In History, Politics on February 1, 2012 at 12:34 am

When you see Newt Gingrich, think Ronald Reagan.

At least, that’s what the GOP Presidential candidate wants you to do.

The former House speaker has mentioned conservative icon Reagan 55 times during 18 debates, more than all the other Republican candidates combined.

“I am much like Reagan,” Gingrich told CNN in November.

Newt Gingrich

Gingrich drew an even closer connection with the Gipper during the January 23 debate in Tampa, Florida.

Not only had he “met Ronald Reagan,” he had “helped Governor Reagan become President Reagan.”

At least, that’s history according to Gingrich.

And, on January 26,  in Mount Dora, Florida, Gingrich seemed to be adding a new role to his career as politician, amateur historian and lobbyist:  Medium.

“I will confess to you, I’m channeling Ronald Reagan in 1975-1976 and I’m channeling the way he used the Panama Canal and the fact that he didn’t back down.  He lost five straight primaries and he didn’t quit for a day.”

Nor was that all: “In 1995 at the Goldwater Institute, Nancy Reagan said that Ronald Reagan’s torch had been passed to me as Speaker of the House and that I was carrying out the values he believed in,” Gingrich said.

So: Exactly how relevant is this to the 2012 election?

That depends on whether you embrace the myth of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency–or its reality.

Ronald Reagan

The Republican party has fashioned a cult around Reagan, turning him into a modern-day saint of mythical proportions.

They have done so for the same reason that Joseph Stalin deliberately forged a cult around the dead Vladimir Lenin—to create a “holy” figure of whom other Republicans can claim to be true disciples.

Through such a cult, they can “prove” that, 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.

These deliberate fictions conveniently ignore a series of ugly truths:

  • Reagan was only one of a series of Presidents who held the line against the Soviet Union.
  • His budgets were just as stained with red ink as those of all previous Presidents.
  • Far from standing up to Iranian terrorists, Reagan sold them our most sophisticated missiles in a weak-kneed exchange for American hostages.  Then he went on television and brazenly lied that any such “arms for hostages” deal had ever happened.
  • By the end of his term, 138 Reagan administration officials had been investigated, indicted or convicted for official misconduct and/or criminal violations. 
  • His “trickle-down” Reganomics brought prosperity to only the wealthiest 1% of Americans, proving that “a rising tide lifted some yachts.”
  • 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 eliminated.
  • Reagan believed that government should not help the impoverished.  Those who lacked wealth to buy such necessities as housing and medical insurance were written off as unimportant.
  • John F. Kennedy had praised government service as an honor.  Reagan repeatedly said that “the best and the brightest” could be found only in business.
  • This denigration of government service continues among Republicans to this day–defaming the very institutions they lust to control.
  • Although he often berated the poor for their “laziness,” Reagan adhered to a “banker’s hours” schedule: During his working hours in the Oval Office, he often had blocks of free time–two to three hours.  He would call for his fan mail and answer it.
  • Reagan saw no need to protect America’s fragile environment against corporate polluters eager to enrich themselves at its expense: “Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources.”

Reagan famously attacked “welfare queens” and sought to deny government benefits for the poor.  But he didn’t hesitate to enrich himself at public expense.

Among these riches:

  • Before his Presidency ended, 18 wealthy Californians contributed $156,000 apiece to buy him a 7,200 square-foot mansion overlooking Beverly Hills.
  • Reagan signed a multi-million dollar deal to write his Presidential memoirs and publish a collection of his speeches.
  • He signed an exclusive contract with a Washington lecture bureau, which paid him $50,000 per speech given in the United States and $100,000 overseas.  This made him the highest-paid speaker in the country.
  • These monies came in addition to his Presidential pension of $99,500 a year for life and his $30,000 annual pension as a former governor of California.
  • At a cost to the government of $10 million annually, Reagan continued to receive lifetime Secret Service protection from 40 fulltime agents.

The “cult of Lenin” died when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The “cult of Reagan” will continue to flourish for as long as the Republican party finds voters willing to believe in it.

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