"There you go again"


Michael Kinsley is his typical, casually-can-barely-be-bothered-to-lift-his-head brilliant self here in his column on how Republicans (and, by extension, the mainstream media) mythologize Ronald Reagan in ways that are at perfect odds with reality. I wrote one of these eight years ago when McCain, et al, were saying the same silly things, and all I can say is, "Here we go again." Here are the relevant parts:

Ronald Reagan was many things, but most undeniably he was a pathological liar. True, he also gave every impression of being an unbelievable moron (which is why Saturday Night Live could once parody his pathetic excuses for the Iran/contra scandal with a skit that depicted Reagan as -- get this! -- brilliant and competent). His worshipful, if fanciful, biographer Edmund Morris even calls him an "apparent airhead." The President's famous cluelessness was so obvious during his years in office that his defenders would attempt to deploy it as a defense of his actions, as if he were a small child or a beloved but retarded uncle. The President tended to "build these little worlds and live in them," noted a senior adviser. "He makes things up and believes them," explained one of his kids.

Recall that ol' Dutch frequently made arguments about history based on movies he half-recalled. He thought he'd liberated concentration camps. He invented what he called "a verbal message" from the Pope in support of his Central America policies, news to everyone in Vatican City. In 1985, Reagan one day announced that the vicious apartheid regime of P.W. Botha had already "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country."

Not only did Reagan make things up, he also forgot some things that most of us consider pretty important. Morris, for instance, lets us in on the astonishing fact that the President not only did not know his own Secretary of Housing and Urban Development--no big whoop, as the guy was, after all, black--but that Mr. Family Values also failed to recognize his own son (his own son!) while attending his graduation. If any of us had a parent given to such behavior, we might feel compelled to look into some sort of institutionalized care, if only for his own protection.

But another, more significant, little-mentioned tendency of the ex-President was his fondness for genocidal murderers. I do not use the term "genocide" lightly.

Take Guatemala. That nation's official Historical Clarification Commission charged its own government with a campaign of "genocide" in murdering roughly 200,000 people, mainly Mayan Indians, during its dictatorial reign of terror. The commission's nine-volume 1999 report singled out the US role in aiding this "criminal counterinsurgency." The violence in Guatemala reached a gruesome climax in the early eighties under the dictatorship of the born-again evangelical, Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt. Nine hundred thousand people were forcibly relocated and entire villages leveled. As army helicopters strafed a caravan of 40,000 unarmed refugees seeking to escape to Mexico, Reagan chose that moment to congratulate Ríos Montt for his dedication to democracy, adding that he had been getting "a bum rap" from liberals in Congress and the media. His Administration soon provided as much aid to the killers as Congress would allow.

Reagan showed a similar indulgence toward the terrorists in El Salvador. The President and his equally immoral advisers consistently behaved as if they were hired public relations agents for the murderers of children, nuns, priests and peasants. Not long after these killings reached the amazing level of more than 200 per week -- in a country with just 5.5 million people -- Reagan mused aloud that they were not the work of "so-called murder squads" on the right, but of "guerrilla forces" who think they "can get away with these violent acts, helping to try and bring down the government, and the right wing will be blamed for it." In fact, only days later, Vice President Bush flew to San Salvador to insist that "every murderous act" committed by "right-wing fanatics ... poisons the well of friendship between our two countries," and that "death squad murders" could cost the killers "the support of the American people." Didn't Reagan know what Bush knew? Does anyone care? After the war, the Catholic archdiocese in San Salvador documented the number of killings on each side. The tally: military and government-assisted death squads, 41,048; left-wing guerrillas, 776. Reagan was off by almost 5,500 percent. Liar or moron? You tell me.

Historians are starting to provide a useful corrective, perhaps in anticipation of an orgy of dishonest eulogies like those for Richard Nixon in 1994, while pundits casually credit Reagan with inspiring Moscow's capitulation in the cold war, via his obsession with Star Wars. But as Frances FitzGerald demonstrates in her new book, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan and Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, the historical record does not even remotely support this wishfully ignorant thesis. Similarly, in Matthew Evangelista's new work, Unarmed Forces, we discover the key role played by transnational forces in convincing Gorbachev & Co. to shut down the arms race in spite -- not because -- of the belligerence emanating from Reagan and his men.

Today, the key question about Reagan remains not only unanswered but unasked: How did this childlike fantasist and friend of genocide convince a nation of reasonably intelligent, God-fearing and generally decent citizens to avert its eyes from the heart of darkness that beat beneath Ronald Reagan's congenial smile? And how did that same culture come to rhapsodize the same man today?

Lookit Marty Peretz complain of being snubbed by Hillary Clinton, here. Because his second marriage to a second wealthy woman has made it possible for Marty Peretz to surround himself with people who have no interest in telling him the truth -- and some, like the alleged "Jamie Kirchick" who may not even exist -- he has probably never heard anyone speak to him the way Dean Acheson could afford to speak to Lyndon Johnson in said priceless story: "Complaining bitterly to Dean Acheson about the public affection that had surrounded John Kennedy and the coolness toward him, Lyndon B. Johnson wondered aloud why people didn't like him. 'Mr. President,' Acheson replied, 'you're not a very likeable man.' "fan act of rationality and self respect.
Here. Young Ezra has more here on why snubbing Marty was, for Hillary Clinton, an act of rationality and self-respect.

Also there's this:

I am reliably informed that John McCain's campaign has appropriated both John Mellencamp's "Our Country" and "Pink Houses" at recent campaign rallies. He is not happy about this, as John is a left-leaning Democrat and strong Edwards supporter whose wife was, in fact, an at-large delegate to the 2004 Democratic convention. He is hoping they will reconsider the use of these songs in light of the huge divide between McCain's point of view and John's and, since McCain is trying to establish himself as a dyed-in-the wool conservative, associating with an unreconstructed lefty like Mellencamp could prove embarrassing. They only learned of it here and here.

What happens when someone who actually knows something about fascism reviews a book by Jonah Goldberg:

A few of Goldberg's assaults make some minimal sense; others are baffling. He culminates with an attack on Hillary Clinton. He quotes from a 1993 college commencement address of hers: "We need a new politics of meaning. We need a new ethos of individual responsibility and caring. We need a new definition of civil society which answers the unanswerable questions posed by both the market forces and the governmental ones, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves." Such vacuous politician-speak could come from any centrist, whether Republican or Democrat. But Goldberg bizarrely says it embodies "the most thoroughly totalitarian conception of politics offered by a leading American political figure in the last half century." Is he serious?

Michael Mann's review is here.

Also a nice review in the same WaPo Book World of Jacob Heilbrunn's book by Ted Widmer, here:

At other times, Heilbrunn seems defensive, as if a trace of the virus remains in his bloodstream. He suggests that the United States should have overthrown Egyptian president Gamal Nasser in 1956 to let democracy bloom, an act that would have been illegal and insane. He is very severe on Democratic foreign policy, targeting George McGovern (who inflicted more harm on Nazis than any neocons did), ridiculing Jimmy Carter and launching the usual tired attacks on Bill Clinton, whom he finds both too slow (to combat terrorism) and too eager (to conduct humanitarian interventions). He excoriates Madeleine Albright for daring to express the "hubristic belief" that the United States is indispensable to the world. More hubristic than the neocons?

Heilbrunn tries acrobatically to defend Reagan's Iran-Contra mess, and Elliott Abrams in particular, while denouncing the specific crime (withholding information from Congress) that Abrams was convicted of, and he argues that El Salvador became a "thriving democracy" as a result of Reagan's policy, a lofty claim. These neocon thought bubbles can be disorienting inside a book that is generally critical of the movement. A quirky ending imagines George W. Bush looking back with satisfaction on world events in 2016, suggesting that history may redeem the neocons, which seems unlikely at best, and possibly delusional.

From TomDispatch:

Hardly a week passes in which we don't hear about what the fallout from two disastrous wars is doing to the overextended U.S. military, not to speak of the problems the armed forces are facing in retaining and recruiting members. More suicides, more post-traumatic stress syndrome, ever-dropping recruiting standards, that's the sort of news a site like TomDispatch is likely to post.

But there is another aspect to the all-volunteer military -- and it's important. Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, a TomDispatch regular, makes clear how striking it is that, despite two failing wars, volunteers still arrive at military recruitment offices in surprising numbers; and, no less significantly, that Americans still trust their military above every other institution in this society.

"What explains the military's enduring appeal in our society?" Astore asks, and then he suggests that progressive critics in particular consider the military "so tainted, so baneful" that they can't see its appeal at all. Instead, there's a "reflexive turning of backs, as if our military were truly from Mars or perhaps drawn from the nether regions where Moorlocks shamble and grunt in barbarian darkness." Under such circumstances, how can critics understand the trust most Americans place in the military, no less engage with it as an institution?

Astore writes: "If you want to change anything -- even our increasing propensity for militarism -- you first have to make an effort to engage with it. And to engage with it, you have to know the wellsprings of its appeal, which transcend corporate profits or imperial power."

He then offers an exceedingly canny and original analysis of just what the military's appeal actually is -- both in terms of its diversity as an institution, which makes it close to unique in this country, and as a repository for young men "seeking to construct their own identities... in a risk-averse society with designer drugs and syndrome-of-the-day counselors to ease our pain." He explains just how, for such young men, volunteering for the military can represent a satisfyingly taboo-breaking act.

The failure to understand, or genuinely engage with the military, Astore concludes, has been a self-destructive one for progressive agendas.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: David Dunne
Hometown: Somerville, MA

"You'd have to have had the brain of a ficus to believe this stuff, but Willamette kept on pitching, looking like he was running for inclusion in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World."

To the estimable Charles Pierce: My ficus is insulted.

Name: Jim
Hometown: Lawton, (frozen) Michigan

I love the guy. Not enough to seek him out on the net to review his every paragraph, but I light up when I see you posting his stuff. He is, sadly, a constant reminder of why a writer of his skill will never break through to the conservative base of this country. Preaching to the choir is nice, and it probably sells whatever he helps sell, but it ultimately sways exactly zero of the folks he might like to sway just a bit. You cannot, and I'll repeat myself here, cannot sway the common folk with a keyboard that drips of "I'm smarter and funnier and wittier than you." The ivory towers are among the most despised elements of education to regular folk that bust their humps daily to get by.

But if he ever braves the red zones of Michigan I'll stand him any number of good beers he'd like to hoist.

Keep up the good fight...better days are coming.

Name: Charles
Hometown: Chandler, AZ

J DAlessandro mentions that a candidate who can reach out to the black and white conservatives is not being realistic ... I do not know that I agree with this. I spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening with my father and stepmother, who recently abandoned their Republican party so as to be able to vote for Mr. Obama in our primary next week, & about 13,000 other Arizonans to listen to a candidate who I think may be able to do this very thing (reach out to conservatives). I am realistic and agree that there is a "conservative" base that is going to vote for Guy Smiley, or St. John, or whatever gem they put out there - but there is a HUGE % of moderate "Republicans" who can be wooed and won over by pointing out the REAL trouble our country is in - economically, infrastructurally, Constitutionally. I believe those people want an economy that works and their privacy rights protected as much as anyone else - and I think the realization that the last 8 years have been a disaster is becoming fact, even to them.

And for that reason, I think Obama is the answer over a polarizing Hillary, even if their actual voting records are nearly identical.

Name: oyun

A brief heads up for you and your readers regarding the new Jimmy Reed tribute CD: it is the subject of this weekend's episode of "Austin City Limits." Jimmie Vaughan and Omar Dykes will be joined by James Cotton, Lou Ann Barton, Delbert McClinton, and Kim Wilson playing selections from the CD.

Oh, and thanks for the Schlesinger quotes regarding the more odious neocons. I couldn't agree more with his assessment of Krauthammer. Any thoughts as to just why is he taken seriously as an intellectual? Schlesinger described him when he was starting out and he's been writing the same belligerent foreign policy essays ever since.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: http://dailyrevolution.net

Eric: I saw the headline to your post the other day, it registered in the unconscious and then I (re)wrote this song; it's about McCain: (here):

Flip-flopping away, flip-flopping awa-aay...
You know the nearer the destination the more he's flip-flopping away...

I know a man, wants a hundred years' war
He got swift-boated by Karl Rove
And then came back for some more.

He says "on good days, you can walk through Baghdad...
When you're surrounded by a battalion
You can go on flip-floppin' away..."

Flip-flopping away, flip-flopping awa-aay...
You know the nearer the destination the more he's flip-flopping away...

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.