I'm sorry but I don't get all the fuss people are making about Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday. I'm sure his kids, Nancy and other family members and friends probably have fond personal memories of him. But what I truly hate, as I do with any public figure, be it Michael Jackson or Martin Luther King Jr. is this mass white-washing of his legacy that is currently taking place. No one (with a very few expcetions) is a complete saint or a certified sinner. So let's get a few facts straight about Ronald.
"Reaganomics"did nothing to help anyone but the weathiest Americans and is an ambomination that has continued to hurt middle and working class people to this day, as it has become Republican gospel. Wake up! It's been over 30 years and the money still hasn't trickled down! Not to mention his cutting of social programs that would've further helped non-millionaires.
During his presidency he did nothing to help the black or gay communities. How quickly everyone seems to have forgotten about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which drug trafficking led to black communities being flooded with crack cocaine in the eighties, from which sprung addiction and drug-related gang violence in neighborhoods already ravaged by poverty. Poverty that was the result of by you guessed it, Reaganomics!
And lest we forget, Reagan's silence on AIDS and hooking up with fundamentalist douche bags like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson held up funding and potential medical treatments for years. In fact, AIDS, then called the "gay cancer" was pretty much joke in the White House during the early 80's. Literally.
The White House Office of the Press Secretary Press Briefing by Larry Speakes October 15, 1982 The Briefing Room 12:45pm EDT
Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement -- the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Mr. Speakes: What's AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
Mr. Speakes: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don't.
Mr. Speakes: You didn't answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President ...
Mr. Speakes: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
Mr. Speakes: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
Mr. Speakes: I don't think so. I don't think there's been any ...
Q: Nobody knows?
Mr. Speakes: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping ...
Mr. Speakes: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he's had no -- (laughter) -- no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.
Q: The President doesn't have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what?
Mr. Speakes: No, I didn't say that.
Q: Didn't say that?
Mr. Speakes: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn't you stay there? (Laughter.)
Q: Because I love you Larry, that's why. (Laughter.)
Mr. Speakes: Oh I see. Just don't put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, I retract that.
Mr. Speakes: I hope so.
Q: It's too late.
This transcript was quoted at the beginning of Jon Cohen's book, Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, 2001. ISSN # 1052-4207.
By the time Reagan finally decided to speak about AIDS in 1987, not only did he state the government shouldn't provide sex education, but his comments were tailored to his evangelical base, who were all to eager to claim the disease as God's punishment.
"On April 2, 1987, Reagan said: "How that information is used must be up to schools and parents, not government. But let's be honest with ourselves, AIDS information can not be what some call 'value neutral.' After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons."
AIDS research was chronically under-funded. When doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health asked for more funding for their work on AIDS, they were routinely denied it. Between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaire's Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaire's Disease. This drastic lack of funding would continue through the Reagan years.
When health and support groups in the gay community were beginning to initiate education and prevention programs, they were denied federal funding. In October 1987 Senator Helms amended a federal appropriations bill to prohibit AIDS education efforts that "encourage or promote homosexual activity" — that is, efforts that tell gay men how to have safe sex.
When Rock Hudson, a friend and colleague of the Reagans, was diagnosed with AIDS and died in 1985 (one of the 20,740 cases reported that year), Reagan still did not speak out as president ... In 1986 (after five years of complete silence), when Surgeon General C. Everett Koop released a report calling for AIDS education in schools, Bennett and Bauer did everything possible to undercut and prevent funding for Koop's too-little-too-late initiative. Reagan, again, said and did nothing. By the end of 1986, 37,061 AIDS cases had been reported; 16,301 people had died.
I understand that personal responsiblity is a factor. No one forced anyone not to wear condoms or smoke crack. We all are accountable for our own behavior. But that still doesn't change the fact that the Reagan and his administration systematically failed to meet the needs of people that desperately needed them most. That he allowed politics and personal prejudices to override any sense of compassion for communities that were suffering, and by doing so, exacerbated it. Reagan's job as president was to serve all Americans and he actively chose not to do so.
Now he's being reinvented as the Great American, an omnibenevolent president who as a friend to all. Pardon my french, but that's a bunch of bullshit. When public/historic figures, be they politicians or entertainers, are made out to be saints or demons (unless they are complete sociopaths), we do both ourselves and them a disservice by denying their humanity.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader, a gifted speaker, and a fearless fighter against injustice. But he was also a philanderer and occasionally engaged in plagiarism.
Michael Jackson was a tremendously gifted performer, songwriter and singer who gave millions away to charity. But he was also an emotionally crippled man riddled with self-hatred about his black skin and features, and did everything he could to get rid of both.
Or course this also works the other way. Malcom X called white people devils (maybe that's why there's no Malcom X Day for the kiddies:) and proclaimed blacks should totally separate themselves from society. But he also recanted such statements after he went to Mecca.
My point is that when we white-wash a person's legacy we turn them into a symbol that is impossible to aspire to, forgetting their negative actions and their flaws. And when we make someone out to be a complete and utter villain (again with exceptions, i.e. Hitler, Stalin), we can often forget the good things they've done or changes that may occur in their views over a lifetime.
So when you wish Reagan a happy birthday, think twice as you blow out the candles.