Not Too Late for a War Crimes Tribunal

He turns 91 this week, so its possible Ronald Reagan cant remember. But Jim Washburn cant forget

Illustration by Bob AulAs time goes by, it becomes clear that President Reagan was not only a great president but also one of our greatest, right up there with FDR, Lincoln and maybe George Washington.

—Dana Rohrabacher, in the Feb. 7, 2001, Daily Pilot

Move over, Lincoln—we'd like to blast Ronald Reagan's features onto Mount Rushmore. Erect a monument to him in every county. Engrave him on the $10 bill. Make a book extolling his character and achievements mandatory reading for schoolkids.

He saved us from the Red Threat and from Jimmy Carter. He brought back morning in America. He is America. With a flick of his mighty pen, he turned ketchup into a vegetable. All hail Ronald Reagan!

Jesus, can't we just send him a "Best Wishes" card and leave it at that?

Being president is a tough gig, even for one such as Reagan, who, according to aides, worked two to three hours per day, napped at cabinet and summit meetings, and spent more than a year of his eight years in office kicking back on his California ranch. Living in the White House entails difficult decisions, crises to be dealt with, and the dragging responsibility of being the most powerful person in the world. It ages one unnaturally. Reagan even took a bullet for us on the job. Thank the man for that.

But when you talk about canonizing him, you can go suck a sprinkler head. Ronald Reagan may have been a likable guy—even in the White House, he answered his fan mail, sometimes enclosing a check to a citizen going through hard times—but his administration was also flat-out the most anti-democratic, hoodwinking, lying, Constitution-flouting, despot-coddling, rich-enriching, deficit-building, environment-despoiling, health-endangering, paranoid, cynical and fundamentally corrupt one in our nation's history. Name a strip mine for it if you must, but no monuments, please.

Chances are you're reading this for one of two reasons: you agree with me and enjoy getting pissed-off all over again at the perfidies of the 1980s; or, more likely here in Reagan Country, you disagree and enjoy getting pissed-off reading liberal crap.

It's you latter folk I'd like to talk to here. I've enjoyed pissing you off, and I look forward to many more prosperous years of doing so. But even more, I want to convince you I'm right on this one because the nation we allowed ourselves to become in the 1980s was a rank perversion of the freedom and righteousness we all long for. I don't blame Reagan for that so much as I do the nation that so blindly followed him. And if we don't now take the hard look that many of us were unwilling to take then, we'll go sliding right down that phlegmy slope again.

Ronald Reagan was born 91 years ago this Tuesday in Tampico, Illinois, and as a teen growing up in Dixon, Illinois, he worked summers as a lifeguard, reputedly saving 77 swimmers from drowning. In college, he became a student leader and even led a protest against his school's authoritarian president.

After college, he landed work as a sportscaster in Davenport, Iowa, and though he'd never actually seen a major-league game, he invented vivid color to tart up the bare stats he read off a Morse code ticker tape. Many years later, he loved telling people about the time the wire went dead for six minutes and he kept going, improvising the action and passing it on as fact to his listeners.

(Curiously, Walter Cronkite says that was hisstory, which he related to then-President Reagan one night and was surprised to later find Reagan telling the story as his own.)

In Hollywood, his rugged looks, honed announcer's voice and perfect memory landed him parts. Among his other roles, he made four films playing a secret agent named Brass Bancroft. For want of other superlatives, you could say his acting was dependable. In 1942, he went into the Army and spent the duration of the war at Hal Roach studios in Culver City making training films.

Reagan became active in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), eventually becoming its president. In 1952, rather than recuse himself because he was signed with the talent agency MCA, he led SAG in granting MCA a special waiver to go into TV production, greasing the way for it to become a media giant.

Fortune smiles upon the just, and the following year, MCA rewarded Reagan by landing him a gig hosting the General Electric Theater program for the then-amazing sum of $125,000 per year. His duties also entailed becoming a spokesman for GE, traveling the country on their dime as he toured factories and made speeches touting free enterprise and damning "Marx-inspired" programs like Medicare and Social Security. In 1961, when questioned by a grand jury about the special consideration his union had given MCA, Reagan, known then for his near-photographic memory, frequently said under oath that he couldn't remember.

Once a Roosevelt liberal, Reagan was by now a solid conservative, which some attribute to the influence of his second wife, Nancy. They married when she was one and a half months pregnant, a fact we note only in light of the moral standards Reagan later tried to impose on others.

Next Page »