Word has reached me that right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham has been attacking me on the airwaves. I haven’t heard the show, but I can imagine the cause of her distress. During the media’s beatification of St. Ronald, she and I discussed Reagan’s legacy on CNN, with Wolf Blitzer performing hosting duties. Reagan was only dead for a few days, so I did intend to be respectful.
Not surprisingly, Ingraham, who worked in the Reagan administration, praised him as a titan of conservative ideas. As an example, she cited “his idea of not following a policy of appeasement.” Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that in her grief she forgot that President Jimmy Carter was no appeaser. He began the military buildup that Reagan happily expanded, and Carter also initiated the covert program that supplied assistance to the mujahedin fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
After Blitzer observed, “Even a critic like you, David, believes [Reagan] deserves all these honors that already have unfolded and will unfold,” he asked, “what goes through your mind, historically speaking, about Ronald Reagan?” Trying to remain gentle, I replied, “I remember a fellow who wasn’t well known just for being optimistic and for having a good manner about him, but for being a very divisive figure…in terms of arms control, the movement for freedom in South Africa. There were nasty fights over Central America and the Contra war…fierce battles very reminiscent of today. And he was a fellow who mobilized millions of Americans on a very, very wonky issue, nuclear arms control, to hit the streets and protest his policies. He had church movements across the country protesting his policies in Central America.”
Rather than talk about such matters, Ingraham opted for soundbites: “I think Ronald Reagan, looking down from heaven, would say, David, there you go again right now.” Nothing, though, was untrue or inaccurate about my comments. And I was minding my manners by not referring to the thousands of Central American peasants killed in the 1980s by armies actively supported and trained by the Reagan administration. (I referred to that later.) But what really ticked off Ingraham was my response to Blitzer’s remark that Reagan was “a conservative Republican who really altered the political landscape in this country to this very day.” Indeed he did, I said, adding, “In fact, the gap between the wealthy and the poor increased during his eight years, and has continued on that trend. He had draconian cuts in food stamps and school lunch programs. Remember, catsup as a vegetable and Medicaid [cuts]?”
“That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” Ingraham exclaimed. And during the commercial break she excoriated me for daring to utter the phrase “catsup as a vegetable.” Imagine, she nearly shouted, if after Bill Clinton died, she would criticize him for having received a $500 haircut. Actually, that would hardly be an equivalent comment. Reagan’s budget cuts–and “catsup as a vegetable” became a shorthand term for his assault on social programs–affected far more people than any haircut received by Clinton.