Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This just in: Reagan presidency recalled accurately!

from DangerousMinds:

Paul Slansky is guest blogging at Dangerous Minds about life during the Reagan era.

This is the first in a series of posts reminding those who lived through it – and informing those who didn’t – that contrary to relentless media efforts to portray Ronald Reagan as a great President and his reign as an era of national bliss, he was actually a lazy ignoramus who couldn’t tell fact from fiction, and whose eight years of callous actions (and inactions) had disastrous and ongoing consequences for the country.  And here’s how it started:

11/4/80 At 8:15pm EST, with a mere five percent of the vote counted, NBC declares former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan the 40th President of the United States.  “I’m not bitter,” says President Jimmy Carter, who concedes the election hours before polls in the west have closed. “Rosalynn is, but I’m not.” Adds the First Lady, “I’m bitter enough for all of us.”

11/20/80 President-elect Reagan arrives at the White House to receive a job briefing from President Carter, who later reveals that Reagan asked few questions and took no notes, asking instead for a copy of Carter’s presentation.

11/27/80 At halftime during its Thanksgiving football game, CBS interviews President-elect Ronald Reagan, who reminisces about his days as a radio sportscaster and fondly recalls his penchant for enhancing the events by “making things up.”

12/11/80 Presidentelect Reagan’s first eight Cabinet appointments – including Donald Regan (Treasury), David Stockman (Budget Director), Caspar Weinberger (Defense) and William Casey (CIA) – are announced.  Reagan not only doesn’t attend the half hour ceremony but he can’t even be bothered to watch all of it on TV.

12/12/80 Denying a report that Nancy Reagan “can’t understand” why the Carters don’t move into Blair House during the transition so she can have a head start on redecorating the White House, a spokesperson explains that the First Ladyin-waiting merely suggested that she might do that favor for the next First Family.  Says one Carter aide, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to fend off the moving vans.”



12/31/80 Nancy Reagan is reported to be insisting that whoever is hired as her husband’s press secretary must be “reasonably goodlooking.”

1/17/81 The most expensive Inaugural celebration in American history – an $11 million four day parade of limousines, white ties and mink that prompts Reagan partisan Barry Goldwater to complain about such an “ostentatious” display “at a time when most people can’t hack it” – gets underway in Washington.

1/20/81 At noon, promising an “era of national renewal,” Ronald Wilson Reagan becomes the oldest man to take the oath of office as President of the United States.  In a stunning coincidence, just as he completes his speech, the 52 hostages held in Tehran for 444 days begin their journey home.  Suspicion lingers to this day about whether behind-the-scenes machinations by the Reagan transition team – machinations which would have been nothing less than treasonous – might have played a part in delaying this moment for days or even weeks in order that it might provide this spectacular opening to the surreal movie about to be filmed.

Later, President Reagan visits Tip O’Neill’s office, where the House Speaker shows him a desk that was used by Grover Cleveland.  Reagan claims to have portrayed him in a movie.  O’Neill points out that Reagan in fact played Grover Cleveland Alexander, the baseball player, not Grover Cleveland, the President.

1/21/81 At his first Cabinet meeting, President Reagan is asked if the Administration has plans to issue an expected Executive Order on cost‑cutting. He shrugs. Then, noticing budget director David Stockman nodding emphatically, he adds, “I have a smiling fellow at the end of the table who tells me we do.”

1/21/81 On his first full day on the job as National Security Adviser, Richard Allen receives $1,000 and a pair of Seiko watches from Japanese journalists as a tip for arranging an interview with Nancy Reagan.

2/2/81 At his hearing to become Under‑secretary of State, Reagan crony William Clark is subjected to a current events quiz. Is he familiar with the struggles within the British Labour Party? He is not. Does he know which European nations don’t want US nuclear weapons on their soil? He does not. Can he name the Prime Minister of South Africa? He cannot. The Prime Minister of Zimbabwe? “It would be a guess.” Despite his wide-ranging ignorance, he is confirmed.

2/5/81 Testifying before Congress, Interior Secretary James Watt – of whom President Reagan says, “I think he’s an environmentalist himself, as I think I am” – is asked if he agrees that natural resources must be preserved for future generations. Yes, Watt says, but “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.”

2/11/81 Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan eases requirements for the labeling of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.


3/18/81 Responding to charges that three Baltimore slums he owns should have been boarded up months ago, White House aide Lyn Nofziger says, “If I didn’t own them, somebody else would ... It’s much ado about nothing.”

3/30/81 Following Reagan’s shooting, Secretary of State Alexander Haig rushes to the White House briefing room where, trembling and with his voice cracking, he seeks to reassure our allies that the government continues to function: “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president.” Afterward, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger confronts Haig and informs him that he has misstated the line of succession, which actually places the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate ahead of the Secretary of State. Snarls Haig, “Look, you better go home and read your Constitution, buddy. That’s the way it is.”

3/31/81 An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that President Reagan’s popularity rating went up 11 points after he was shot, though not everybody suddenly adores him. One student writes in his college newspaper that he hopes Reagan dies of his wounds, prompting Nancy to inquire about the possibility of prosecuting him.

4/1/81 CNN airs a videotape of psychic Tamara Rand “predicting” the Reagan shooting on a Las Vegas talk show reportedly taped on January 6th. Rand said she felt Reagan was in danger “at the end of March” from “a thud” in the “chest area” caused by “shots all over the place” from the gun of a “fair‑haired” young man named something like “Jack Humley.” Four days later Dick Maurice, the show’s host, admits that this astonishing “prediction” was actually taped the day after the shooting. Still, she had it pegged pretty close.



5/11/81 Ed Meese calls the American Civil Liberties Union “a criminals’ lobby.”


6/12/81 President Reagan fails to recognize his only black Cabinet member, Housing Secretary Samuel Pierce, at a White House reception for big‑city mayors. “How are you, Mr. Mayor?” he greets Pierce. “I’m glad to meet you. How are things in your city?”

6/16/81 President Reagan holds his third press conference, where he responds to questions on the Israeli attack on Iraq (“I can’t answer that”), Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non‑proliferation Treaty (“Well, I haven’t given very much thought to that particular question there”), Pakistan’s refusal to sign the treaty (“I won’t answer the last part of the question”), Israeli threats against Lebanon (“Well, this one’s going to be one, I’m afraid, that I can’t answer now”), and the tactics of political action committees (“I don’t really know how to answer that”). As for skepticism about his administration’s grasp of foreign affairs, the President declares, “I’m satisfied that we do have a foreign policy.”

7/23/81 Invited by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to join the negotiating session at which his tax bill is being shaped, President Reagan chuckles and says, “Heck, no. I’m going to leave this to you experts. I’m not going to get involved in details.”

8/5/81 The Reagan Administration begins sending dismissal notices to over 5,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO). By week’s end, the union is broken.


8/13/81 President Reagan takes time out from his summer vacation at his home in Santa Barbara, California – which is oddly called a “ranch” though no livestock or crops are raised there – to sign the largest budget and tax cuts in history into law. When his dog wanders by, a reporter asks its name. “Lassie,” the President replies, then corrects himself. “Millie!” he says. “Millie. Millie’s her name.” Everyone laughs and laughs, because it’s just so funny when someone forgets his own dog’s name and confuses her with a movie dog.

8/19/81 White House counselor Ed Meese sees no need to wake President Reagan just to tell him the Navy has shot down two Libyan jets. Defending Meese’s decision, Reagan explains, “If our planes are shot down, yes, they’d wake me up right away. If the other fellows were shot down, why wake me up?”

8/31/81 Former movie actor Rex Allen, who spent 45 minutes with President Reagan after presenting him with four pairs of free boots, says, “He acted like there was nothing else in the world he had to do, nothing else on his mind.” Says an unnamed White House aide, “There are times when you really need him to do some work, and all he wants to do is tell stories about his movie days.”

9/4/81 The Agriculture Department proposes cutting the size of school lunches and offering tofu, yogurt, cottage cheese or peanuts as viable meat substitutes. Also, condiments such as ketchup and pickle relish would be reclassified as actual vegetables.

9/23/81 President Reagan plays host to welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard and his wife. “We’re very proud,” says the President, “to have Sugar Ray and Mrs. Ray here.”

9/25/81 President Reagan announces that he has withdrawn the proposal to cut school lunches. He suggests that a dissident faction in the Agriculture Department might have come up with the idea as a form of “bureaucratic sabotage.” And just to set the record straight, aide James Johnson explains, “It would be a mistake to say that ketchup per se was classified as a vegetable. Ketchup in combination with other things was classified as a vegetable.” And what things would ketchup have to have combined with to have been considered a full‑blown vegetable? “French fries or hamburgers.”

10/2/81 At a White House briefing with Caspar Weinberger, President Reagan is asked how his MX missiles will be deployed. “I don’t know but what maybe you haven’t gotten into the area that I’m gonna turn over to the, heh heh, to the Secretary of Defense,” he says sheepishly. “The silos will be hardened,” Weinberger says, then nods approvingly as Reagan ad-libs, “Yes, I could say this. The plan also includes the hardening of silos.”

11/13/81 The White House announces that the Justice Department is investigating a $1,000 payment given to National Security Adviser Richard Allen by a Japanese magazine after he helped arrange a brief post‑inaugural interview with Nancy Reagan. “I didn’t accept it. I received it,” says Allen, who explains that “it would have been an embarrassment” to the Japanese to have returned the money. He takes a leave of absence while the investigation continues, embarking on a doomed attempt to save himself by going on TV and taking his case directly to the people, who couldn’t care less who the National Security Adviser is as long as they’re not required to know his name. The President hails his integrity, then names noted foreign policy non-expert William Clark to succeed him.

11/13/81 Dismissing charges that Reagan economic policies are unfair, GOP finance chairman Richard DeVos scoffs, “When I hear people talking about money, it’s usually people who don’t have any.”

11/23/81 President Reagan vetoes a stopgap spending bill, thus forcing the federal government – for the first time in history – to temporarily shut down. Says House Speaker Tip O’Neill, “He knows less about the budget than any president in my lifetime. He can’t even carry on a conversation about the budget. It’s an absolute and utter disgrace.”

12/2/81 Following a four‑month investigation into William Casey’s business dealings, the Senate Intelligence Committee gives the CIA Director the rousing endorsement of being not “unfit to serve.”



12/22/81 As Christmas approaches, President Reagan authorizes the distribution of 30 million pounds of surplus cheese to the poor. According to a government official, the cheese is well over a year old and has reached “critical inventory situation.” Translation: it’s moldy.

1/8/82 The White House announces that President Reagan – who often wonders why people think he’s anti‑civil rights – has signed off on Ed Meese’s plan to grant tax‑exempt status to South Carolina’s Bob Jones University and other schools that practice racial discrimination.

1/12/82 President Reagan explains that there must have been some kind of “misunderstanding” regarding his efforts to grant tax exemptions to segregated schools, since he is “unalterably opposed to racial discrimination in any form.”

1/15/82 President Reagan phones The Washington Post to explain that when his new policy toward segregated schools was announced, he “didn’t know at the time that there was a legal case pending.” CBS quickly obtains a memo in which intervention in the Bob Jones University case was specifically requested, and on which Reagan had written, “I think we should.”

1/15/82 Press secretary Sheila Tate says that Nancy Reagan “has derived no personal benefit” from her acceptance of thousands of dollars worth of clothing from American designers, explaining that the First Lady’s sole motive is to help the national fashion industry. So, getting fabulous clothes for free should not be considered a “personal benefit.”

1/19/82 President Reagan holds his seventh press conference, where he claims there are “a million people more working than there were in 1980” (though statistics show that 100,000 fewer people are employed); contends that his attempt to grant tax‑exempt status to segregated schools was meant to correct “a procedure that we thought had no basis in law” (though the Supreme Court had clearly upheld a ruling barring such exemptions a decade earlier); claims that he has received a letter from Pope John Paul II in which he “approves what we’ve done so far” regarding US sanctions against the USSR (though no such approval was mentioned in the papal message); responds to a question about the 17% black unemployment rate by pointing out that “in this time of great unemployment,” Sunday’s paper had “24 full pages of ... employers looking for employees” (though most of the jobs available – computer operator, for example, or cellular immunologist – require special training, for which Reagan cut funds by over 30%); and responds to a question about private charity by observing, “I also happen to be someone who believes in tithing – the giving of a tenth” (though his latest tax returns show charitable contributions amounting to a parsimonious 1.4%).

2/16/82 The public is informed by an aide to Nancy Reagan that the First Lady will no longer accept free clothing “on loan” from top designers because “she really just got tired of people misinterpreting what she was doing.” In October 1988, her spokesperson, Elaine Crispen, confirms that, despite her pledge not to do it anymore, she has continued to receive free designer clothing throughout her husband’s presidency. “She made a promise not to do this again and she broke her little promise,” says Crispen, who points out – as Reagan aides so often seem to do – that no actual laws were broken.

2/24/82 Addressing the Voice of America’s 40th birthday celebration, President Reagan reminisces about making up exciting details while announcing baseball games from wire copy. “Now, I submit to you that I told the truth,” he says of his enhanced version of a routine shortstop‑to‑first ground out. “I don’t know whether he really ran over toward second base and made a one‑hand stab or whether he just squatted down and took the ball when it came to him. But the truth got there and, in other words, it can be attractively packaged.” No one questions his premise that embellishing the truth does not compromise it.

2/27/82 The Congressional Budget Office finds that taxpayers earning under $10,000 lost an average $240 from last year’s tax cuts, while those earning over $80,000 gained an average of $15,130.

3/1/82 Sen. Bob Packwood (R‑OR) reveals that President Reagan frequently offers up transparently fictional anecdotes as if they were real. “We’ve got a $120 billion deficit coming,” says Packwood, “and the President says, ‘You know, a young man, went into a grocery store and he had an orange in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other, and he paid for the orange with food stamps and he took the change and paid for the vodka. That’s what’s wrong.’ And we just shake our heads.”

3/1/82 In a speech to the Civil Defense Association, Ed Meese describes nuclear war as “something that may not be desirable.”

3/24/82 Agriculture official Mary C. Jarratt tells Congress her department has been unable to document President Reagan’s horror stories of food stamp abuse, pointing out that the change from a food stamp purchase is limited to 99 cents. “It’s not possible to buy a bottle of vodka with 99 cents,” she says. Deputy White House press secretary Peter Roussel says Reagan wouldn’t tell these stories “unless he thought they were accurate.”

4/15/82 Citing a favorite example of British jurisprudence, President Reagan says, “England was always very proud of the fact that the English police did not have to carry guns ... In England, if a criminal carried a gun, even though he didn’t use it, he was not tried for burglary or theft or whatever he was doing. He was tried for first‑degree murder and hung if he was found guilty.” White House spokesman Larry Speakes, on being informed that this fable is totally untrue, responds, “Well, it’s a good story, though. It made the point, didn’t it?”

4/30/82 President Reagan describes the Falkland Islands war as a “dispute over the sovereignty of that little ice‑cold bunch of land down there.”

5/10/82 Taking questions from students at a Chicago high school, President Reagan explains why his revised tax exemption policy could not possibly have been intended to benefit segregated schools. “I didn’t know there were any,” he says. “Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”

5/21/82 Discussing Soviet weaponry at a National Security Council meeting, President Reagan asks CIA deputy director Bobby Inman, “Isn’t the SS‑19 their biggest missile?” No, Inman replies, “that’s the SS‑18.” “So,” says the President, “they’ve even switched the numbers on their missiles in order to confuse us!” Inman explains that the numbers are assigned by US intelligence.

6/17/82 Interior Secretary James Watt – one of whose semantic rules is, “I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans” – warns the Israeli ambassador that if “liberals of the Jewish community” oppose his plans for off‑shore drilling, “they will weaken our ability to be a good friend of Israel.”

6/20/82 Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger explains the Pentagon’s position on a “protracted” nuclear war: “We don’t believe a nuclear war can be won,” but “we are planning to prevail if we are attacked.” The difference between winning and prevailing is not explored.

4/14/83 President Reagan is asked if his administration is trying to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. “No,” he says, “because that would be violating the law.”

4/18/83 Seventeen Americans and 46 Lebanese are killed when a truck bomb plows into the US embassy in Beirut.

4/27/83 President Reagan asks Congress for $600 million for his Central American policies, pointing out – as if it had some relevance – that this “is less than one‑tenth of what Americans will spend this year on coin‑operated video games.”

5/4/83 President Reagan lauds the Nicaraguan contras as “freedom fighters” and observes that nuclear weapons “can’t help but have an effect on the population as a whole.”

5/18/83 During a speech to the White House News Photographers dinner, President Reagan sticks his thumbs in his ears and wiggles his fingers. Says the leader of the free world, “I’ve been waiting years to do this.”

5/28/83 Telling his aides that, rather than reading his briefing books, he spent the eve of the Williamsburg economic summit watching The Sound of Music, President Reagan says, “I put them aside and spent the evening with Julie Andrews.”

6/9/83 Addressing a forum in Minnesota, President Reagan is asked how the Federal Government plans to respond to a report on education that he has “approved ... in its entirety.” He is unable to provide anything more specific than that he is “going to have meetings,” and finally turns to Education Secretary T. H. Bell for help. “Could you fill in what I left out?” the President asks Bell. “I won’t be offended.”

6/10/83 Reacting to President Reagan’s claim that he has increased federal aid to education, House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-TX) says, “It embarrasses all of us as Americans to have to point out that the President of the United States is not telling the truth ... I want to believe that he doesn’t know any better. I want to believe that those who furnish him those spurious statistics are the culprits and that the President of the United States is innocently making these statements, not aware of their total untruth.”

6/16/83 Ariela Gross, a 17‑year‑old New Jersey student, meets with President Reagan to present him with a petition supporting a nuclear freeze. She reports that the President “expressed the belief that there must be something wrong with the freeze if the Soviets want it.”

6/29/83 President Reagan suggests that one cause of the decline in public education is the schools’ efforts to comply with court‑ordered desegregation.

6/29/83 President Reagan appears on a TV tribute to James Bond, where he speaks about the fictional secret agent as if he was a real human. “James Bond is a man of honor,” says the President, “a symbol of real value to the free world.” Says Tip O’Neill aide Chris Matthews, “This is the kind of thing we all thought Reagan would be doing if he had lost the ‘80 election.”

7/26/83 Reagan appointee Thomas Ellis acknowledges at a Senate hearing that he belongs to an all‑white country club, was a recent guest of the government of South Africa (where he has extensive holdings) and served as director of a group that financed research on the genetic inferiority of blacks. Still, he says, “I do not believe in my heart that I’m a racist.” He withdraws his name two days later.

8/2/83 Rep. Pat Schroeder (D‑CO) says that Reagan is “perfecting the Teflon‑coated presidency ... nothing sticks to him. He is responsible for nothing – civil rights, Central America, the Middle East, the economy, the environment. He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner.”

8/22/83 Barbara Honegger resigns her job at the Justice Department after writing an Op‑Ed piece for The Washington Post in which she calls Reagan’s policies toward women “a sham.” Described by a department spokesman as a “low‑level munchkin,” she holds a news conference three days later to display a photograph of herself with President Reagan. “They called me a Munchkin,” she says. “This is me with the Wizard of Oz.”

9/1/83 A Soviet fighter mistakenly shoots down Korean Air Lines flight 007 after it strays into Soviet airspace, killing 269. George Shultz calls Tip O’Neill to tell him about the incident. “What does the President think about this?” asks O’Neill. “We’ll tell him when he wakes up,” says Shultz. Only after CBS shows President Reagan on horseback at his ranch as the crisis unfolds does he reluctantly return to Washington.

9/15/83 President Reagan wears his new hearing aid at a state dinner, prompting fashion‑conscious guest Merv Griffin to exclaim, “I think everybody’s running out to get them whether they need them or not.” Despite Griffin’s fatuous comment, there is in fact no surge in the purchase of unnecessary hearing aids.

9/21/83 Interior Secretary James Watt describes the makeup of his coal‑leasing commission to a group of lobbyists. “We have every kind of mix you can have,” he says. “I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” As a public furor erupts, a spokesman explains that Watt “was attempting to convey that this is a very broadly based commission.”

9/27/83 Polio victim Bob Brostrom arrives at the White House on crutches to present 120,000 pieces of mail supporting James Watt. If Watt loses his job for saying “cripple,” argues Brostrom, then hospitals for “crippled children” should change their names.

10/4/83 At a meeting with congressmen to discuss arms reduction, President Reagan – in office for almost three years – says he has only recently learned that most of the USSR’s nuclear arsenal is land‑based. This elementary information is essential to any rational thinking about disarmament.

10/9/83 Claiming that his “usefulness” to President Reagan “has come to an end,” James Watt resigns. “The press tried to paint my hat black,” he says of his troubled tenure, “but I had enough self‑image to know the hat was white.” He later assumes a crucifixion pose for photographers.

10/13/83 Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker is informed that President Reagan has appointed William Clark – as unqualified for this job as for all his others – to be the new Secretary of the Interior. “You’re kidding,” says Baker. “Now tell me who it really is.”

10/19/83 Asked at a press conference about the safety of the US Marines in Beirut, President Reagan says, “We’re looking at everything that can be done to try and make their position safer. We’re not sitting idly by.”

10/23/83 A truck bomb at the US barracks in Beirut kills 241 Marines.

10/24/83 In the face of political strife on the island of Grenada, White House spokesman Larry Speakes calls press speculation about a US invasion “preposterous.”

10/25/83 Claiming that US medical students there are in grave danger, President Reagan diverts attention from the Beirut fiasco by launching an invasion of Grenada. Lest there be any doubt about Presidential involvement in this decision, photos are released showing a pajama‑clad Reagan – up at 5:15 a.m.! – being briefed on the situation. Curiously, reporters are prevented from covering the invasion.

10/26/83 American students from Grenada kiss the tarmac upon landing in South Carolina. Scoffs school bursar Gary Solin, “Our safety was never in danger. We were used by this government as an excuse to invade Grenada.” President Reagan says US troops “got there just in time” to prevent a Cuban takeover.

11/3/83 President Reagan explains that the military action he ordered in Grenada was not an invasion but was, rather, a “rescue mission.” As for a UN resolution deploring this action, “It didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

12/3/83 Concrete barricades are erected in front of the White House to prevent truck bombers from cruising in as easily as they seem to in Beirut.

12/6/83 The Israeli newspaper Maariv reports that during a meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Reagan – who spent World War II making training films in Hollywood – claimed to have served as a photographer in an army unit filming the horrors of Nazi death camps. Shamir says Reagan also claimed to have saved a copy in case there was ever any question as to whether things had really been so bad. When asked just that question by a family member, Shamir quotes him as saying, “This is the time for which I saved the film, and I showed it to a group of people who couldn’t believe their eyes.”

12/6/83 Revealing his rather disturbing view about the “coming of Armageddon,” President Reagan says, “[Not] until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this.”

All entries are excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor,

available here as an eBook. Much more to come.

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