge government spending etc. are impacting citizens of the world today. Great inflation is ahead. The United States military adventure is a mess. And while George Bush, the man who has unhesitatingly embraced and expanded Reagan's big government spending and military adventuresome ways, could be booted from office in November, he is likely be replaced by John Kerry,who has to-date raised no serious concerns about the encroachment of government in private lives in the name of "National Security," and whose solution to the Iraq occupancy is to bring in the United Nations to help with our interfering in Arab affairs.

Murray Rothbard saw the problem more than a decade ago, will the general public see it now, when it is breathing down their neck? Ronald Reagan is dead but his policies continue on. It would be too much to ask of the general public to recognize Reagan as the spark plug of the current mess. One can only hope that they at least recognize the mess itself.

1 comment:

  1. Uh, Wenzel, Ronald Reagan died on June 5th, 2004.