It’s February 6, 2011–and Ronald Reagan, if he were alive today, would be 100 years old.
Publishers have rushed to put out worshipful tributes to his eight years as President. Network political programs such as “This Week” and “Meet the Press” have assembled surviving members of his administration to re-live the “glory days” of Reagan’s–and their–time in power.
The implication is clear: Once upon a time, America had a courageous, decisive leader who single-handedly vanquished Communism, restored fiscal integrity to Washington, and brought prosperity to all Americans.
This farcical nonsense is intended to win support from those who didn’t live through the Reagan years—and those who slept through them.
The Republican party, of course, has done the most to create and promote this “cult of Reagan.” And it has done so for the same reason the Communist party of the Soviet Union created and fostered the “cult of Lenin.”
Bureaucracies always strive for legitimacy, to convince the public:
(1) “We have a right to be doing whatever we’re doing,” and
(2) “You should trust us and do whatever we want you to do.”
And one of the most effective ways to do this is to create a heroic cult-figure who not only personifies but humanizes the organization.
No two men could have been more different than Vladimir Lenin and Ronald Reagan. Lenin created the Soviet Union in 1917 and became its first in a series of absolute dictators. Reagan spent his life fighting Communism, most notably as President.
So it’s ironic that both men, in death, got essentially the same funeral–and for the same reason: To sanctify and legitimize their respective organizations–and the authority of their potential successors.
Lenin died in 1924 and was immediately succeeded by Joseph Stalin. Stalin knew that, despite Communism’s official athiestic stance, most Russians remained loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church.
(Stalin, as a teenager, had attended the Tiflis Theological Seminary in Georgia, whose monks thought he might become an outstanding priest.)
So in giving Lenin’s funeral oration, Stalin used the language of religion to confer sainthood upon a militant athiest–and upon his successor, Stalin himself.
The speech was deliberately crafted to resemble a litany: “In leaving us, Comrade Lenin ordained us to guard the unity of our party. We vow to thee, Comrade Lenin, that we shall honorably fulfill this, thy commandment….” The phrase, “We vow to thee, Comrade Lenin,” was repeated throughout the memorial service.
Stalin and his fellow Communists immediately launched the “cult of Lenin,” depicting him as a fatherly, all-wise leader whose genius could only be bestowed upon his closest disciples. Lenin’s extensive political writings were treated as divine writ, and were used to justify everything Stalin and his own successors wanted to do.
A classic example: Although Lenin died 20 years before the American creation of the atomic bomb, Lenin was hailed by the Soviets as the “father” of “Soviet nuclear physics.”
Similarly, the Republican party wasted no time turning its own former leader, Ronald Reagan, into a modern-day saint of mythical proportions. They have done so for the same reason that Stalin deliberately forged a cult around the dead Lenin—to create a “holy” figure of whom other Republicans can claim to be true disciples.
Contrary to the lies constantly churned out by the Republican party, the truth is considerably more brutal:
(1) Reagan was only one of a series of Presidents who held the line against the Soviet Union.
(2) His budgets were just as stained with red ink as those of all previous Presidents.
(3) His “trickle-down” Reganomics brought prosperity to only the wealthiest one-percent of Americans, proving that “a rising tide lifted some yachts.”
(4) By drastically shrinking the tax-base, bloating the defense budget and destroying programs to benefit the poor and middle-class, Reagan produced a $1 trillion deficit—which only the Clinton Administration turned around.
(5) Reagan created an irresponsible economic model. His onetime rival for the Presidency, George H.W. Bush, rightly called it “voodoo economics”: We can borrow and spend, pay for wars and massive bailouts, stimulus programs, pork, and national health care. We can cut taxes all while adding three trillion more dollars to the national debt. Let our grandchildren pay the tab.
(6) Reagan’s success proved that Americans would rather believe sweet-seeming fictions than brutal truths. During the 1984 Presidential race, his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, openly told the public: Your taxes are going to be raised no matter which of us wins the White House. Reagan denied any such thing–and won the election. Then he raised taxes.
(7) Far from standing up to terrorists, Reagan actually sold them our most sophisticated missiles in a weak-kneed exchange for American hostages. Then he appeared on television and brazenly lied that any such “arms-for-hostages” deal had ever taken place. And as soon as those hostages in question were released, Iranian-supported terrorists seized others for new leverage.
(8) Recklessly gambling with the lives of American servicemen, Reagan sent Marines to Beirut to demonstrate America’s “presence” during the Lebanese civil war. On October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber detonated a truckful of explosives at a U.S. Marine barracks located at Beirut International Airport.
The result: 241 U.S. Marines were killed and more than 100 others wounded. The organization Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing. Reagan vowed that this would not “drive America out of Lebanon.” But he quickly reversed his policy and evacuated the remaining military forces from the country.
Then, seeking a way to divert American attention from the tragic fiasco, Reagan quickly sent troops to Grenada–to prove that no postage-stamp-sized country could prevail against American might.
The “cult of Lenin” died when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The “cult of Reagan” continues to flourish, and will do so for as long as the Republican party finds voters willing to believe in it.