Ronald Reagan at a rally in 1984. (Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)
I missed a friend’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. February 6 was the 102nd anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. I’ve been spending a lot of time with the old fellow, as some of you know, working on a book, and I really should make amends. Because he astonishes me. A man as myopic as what you’ll be seeing below really deserves some sort of recognition. He really, really does.
As I noted in a recent post on Reagan’s contribution to the ideology of NRA vigilantism, I spent a goodly amount of time this previous summer at the Hoover Institution at Stanford listening to the daily radio broadcasts broadcasts by which he reintroduced himself politically to the nation, beginning in 1975, following his second term as governor of California. Listening to Reagan with Google by my side was an astonishment, even knowing how much he habitually stretched the truth. There was the time I heard him make an impassioned brief against the Ahab-like maritime bureaucrats insisting that a steamship that plied its trade up and down the Mississippi for tourists, the Delta Queen, be fireproofed according to law, which her owners said would put her out of business. Even though she “has never had a fire…. No matter, said the bureaucrats in Washington. The Delta Queen could not be made an exception.”
I went on Google Newspapers, typed in “Delta Queen” and “fire.” And learned…she had caught on fire little more than two years earlier.
Fact-checking Ronald Reagan has been, sometimes, almost comical. But it sometimes makes you want to punch through a window, too. In July of 1975 he made an especially aggressive broadcast attacking “the innuendos and the accusations that the CIA and our government had a hand in bringing about the downfall of the government of Chile.” (It wasn’t innuendo, as a Church Committee report published in 1976 definitively proved, and which Reagan, as a member of the blue ribbon Rockefeller Commission investigating the CIA that year had to have known when he uttered the words.)
He went on to flay congressmen who “act as if fascism had been imposed on the Chileans, to their great distress and unhappiness.”
He then cited a recent unprecedented Gallup poll undertaken in the South American nation. It recorded that 83 percent “agree with the new government’s statement of principles,” over 90 percent said “the government has either completed, or nearly completed, these principles, which include that freedom of thought will be respected,”; that 64 percent thought they were “living better”; 75 percent liked their medical care; 73 percent thought conditions would improve (only 11 percent disagreed). As for the new government which had brought their nation to this happy pass, “60 percent gave it the highest rating possible and only 3 percent feel it was bad. This is quite a contrast to much of what we’ve heard in the news about a reign of terror, political prisoners, torture and a depressed and frightened populace!”