Friday, July 01, 2005

Reagan and me

In yesterday's "change" post, commenter "someone" asked what I thought of Reagan at the time of his Presidency.

I had thought to go into that topic in the body of the "change" post, but it was already so long I decided to skip it. But, on second thought, it might be interesting to describe my reaction to Reagan during those years, because I think there may be a few clues there as to my later "conversion."

In the comments section, TmjUtah wrote:

"If Neo was getting her external political input from TV, the NY Times, and the New Yorker, just what kind of perceptions could she have had of Reagan?

Amiable, homophobic, trigger happy, washed up actor managed by dark cabals of corporate masters and Jesus freaks might come pretty close to the mark - but I may be presuming too much here

Well, actually, TmjUtah is at least half right. I definitely believed (and still believe, to tell you the truth) the "amiable" and "washed-up actor" part. As for the rest, my reaction was more complex.

Reagan's first term occurred during the years when my son was very small, and I was, quite simply put, intensely sleep-deprived. He was a wonderful kid (my son, not Reagan), but he was a terrible, terrible sleeper. So my already-depleted store of energy for politics was practically nil at the time--I was in a sort of survival mode. I could pay considerably more attention during Reagan's second term, although not as much attention as I should have.

I can tell you, though, that even then, I formed my own opinions rather than march in lockstep with the Times or the other publications. However, as TmjUtah rightly points out, those press organs were the conduits by which I received my information, and the information was therefore dominated by some fairly intense criticism of Reagan. But there were some facts in there, too, and I mulled those over as best I could. In addition, I had my own personal perceptions of Reagan from the few speeches (or excerpts of speeches) and press conferences I managed to see.

I felt, on a personal level, that Reagan was extremely opaque--that is, I couldn't read him. His speeches seemed to me to be very polished performances, but I couldn't decide whether he was sincere, or whether the avuncular actor was the person I was seeing. I felt (rightly or wrongly) that it was the latter. But I wasn't sure.

The same with his intelligence. As with my later perception of George W. Bush (I'll get to that in a subsequent "change" post), Reagan didn't seem stupid to me. He was coherent, for example. I felt I couldn't tell whether he actually was stupid, as so many asserted, and was being fed lines that he was reading with a certain corniness component, or whether he was actually quite bright. Remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch that presented Reagan as a doddering old fool in public, and then, once the press and visitors were away, he turned into a sharp-as-a-tack taskmaster to his staff, quick and on-target with every utterance? It was a joke, all right, and I laughed uproariously, but one of the reasons I laughed so hard was that I wondered whether it was true.

In terms of Reagan's actual policies--again, I wasn't paying strict attention, but I certainly got the general idea. And here's where it gets really interesting. I mainly kept my mouth shut about it in polite company, but I didn't see what was so awful about Reagan's foreign policy. What was perceived by others as his bellicosity and simplisme didn't seem so out of place to me. After all, the Soviet Union had been guilty of many crimes, disarmament wasn't going to be achieved in a world that still had conflicts, and so on and so forth. I kept my mouth shut partly because I didn't have the courage of my convictions--they were barely even "convictions," but more like hazy perceptions. I figured I wasn't really knowledgeable, like those journalists and other experts who were saying he was a doofus and in particular that his foreign policy was going to lead to this or that terrible event (remember, this was before the fall of the Soviet Union, so the "experts" were still expert to me).

Something in my gut didn't buy what they were saying. But I figured maybe I just didn't know enough. I still self-identified as a liberal Democrat, and in the elections of 1984 and 1988 I voted for the Democratic candidates without a moment's hesitation. One reason was that I wasn't keen on Reagan's domestic policies, especially his economic ones. I was not on firm ground here, either (those of you who read this blog regularly are familiar with my extreme shakiness on economics), but I was with George Bush Senior on characterizing trickle-down economics as voodoo economics. More to the point, I personally perceived the gap between the rich and the poor, or even the middle-class (where I found myself) growing by leaps and bounds. Many of my own friends pulled away from the pack and became super-rich during this decade, while just as many (who hadn't had financial problems previously) started to struggle economically. I also didn't agree with his conservative judicial appointments.

Was I enthusiastic about Mondale or Dukakis? Who could be? Perhaps their wives; certainly not me! But, lukewarm though I might be about their inspirational qualities, they were the Democratic candidates, I was a Democrat, and I thought they would be better than Reagan and then Bush senior. Did I think deeply about it? No, for the aforementioned reasons. If you had suggested to me at the time that I might have, or should have, voted for the Republican candidates, I would have thought you were stark raving mad.

So, perhaps I was already somewhat of a neocon after all, and didn't know it: socially and domestically liberal, more hawkish in the foreign arena. I'd never even heard the term "neocon" at the time, although I did know there were "Reagan Democrats." But I was not one of them.

I think I am an example of the strength of party affiliation. Most people need a much greater jolt than I received during the 80s, and much more time and energy to reflect on the situation than I was able to give to it, to actually abandon their party affiliation, if it had been strong previously. And mine had been very strong indeed.

9/11 provided that much much greater jolt and motivation. I also had more time and more energy, as well as (and this is especially important) new and different sources of information that were easily accessibile to me.

But that's the story I will tell in subsequent installments of my "change" series. Please tune in.


At 1:06 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, neo-neocon. You're really striking some chords here. I can't wait for the next one.

At 1:39 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


We have parallel histories (lifetime Democrat, in my 50's, professional), but you were obviously a lot more perceptive than I was. I spent college years in Madison, WI, law school in Cambridge, MA, and then post-law-school clerkships in Madison, WI and Chicago, IL.

Then moved to San Francisco area and joined a law firm in SF in fall of 1980. I was so deeply indoctrinated that I was stunned to find that seemingly intelligent, well-educated lawyers in a large SF law firm could not only vote for Reagan but be willing to admit it in public. (Not a lot of them, mind you, but there were some.)

So I continued to live in my daze, thinking Reagan an idiot, then voting for Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton and Gore before finally being jolted by September 11 and voting for Bush in 2004. I never really came to appreciate Reagan until he died, with all the coverage at that time forcing me to go back and reconsider his accomplishments.

Bravo to you for starting to become a neocon way back in the 1980's.

Tom F.

At 1:46 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Barba Roja said...

Did you enjoy the time he funded bin laden and compared the Taliban to the Minutemen of the Revolutionary War? That was fun.

At 2:45 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In answer to someone's reply, I too, have never registered as anything but independent since J Carter days. But in my heart I know I'm a republican, just haven't brought myself to admit it on the voter registration box.
Part of my conversion was the snarkiness of the MSM at Reagan because I thought "why are they so carried away with being like high school kids when reporting on this man?"
A good example would be the
comment by loyal achates. It is okay to be said by someone who is not reporting the news but that type remark by a news person is definitely biased reporting. An educated person begins to wonder at why all the bias, cannot straight reporting do the job?

At 3:16 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thorough reply.

I didn't much appreciate Reagan, either, until the end of his term.

At 3:25 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Barba Roja said...

That's nice, so now the issue becomes my perceived lack of maturity and not Reagan's well-demonstrated imprudence and short-sightedness which is largely responsible for the scope and difficulty of the war on terror we now have to fight.

At 3:46 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Promethea said...


My political past is similar to yours--including raising children and finding politics a form of "background noise" to real life (the pears of your previous post).

My deviation from the Marching Morons (or more politely, the LLL) began with (1) the unfairness and racism of affirmative action,(2) the insane promotion of bilingual education, and (3) the MSMs' glorifying the PLO killers at the expense of Israel.

By the time of the Intifada of Sept. 2000, I had Zero respect for 99% of the writers in the MSM. I knew far more than they did about the three subjects mentioned above.

However, Sept. 11, 2001, made all the difference, and even then it took me yet another year to stop thinking of myself as "leftwing" and to accept the appellation "rightwing," even though these terms are not descriptive of the world we live in.

In fact, I'm working my way through a very dense book on the French Revolution in order to find out what those terms meant originally (besides referring to a seating chart).

Right now, there are few writers I respect, and most of them are warbloggers, including Belmont Club, LGF, Instapundit, NRO, and Weekly Standard. I've subscribed to Atlantic Monthly for many years, but they're going downhill really fast, so I probably won't renew it. The Chicago Tribune with its pitiful parade of ignoramuses would never set foot in my house, but my husband wants it. Lucky for them.

Thank G*d for the internet, which has come into being just in time to help us save our civilization.

At 4:48 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loyal Achates, you show your usual wise perspective and your customary grasp of history.

Now might be a good time for me to reiterate the general principle that, if I say something like, "I didn't see what was so awful about Reagan's foreign policy," that doesn't mean I heartily approved of everything he did. Whether the subject be Reagan or anyone else, that would be the case.

That said, your comments about Reagan and the Taliban show a remarkable failure to grasp the situation at the time. First of all, the Taliban did not exist until 1994. I assume your question, therefore, refers to the mujahadeen, whom Reagan and the US supported in their fight against the Soviets.

It always is interesting to see how the left manages to ignore context. Reagan was hardly alone in choosing what he thought was the lesser of two evils in that particular fight, or any fight. In the real world, these hard choices must be made, and that leaves the person making the decision open to criticism from those with the benefit of perfect hindsight. So be it.

Even Roosevelt allied the US with Stalin in WWII to fight the Nazis, and without that alliance the fight against Hitler might actually have been lost. Stalin was one of the most evil rulers of the twentieth century, and that's saying a lot. In the fight against Communism, we (and not just Reagan, but every President since WWII) have made many strange bedfellows, some of them worse than others. The Taliban were one of the strangest, but hindsight is 20/20. At the time, they just seemed a particularly puritanical, but not especially horrific, group that was dedicated to fighting the Soviet invasion. The Soviet invasion was a known evil; the Taliban seemed to be a far lesser evil. Subsequent events proved them to be quite evil themselves, just a different flavor of evil.

However, I am sure that you yourself foresaw--way back in the 80s, when Reagan and the US were supporting the mujahadeen against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan--exactly what was to happen years later. No doubt, however old you were at the time (and, by your blogger profile, it seems you were not born yet, so perhaps I should forgive you for your lack of historical perspective) you perceived everything that was to come, when no one else on earth seemed to see it. That's the beauty in being a leftist--you can live in an ideal world of the mind, and criticize others who have to act in the real world of complexity and compromise.

For a true perspective on how it initially looked to most everyone at the time, see this passage from the previously linked article:

The Taliban's popularity with the Afghan people surprised the country's other warring factions. Many Afghans, weary of conflict and anarchy, were relieved to see corrupt and often brutal warlords replaced by the devout Taliban, who had some success in eliminating corruption, restoring peace, and allowing commerce to resume.

At 5:18 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger knox said...

"Thank G*d for the internet, which has come into being just in time to help us save our civilization."

Am*n to that.

At 5:20 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger knox said...

"It always is interesting to see how the left manages to ignore context."

And Am*n to that.

At 5:28 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Huan said...

to some the security of the status quo is always more conforting than the darkness of unknowns. especially if those who must endure the status quo are miles away and quietly suffering. There is nothing more impolite than a public display of suffering. Thank god for the Soviet Union!

Yet some saw this same impoliteness as a sign of evil and wrong doing that should end, regardless of what tomorrow will bring. Afghanistan was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, thanks in large part to Reagan.

Thank you neo-neocon for reminding those who conveniently reposition history, whether out or ignorance or out of bias, to fit a pre and illconceived agenda of pessimism and moral abandonment. The Taleban did not exist until well after the Soviets had withrawn, and our aid money had dried. And it was even later that Bin Laden entered Afghanistan leading Al Qaeda.

At 7:05 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Barba Roja said...

Once again the familiar canard of 'lesser evils' dredged up to cover Reagan's ideological blindness and cynicism. Truth is, there were people other than the Soviets or the mujahadeen who enjoyed considerable support in Afghanistan. But, since they were self-described Marxists who refused to be controlled either by the Kremlin or by Washington, they had to be taken out.

You're not a Marxist and neither am I, but all indication were that the left-leaning government that the USSR overthrew in 1979 was doing necessary things in terms of women's rights, education, land reform, and ending the theocracy.

Of course, Reagan couldn't support them. Like most American presidents, his faith in capitalism was extremely shaky, and he didn't believe it would ever take hold by peaceful means. If he had to choose between arming radical Islamic warriors and a group of embattled social democrats, he knew whose side he was one.

Besides, whether you like it or not, people are responsible for the unintended consequences of their actions. Reagan might have been too blind or too uninformd to have an inkling of what was going to happen, but that doesn't absolve him.

"If you don't like mosquitos, drain the swamps."

At 7:53 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Huan said...

that the soviet over threw the afghanistan government in 1979 is wrong. that we supported the mujahadeen is because they were willing to fight. and never were they a unified force politically other than to rid afghanistan of the soviets.
by that point, there was no legit afghan government. no consideration of lesser evil, just the realpolitik of the cold war that some seek now to reproduce to counter US hegemony.

the taleban came much later.
and al qaeda after them.

people are responsible for the actions their take, and the consequences of those action. but the lines of guilt only goes so far, otherwise we will either set arbitrary generational limits predicated on bias, or enter a butterfly wing flutter causing a hurricane bizaaro world argument.

At 8:37 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

I really had thought the Left's notion of the US creating the taliban had about gone defunct. I think this is the most twisted and desperate logic they have ever come up with. It is simply boggles the mind! We help someone fight a common enemy, so then we are responsible for what transpires after the help is no longer needed. I mean, isn't that like saying we are responsible for any and all corruption that occurs once we give some money to a poor nation? This from the screeching Left we must gets old, real old.

At 8:43 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

I guess it was pretty imprudent for FDR to force convoys through to Murmansk and Archangel, wasn't it?

Look what happened after the Allies won WW2, wouldja???

Perfect worlds. Pfft.

At 8:56 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

neo -

I highly recommend " Reagan, In His Own Hand", a book that contains the surviving radio scripts Reagan wrote (and delivered) during the interegnum between his governorship and accepting the nomination for president.

Reading them may help you to round out your opinion of his intellect.

At 9:22 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Second tmjutah's recommendation of "Reagan, In His Own Hand". He was a very good writer.

While the left tut-tutted his calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, the people behind the Iron Curtain knew better and were given hope -- the message made it to the gulags. When his speech writers kept editing out his "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", he kept putting the line back. He will be (is) among the great presidents.

At 9:52 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the Reagan book, but I did read a number of reviews of it when it first came out. They all made it very clear that the book was evidence of a first-rate intellect (as I recall, some of the reviewers were rather surprised).

Huan--great point about the limits of responsibility, and analogy to the butterfly wing flutter.

At 11:17 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...

neo, one of the interesting things about Reagan's book is the pictures of his long-hand writing. Very few revisions. He simply thought and wrote... I am inclined to disbelieve anything a mainstream journalist would say about him because of their own willful blindness, as Shrinkwrapped as so ably demonstrated.

I was riffed under Reagan and fell on hard times as a result. But I still think he was on the right track.

If you want to feel less shaky on economics, I recommend Jude Wanniski's The Way The World Works. Best layman's book I've read, though I don't agree with all he says outside the book. Still, it remains a brilliant exposition and is written deliberately at the high school level. He's been kind enough to send copies for free to my congressman and some state legistlators.

I'll guarantee one thing: after you read him you'll understand supply side economics and Robert Mundell.


At 6:36 PM, July 02, 2005, Blogger Troy Stephens said...

Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" is another excellent and concise introduction to economic thinking as pertains to the promotion of liberty. (Given Friedman's influence as an economic adviser to the Reagan administration, "Reaganomics" might just as appropriately have been termed "Friedmanomics".) Highly recommendable.

At 9:27 PM, July 02, 2005, Blogger Kalroy said...

Wow. Lots of comments on this one. Mine is pretty much the same. I was a Democrat from birth (most Hawaiians are), and was one of the few Democrats I knew while serving active duty. It took years for me to finally realize what you have also realized.

Funny thing though. Socially my views haven't changed. Still pro-choice (though anti-abortion and would rather women not make that choice but believe it is theirs to make), still pro-gay rights (but against forcing them on the general population), still pro-union (but always anti-stupidity), have no problem with porn, the list goes on. Gonna cut this short. Big Trouble in Little China is on, and the steaks are ready.


At 7:08 AM, July 03, 2005, Blogger cakreiz said...

I started listening to RR's radio spots in college in the mid 70s. I remember thinking that he made good sense for a radical right-winger. Voted Anderson & Mondale. But by '88, somthing clicked- voted Rep for the 1st time. The MSM painted RR as a warmonger. Then the Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. It finally dawned on me that saber-rattling and strength were EFFECTIVE (people forget that the Warmonger Reagan never engaged in a major conflict). Accordingly, 9/11 reinforced my worldview- it didn't change it.

At 11:08 AM, July 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re cakreiz' RR comment: I recall an Art Buchwald column from 1965 on what that "scary" Goldwater would have done had he been elected. Buchwald then proceeded to list what LBJ did.

At 8:58 PM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reagan and Nancy were treated, after his presidency, like royalty when they visited newly-freed Eastern Europe. Budapest has just put up a statue of Reagan, official and all.

Maybe it's the effects of a sustained diet of pierogis, but the folks who knew the score seem to like Reagan a whole lot.
The ignorant don't.

At 4:05 AM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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