Is the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project Heading for Your Town?
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Indulge me for just a moment.
Flash forward to the year 2010. Here's the scene: I'm driving up the Ronald Reagan Highway on the way to the lovely coastal town of Mendocino, California. Along the way, I stop at the Ronald Reagan Rest Area to relax for a couple of minutes. I'm thirsty, but all I have is a $10 dollar bill -- the recently reissued bill with President Ronald Reagan's face where once old Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, an author of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, and our first Treasury secretary, stared out at us.
I'm heading for a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Court House, which I'm told, is located across the street from the Ronald Reagan Municipal Jail and just down the street from Ronald Reagan High School.
"Wow," I'm thinking, as I was park my newly purchased hybrid electric/gas powered station wagon, "the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project achieved a heck of a lot more than I thought it would when they started up more than ten years ago."
If you think this is an impossibly incongruous dreamscape out of "The Twilight Zone," or better yet, "Death Valley Days," the television program Reagan hosted for years, think again. Here are a few happenings on the "remember and honor" Reagan front -- and all this is going on while the dude is still alive!
Proliferating Reagan legacy projects
The most influential of all the Reagan-honoring organizations is the Washington, DC-based Ronald Reagan Legacy Project (RRLP). Founded in 1997 and sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, headed by the now-ubiquitous conservative activist Grover Norquist, it is hitting on all cylinders. The project's "mission is to honor and memorialize the historic achievements of President Ronald Reagan. It aims to do so by naming at least one notable public landmark in each state after the 40th president."
In March, Norquist testified before Congress in support of HR 452, the Ronald Reagan Memorial Act of 2001, which specifies that a committee be established to choose a location on the National Mall for a memorial to Ronald Reagan. Norquist said Reagan "deserves this memorial on America's Mall because he represented America." (To see how your state is doing check out http://www.reaganlegacy.org/dedications/index.htm).
Last year, the conservative Federalist Society established a Web site called "Reagan 2000: Federalism and the New Republicans," a campaign "dedicated to individual, family and community rights and responsibilities in acts of self-governance, as set forth by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence and codified in its subordinate guidance, our Republic's Constitution, the original intent of which is specified in the Federalist Papers."
Endorsed by his son Michael, the conservative radio talk show host, the site claims that "in addition to providing an exposition of President Reagan's leadership of, and contributions to, the 20th century's conservative revolution ... [it] contains the New Federalist Platform -- the quintessential conservative platform -- a template for citizens, for candidates from all levels of government and a touchstone for American conservatism in perpetuity."
"Reagan 2000" also offers a selection of Reagan speeches, text from a special issue of The National Review magazine called "The Real Reagan Record," Ronald and Nancy Reagan's biographies, and a walk-down-memory-lane Photo Gallery.
Other conservative organizations cashing in on right-wing Reagan-mania, which is no way should be confused with Beatle-mania, include NewsMax.com, the ultra-conservative online news site. NewsMax is offering "an authentic piece of Reagan history!" They're selling a "framed lithograph of the famous 'Reagan Country' portrait -- each hand signed by the renowned artist!" -- Texan Gary Giuffre. The 16" x 20" print is yours for only $249.00 plus $4.95 Shipping.
Will the real Ronald Reagan please stand up?
Richard Alan Leach, in the June 2001 issue of Z Magazine, looks at the new book "Reagan In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America," edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martine Anderson (The Free Press, 549 pages). Leach says the collection, representing 250 of his 400-word essays delivered over the radio between 1976 and 1979, contains the "subliminal message ... that Reagan was a Deep Thinker, rather than 'vacant between the ears,' as his ideological soul mate Maggie Thatcher once remarked."
While Reagan cronies deify the fellow, Leach brings us back to earth with a few choice memories of: 1) Reagan as the "Teflon President" -- nothing stuck, mainly due to the pass given him by the mainstream media; 2) the president who dozed off at meetings on a regular basis; 3) Reagan in the "post-Hollywood role of the Great Communicator [which] was basically public relations, to make the American people feel good about themselves."
In terms of real damage to real people, who can forget the Iran-Contra "arms for hostages" scandal; the surreptitious funding of the Contra Wars; support for all sorts of rogue reactionary movements in Latin America and Africa; Reagan's lack of interest in supporting sanctions to help end apartheid in South Africa; the "record number of convictions or indictments (138) of his associates, making the Reagan administration the most corrupt in U.S. history"; a legacy of record deficits; and his fueling of the racial divide, in part with his phony "welfare queen" stories. Reagan, with the support of his then-aide, Gary Bauer, who later went on to found the homophobic Family Research Council, was totally silent about the growing AIDS epidemic crisis for five years. When the president finally used the word "AIDS"-- it came on April Fools Day.
Some Reagan rethinking is just plain silly and darn nearly embarrassing. According to Leach, Mark Burson, the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said that "Reagan's writings compare favorably with the 'Federalist Papers,' providing 'the most compelling evidence yet that the president was indeed a man of letters worthy of comparison to our Founding Fathers." There are also those who'd like to see Reagan's mug carved into stone up there on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
Currently, legislation is pending on erecting a Reagan memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Washington DC's National Airport was renamed the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in 1998. Also in 1998, the RRLP helped to enact legislation in Florida naming the state's turnpike the Ronald Reagan Turnpike. In honor of the couple's 49th anniversary, there's the "Ronald Reagan," a $4 billion aircraft carrier with two nuclear reactors aboard that, according to The New York Times, will be equipped to "carry over 6,000 sailors, and is expected to last fifty years."
In a late-March, E.J. Dionne facetiously led off a column with, "Perhaps we should simply rename ourselves the Ronald Reagan United States of America." As of March 2001, there were 45 dedications; 42 in the United States and 3 internationally, including two, in get this, Grenada -- a commemorative stamp collection and a Ronald Reagan Scholarship Fund to send students from Grenada to the United States for study -- and one in the Marshall Islands -- the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, Kwajalein Atoll. Enough said.
Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland-Ca.-based free lance writer covering the Religious Right and related conservative movements.
Ronald Reagan Sites:
Ronald Reagan Legacy Project -- http://www.reaganlegacy.org/
Reagan 2000: Federalism and the New Republicans -- http://www.reagan2000.com/
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum -- http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation -- http://www.reaganfoundation.org
Michael Reagan's "The Reagan Information Interchange" -- http://www.reagan.com/
The Reagan Ranch: A project of Young America's Foundation -- http://www.reaganranch.org/index.html