It has been a couple of weeks and Ronald Reagan is still dead — or is he?
His genial visage will no doubt be imprinted along “In God We Trust” on our money. Perhaps, replacing FDR on the dime — a coup de grâce for the right — but more likely, supplanting Andrew Jackson on the 20-spot. (We will leave it to historians to debate whose policies killed more indigenous people.)
More substantially, the right has been raising Reagan from the dead to bless, and thereby validate, the actions of his ideological heirs in the current Republican regime. Indeed, his ghost, a conjured specter, has become an invited guest at the White House, wreaking havoc through an administration willingly possessed.
Take his lies, or as Reagan’s handlers called them, “misstatements of fact.”
Reagan lied about the Iran-Contra scandal, continually. At a February 1988 press conference, he denied that his administration had held secret talks with Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime to arrange a guns-for-hostages deal, a fact that had been indisputably documented. Reporting on that press conference, the New York Times’ Anthony Lewis chronicled “a series of misstatements ranging from the preposterous to the dangerous.” He wrote, “Everyone knows his habit of inventing facts and uttering fantasies as if they really happened.”
Those words could just as well be applied to the current president. From 9/11 to the present, Bush and members of his administration have repeatedly lied to the American people about, among other things, an alleged Iraqi connection to al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission’s report, released on June 16, concluded, “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” The next day, when asked about that statement, Bush replied, “The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.”
The Bush administration’s penchant for inventing facts to justify subsequent policy actions, and the effect such duplicity has on relations with U.S. allies, profoundly disturbs the 27 members of Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change. The newly formed group includes, among others, Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush’s father; Adm. William J. Crowe, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan; Stansfield Turner, director of the CIA under Carter, along with 20 former ambassadors, among whom are two Reagan-appointed ambassadors to the Soviet Union. On June 16, they released a statement that reads in part:
We all believe that current administration policies have failed in the primary responsibilities of preserving national security and providing world leadership. … The administration, motivated more by ideology than by reasoned analysis, struck out on its own. … It justified the invasion of Iraq by manipulation of uncertain intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, and by a cynical campaign to persuade the public that Saddam Hussein was linked to al Qaeda and the attacks of September 11. The evidence did not support this argument. … Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted. … It is time for a change.
Never before have members of the foreign policy establishment, both Democrats and Republicans, so forcefully spoken out against a sitting president. Whether they will be heard is another matter. As In These Times went to press, of the major papers, only the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times had seen fit to print this story.
Commenting on the president’s disconnection from reality, the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus observed: “The president’s rewriting of history to suit the occasion should not be left solely to him. Others have a responsibility to try to keep the record straight.” Though he was referring to Reagan and his February 1988 press conference, his words are as apt today as they were then.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.