Wednesday, March 3, 2010

McHenry wants Reagan fantasy on $50 bills

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Rep. Patrick McHenry, one-third of North Carolina’s trio of goofball Congressmembers, along with Virginia Foxx and Sue Myrick, was last seen here comparing Freudian metaphors with a male friend, and introducing critical legislation to honor NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson. Now he has a new legislative hobbyhorse to ride: yanking Ulysses Grant off the $50 bill and replacing him with Ronald Reagan. “Every generation needs its own heroes,” says McHenry, who, like many conservatives, reveres Reagan as an icon of all-American right-wing purity. I don’t have a problem with taking Grant off our money — historians consistently rank him among the 10 worst presidents. But replace him with Reagan? President Max Headroom?  Ronnie Raygun? Um, no.

The irony of McHenry’s proposal is that current conservatives’ ideal of Reagan as St. Ron is barely recognizable to anyone with a clear memory of the 1980s. The right today lionizes Reagan as a widely beloved President who won the Cold War, shrank government, cut taxes, and represented the values of small-town, small business America. This is myth-making at its wishful-thinking height. Let’s look at the right’s claims about Reagan.

First of all, Reagan cut taxes once, in 1981, and then raised them nearly every year after that, to cover the enormous debt created by his uber-massive military spending increases. Mr. Small Government never came close to balancing the budget, and in fact, left us with the largest government deficit in history up to that point.

The Soviet Union was in a long, slow process of gradual collapse from within when Reagan came to office; and you’d be hard-pressed to find a reputable military historian who gives Reagan credit for “winning” the Cold War, no matter how many times the GOP repeats the claim.

President Popularity? Not really. Reagan’s approval ratings were about average; beyond that, he was one of the most divisive presidents in American history.

The right’s biggest Reagan fantasy is that he was defiant and uncompromising in his foreign policy. Reagan was definitely to the right of his predecessors, but he was also a pragmatist rather than being ideology-driven (like his current worshippers). When terrorists blew up barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. soldiers, Reagan withdrew the rest of the U.S. force offshore. More importantly, Reagan spent his second term in office working on ways to reduce nuclear weapons, and at a summit with Gorbachev in Iceland, came within a  hair’s breadth of negotiating the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Hardly the inflexible bad-ass portrayed today by conservative fantasists. On top of that, it was Reagan’s reluctance to send large numbers of U.S. troops into war that led to his administration’s involvement in the Iran-Contra fiasco (Reagan underlings, including Ollie North, secretly sold weapons to Iran and illegally redirected the money to anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua).

Finally — at least for this blog entry — the image of Reagan as representative of small-town, small-business America is belied by his policies favoring huge corporations and Wall Street interests, policies that have resulted in the near-extinction of family farms and small towns’ economies.

If you’re interested in reading more about the current conservative fantasies of Reagan and his actual record, I recommend the book Tear Down This Myth by Pulitzer-winning reporter Will Bunch.

So, please, no Ronald Reagan on our money. And if you have to take Grant off the 50, at least replace him with a president of genuine historical stature, like one of the Roosevelts, or Kennedy.


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