The Myth of Ronald Reagan Lured the Working Class Into Economic Destruction: Obama Gets It, But the Jilted Middle Class Doesn’t.

 

http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/editorblog/081

BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S BLOG

by Mark Karlin

Editor and Publisher

April 15, 2008

 

Statue of Ronald Reagan in Full Cowboy Gear at the Entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It is entitled “After the Ride.”

Dateline: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California Before you open a door and enter into the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a large bronze sculpture of a strapping cowboy greets you, with the wide-eyed optimism of the mythic west, a handkerchief dangling from the back pocket of a pair of jeans, and cowboy hat in hand. It’s called “After the Ride” and it is a tribute to Ronald Reagan. Or make that the myth of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, as the fawning exhibition area that paints a flattering, blemish free portrait of his life unintentionally reveals, went from a childhood and small college upbringing in Illinois to a Hollywood “B” film career, to spokesperson for the GE corporation, to Death Valley Days, to the political life that led him to the White House. The key transition, not noted as such by the library narrative, is when Reagan became the hired front man for GE, hosting a program for them but also going around the country selling the concept that the corporation is a benevolent and positive force in our lives, without any downsides. Reagan went from a “B” movie career to an “A” career as a political salesman for corporate wealth and control of the government. In the turbulent social climate of the ’60s, his wealthy backers (who regarded him as a prize race horse for a right-wing coup for the super rich and corporate welfare) watched as Reagan won the governorship and masterfully was guided in the use of wedge issues such as “Guns and God” to lure the emerging displaced middle class into voting Republican. Aside from the “October Surprise,” when Reagan negotiators allegedly convinced the Iranian mullahs to hold onto our hostages until Reagan’s inauguration day (they were literally released after he was sworn in), the GOP had perfected the selling of a myth about America — and they had the hale and hearty actor to sell the product. The myth of “morning in America” obscured the emerging theft of jobs from the middle class by creating emotional hot buttons for rural and working class voters to gravitate toward: Their values were under attack by liberal extremists, they were repeatedly told. Only the Republicans could save the nation from further moral degradation, the myth went — and only the GOP could guarantee victory in foreign conflicts (even if the conflicts were often unnecessary and the GOP failed to achieve “victory,” however it might be defined). Because our perceptions today are so dependent upon television as a source, how one acts as president or senator has superseded, in large part, what one does. Ronald Reagan made many working class and rural voters proud to be Americans again, but meanwhile, behind the scenes, corporate lobbyists and Reagan’s aides (who were really running the show) went about dismantling factories in places like central Pennsylvania and moving them overseas, sometimes — literally — in the dark of night. It was the Republican version of “Let them eat cake.” Only, in this case, it was: “Let them eat God, Guns, and Patriotism.” This process that began with Reagan’s election continued through Bush I — and to a degree in the Bill Clinton Administration, as he aggressively pursued NAFTA and followed the neo-liberal economic agenda of opening up the gates of exporting jobs in return for larger corporate profits — and it rocketed ahead in the administration of Bush II into a juggernaut of betrayal of the middle class. Hunting and faith are important to many people in rural America and small towns — as faith is throughout America — but there has and will be no threat to those core “values.” There is no gun control measure with any remote possibility of passing in any state that would affect hunters — and Democrats and civil libertarians are ardent supporters of the right to follow one’s religious beliefs without government interference. So, Barack Obama’s remarks in San Francisco, as borne out by a true understanding of the Ronald Reagan myth, are ultimately true. His mistake was that he said what he said in a way that allowed the twin corporate D.C. insiders — McCain and Clinton — to once again demagogue the issue into one of emotion, rather than fact. And that is what the attack on Obama is about: demagoguery. I can’t save workers from voting against their own economic interests when they vote to defend values that no one is going to take away from them. And I understand that Clinton and McCain are playing on the pride of such displaced members of the middle class. No one wants to be told that they have been duped for nearly 30 years by the wealthy backers of the Republicrats. Rural and small town Pennsylvanians want to feel proud about America and themselves — and the uproar from the McCain and Clinton camps once again presses the hot button of dignity, while privately believing in (whatever Clinton is saying on the campaign trail today) policies that will continue to erode the earnings and standard of living of the very people that they claim to be championing. The media owned by corporate elites has a role in this, too. Last month, the conventional wisdom of the media, for the most part, was that the deteriorating rust belt of Western Pennsylvania had left many former decently paid workers angry and bitter. But, on a dime, the new conventional wisdom, after Obama’s remarks, was that it was insulting to say that these same people are angry and bitter. Nothing says more about the non-factual based reporting of the mainstream press than that sudden conversion, because the mainstream media represents the global corporate interests of its multinational parent companies who reap the profits of moving jobs overseas. What Obama said was shorthand for this grim reality: no one is really threatening the traditions of hunting, or anyone’s faith, or heterosexual marriage. But there are plenty of politicians among the Republicrats — usually the Republicans, but Hillary Clinton has joined with them on this one — who exploit the fear that conspiratorial “leftist” forces are conspiring to end hunting and religious belief in America. This is the heart of being a demagogue, because it is an appeal to emotion that has no basis in fact. It is how Republicans have won many an election, and how Senator Clinton is now trying, in a last gasp, to obtain the office she has compromised so much of her life pursuing. As someone who was born and raised in Illinois, and having lived here my adult life, I was always surprised by how little connection Reagan appeared as an adult to have with home state. During his presidency, he rarely returned here, and his persona was tied to the myth of the cowboy, the triumphant rugged conqueror of the West. Illinois was just part of his early biography. He seemed to have no strong emotional attachment to the very Midwest roots that he so championed. It just didn’t fit in with the mythic figure that came out of his films, Western ranch (which was the inspiration for Rove getting Bush to buy his Crawford spread and do a Reagan “cut the brush” imitation), and heroic GI movie roles during WW II (which he never actually fought in.) So we understand that some of the working class who buy clothes at Wal-Mart that they used to make — because the price is right — only the blouses and shirts are made in China now — we understand that they feel insulted by some politician telling them that they’ve been taken for a ride, that no one is going to stop them from hunting or going to their church, but that the people who peddle that nonsense to them are allowing corporations to steal their jobs and wallets from right in front of their noses. That’s a tough pill to swallow, that you’ve been swindled for 30 years. But McCain and Clinton are once again pulling the same Republicrat tricks of playing on emotional vulnerabilities while ignoring the truth surrounding the job heist that is occurring in places like Pennsylvania. Yes, it is bad political practice to ever say anything that makes a group of potential voters feel that they are being insulted because you’re making the claim that they’ve been had. But if you want to help those same people out to create a positive future for employment and their standard of living, you can’t keep hiding the truth under a rock. Obama’s statement could have been said more fully, and not so elliptically, and that would have explained the difference between respect for traditions and beliefs, and exploitation of those very same characteristics for political gain by those who are exploiting the working class. But, in the end, as he did with race, Obama is touching upon a third rail of truth that neither party wants to discuss much. The “K Street Lobbyists” are very pleased with the masquerade and demagoguery that achieved, and now accelerates, the slide of the middle class towards a lower class fate. The working class will have its faith, hunting, and small town “values,” but it can’t have them if they don’t have jobs. And after Obama’s remarks, they can’t say that they weren’t warned by an honest politician.

BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S BLOG

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