As I write this, a state funeral is being held for Ronald Reagan. Which is fine by me. They can bury that man any way they want to. It’s their body and no one should speak ill of the dead during burial ceremonies.
But there are some Reagan partisans who want to go a little further and print his image on my ten-dollar bill. They propose replacing Alexander Hamilton, the father of our financial system, with the apostle of voodoo economics. That’s where I draw the line and start protesting. Please, keep that man off my money.
For one thing, I don’t want to be walking around with a picture of a grinning Gripper in my wallet under the banner “In Reagan we trust”. If others are so emotionally and spiritually involved with his legacy, let them construct shrines in their own back yards. But count me in as one DINK who will plant a billboard sized NIMBY sign in my front yard.
Go on. Bury Reagan in a Teflon suit with all the pageantry accorded to other voodoo economists like Mao, Stalin and Lenin. But keep his face off my dime.
All this ‘shining city on a hill’ rhetoric still brings tears to the eyes of many Americans. For me, his domestic legacy is a rust belt of once vibrant communities buried ten feet under with no hope of resurrection.
To hear Reagan’s partisans praising his legacy, you have to assume that they have never read the ancient Roman proverb to ‘be ware of Syracusan women’. Venture into Syracuse today and you will get a look at some of the rubble left in the wake of Reagan’s revolution. This was once a vibrant community that was favored as the ideal American mid-sized city on a hill for testing out new products. If the Syracusan women didn’t buy it, the suits went back to their drawing boards. Syracuse had a stable and healthy industrial and productive micro economy with sprawling General Electric and Carrier factories and a unionized working class. The beautiful setting just south of the Finger Lakes was the home of three generations of close knit Irish and Italian communities –” the descendants of immigrants who helped dig the Erie Canal. It was America at its very best. The kind of place Richard Gere grew up in.
Syracuse is no more. Today, the largest employer in town is Syracuse University. One of the two main streets down town is boarded up and would make a perfect stage for filming a movie about the Great Depression. The GE and Carrier plants are permanently closed. Only those lucky enough to work for City Hall and the Upstate Medical Center get union wages and benefits. I’ve got news for the Reaganites. Syracusan women and many other Americans didn’t buy into voodoo economics.
If you find Syracuse to be an unconvincing tribute to Reagan, spend your summer vacation in Allentown, Pennsylvania or enjoy a night at the movies watching a thriller called ‘Roger and Me’. This summer and next, you will find plenty of room in the inns of our first capital, Philadelphia, which has seen its population shrink by 400,000 since the Reagan revolution.
Of course, those of us who have spent the days and nights of this revolution on the Left Coast have nothing to complain about. Their East Coast rust was recycled into our economic good fortune. Or so it seems. The Reagan fable has people voting with their feet and gravitating to new mornings in places like Seattle after turning out the lights in Philadelphia. No greater love has one city for another city than that it should lay down its economic well being for the greater glory of America.
But before taking credit for the renaissance in Seattle, Reagan’s tribe should take an introductory course on Bill Gates. At the height of the Reagan revolution, Seattle had a 13% unemployment rate. Tens of thousands of native Seattlites had to migrate down the coast to Los Angeles to make a decent living. Instructions on billboards advised the last resident leaving to turn out the lights. The sudden turn in fortune took place when a home sick Bill Gates decided to pack up Microsoft and relocate it from Albuquerque to his hometown. Just for the record, this legendary corporation was established during Carter’s term in office.
Down in the Silicon Valley, another economic revolution led by Steve Jobs was transforming the Bay Area economy. Again, Apple Computer was established during the bad old days of Jimmy Carter. It is sobering to imagine what the economic conditions of the country would be had it not been for the innovative talents of these two young Americans. But Reagan had nothing to do with the success of their ventures. If anything, their contributions sheltered the country from the ruinous ‘supply side’ voodoo economics of the Reagan era. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got absolutely nothing out of the decline of Syracuse and Philadelphia. No rational economic argument can be made to justify economically decimating rust belt cities to make way for the economic strides on the Left Coast. Nothing destroyed in old Philadelphia was ever made whole again in Seattle. If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were Australian, we might just have ended up being a giant replica of Argentina.
I will be the first to admit that it is too early and too indecent to start bickering over who gets what in Reagan’s last will and testament. But considering the 700% rise in accumulated budget deficits since the Reagan revolution, I couldn’t resist reaching for my calculator. Seven Trillion dollars doesn’t sounds like much but you don’t have to be an economist to do the math. Roughly speaking, that works out to about sixty thousand dollars for every wage earner in America. If you belong to the 80% of households where the spouse is a full time worker, multiply by two. Granted, one hundred and twenty thousand dollars isn’t what it used to be. Just think of it as an obligation to pay the mortgage on a phantom vacation home in the sky. It is a two bedroom two-bath structure that the bank will never let you walk away from even though you will never set foot in it. Come hell or high water, you will be writing a check to the bondholders for many years to come. Even bankruptcy won’t save you from this debt. You can thank Reagan for leaving you and your descendants this phantom house in the sky along with the payment coupons.
Or consider the trade deficits. We currently import over one billion dollars a day more than we export. Which is a sweet deal as long as the rest of the planet doesn’t mind exchanging their goods and services for green paper portraits of Alexander Hamilton. However, if they wake up one day and see Reagan’s face on that ten-dollar bill, they might have second thoughts and decide to sell their goods at a better exchange rate. Annually exporting 500 billion dollars of American currency is a Ponzi scam that is already unraveling. It has been one great ride. In most cases, we don’t even bother printing the money. It just appears as a computer plib in Hong Kong and Zurich. Nice work when you can get it. That’s why the Europeans came up with the Euro to move in on our lucrative racket. It is a damn good thing that Bush hasn’t converted our national debt into Euros. Otherwise, your share of the national debt would be closer to one hundred thousand dollars.
Of course, we all got a big bang for our misspent dollars. The safety net has been systematically dismantled and even veteran’s benefits have been cut. Revenue sharing with states and municipalities is a distant memory. We have collectively abandoned the long noble struggle to eradicate poverty in this land of abundance. Even our mentally ill have been thrown to the dogs to fend for themselves. Fighting urban blight is no longer seen as a national mission. The nation’s infrastructure, built during four decades of glory days, has suffered two decades of Reagan’s revolutionary benign neglect.
So, please, spare me the nostalgia and keep that man’s face off of my money. I am already sweating the loan that he co-signed for me. Some heartless bond investor in Boca Raton or Berlin or Bel Aire or the Bahamas is holding a hundred thousand dollar certificate with Reagan’s face and my name on it. I don’t need any additional memorabilia from his years in office. And I don’t much care for what that man did to the life style of Syracusan women.
On the dark side of the moon, the Reagan worshipers can always point to his accomplishments in foreign policy. The fable is that the Gipper huffed and puffed and convinced Gorbachev to ‘tear down that wall’. Buying into this story line requires a terminal case of amnesia that ignores another one of those great American ‘intelligence failures’. If you will recall, the CIA overestimated the military power of the Soviets and overlooked the transformation in soviet society that led to an implosion from within. The war in Afghanistan, too much Vodka, Lech Walensa and the Pope had more to do with tearing down the Berlin wall then Reagan ever did.
But as the old song goes, we will always have Grenada. That was supposed to be a therapeutic tonic to get us over the Vietnam syndrome. You could just imagine Ho Chi Minh quivering in his jungle boots at the sight of Special Forces securing a Caribbean runway to evacuate American Medical Students who were more than happy to make an emergency landing in accredited medical schools. Grenada was a warning to the world that Imperial America was back on its feet and would take no more Tets from Uncle Ho.
And we can always thank Reagan for giving a green light to Begin and Sharon to invade Lebanon in 1982. Before that grisly little bit of business was over, tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians had lost their lives along with hundreds of American Marines. So, add Sabra and Shatila and the marine barracks in Beirut to his legacy. After abandoning Carter’s Camp David peace initiatives, Reagan swallowed whole the Likudnik canard de jour about the Palestinians being just a bunch of commies out to establish a Soviet outpost in the Middle East. In those days, the Reagnites were lauding the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan as freedom fighters and backing Saddam in his war of aggression against Iran.
Instead of standing firm against the horrors of Apartheid, Reagan and Bush senior opted for ‘constructive engagement’ with South Africa. In Central America’s killing fields, Reagan’s administration left abundant testimony to his foreign policy legacy. The Sandinistas posed as much threat to American national security as the well-armed residents of Atlantis. But I suppose that only a cynic would stretch the argument and propose that the Reagan Doctrine and Star Wars were just convenient excuses to throw a little business to the military industrial complex in Southern California.
I am not out to spoil anybody’s funeral. The Gipper’s dead and gone and may a merciful god bless him with his kindness. But, please do not let his partisans resurrect his image on the back of my ten-dollar bill. Let us waste no more time arguing about Reagan’s legacy and harness our energy to get rid of his clownish clone. If anyone dares to even suggest stuffing Bush’s image on my money, they will find me in Buenos Aires, knee deep in Argentinean pesos.