Published on Monday, June 7, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Collective Amnesia or Collective Alzheimer's:
America 'Remembers' Ronald Reagan
by Paul Douglas Newman
To remember Ronald Reagan as one of the greatest Presidents of the twentieth century, to replace FDR on the dime with Reagan's profile as Republicans wish to do, we are being asked to forget too much.
We are asked to forget Lebanon, where Reagan decided to "cut and run" after hundreds of Marines perished when a suicide bomber invaded their compound.
We are asked to forget the arms for hostages deal.
We are asked to forget El Salvador, where the right wing ARENA, armed with Reagan money, Reagan weapons, and Reagan military training from the School of the America's at Fort Benning, Georgia slaughtered more than 80,000 civilians in the "War on Communism."
We are asked to forget the Iran-Contra Scandal, an event that he evidently "could not recall" in response to more than one hundred questions during the Congressional hearings.
We are asked to forget the groundwork laid for nuclear disarmament by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon.
We are asked to forget the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties I and II.
We are asked to forget the re-freezing of the Cold War following the Nixon thaw, when Reagan bellicosely denounced the Soviets as the "Evil Empire," and then joked on his weekly radio address that our missiles were ready to launch.
We are asked to forget the silly invasion of Grenada following the Lebanon disaster, and the reversal of goodwill gestures made to the Caribbean made by previous administrations, including the return of the Panama Canal.
We are asked to forget the Soviet Union's internal move to Perestroika, a groundswell that occurred over decades resulting in a generation of new Communists by 1985 who were not manufactured by Reagan's bravado, but were products of the "Evil Empire."
We are asked to forget that Reagan presided over the worst recession since the Great Depression.
We are asked to forget the enormous cuts to social welfare programs and the Veterans Administration, moves that led to such an enormous rise in the homeless population, especially evident on the streets of Washington, D.C., that even comedians felt that they had to do something to stop the bleeding with "Comic Relief."
We are asked to forget the policies that enriched agri-business at the expense of small farmers, continuing the decline of the family farm to the point that recording artists were the only ones left to uphold the Populists' mantle with "Farm-Aid."
We are asked to forget that he slashed taxes for the wealthiest, raised taxes on the poor, and then bailed out the corrupt Savings and Loan industry at taxpayer expense.
We are asked to forget that his SEC presided over such a corrupt and over-inflated stock market that the Dow saw the largest one-day crash in its history, greater than in 1929.
We are asked to forget that Reagan's economic policies effected a reversal in the trend toward greater distribution of wealth begun by Progressive Republican, Democratic, and Socialist politicians in the early twentieth centuries, and have led us to the greatest concentration of wealth today since the days of Andrew Carnegie and James Pierpont Morgan.
We are asked to forget the enormous and outrageous military contracts, for which American taxpayers paid hundreds of dollars for nuts, bolts, and toilet seats, and the nation saw defense-spending rise to astronomical heights.
We are asked to forget the Reagan Administration's opposition to the Civil Rights movement, their blocking of busing programs and cuts to Head Start meant to bring equality of opportunity to American education.
We are asked to forget that Reagan considered ketchup to be a vegetable in federal school lunch programs.
We are asked to forget "government cheese."
We are asked to forget jelly beans, splitting wood, bad b-movies, McCarthy-ite participation in Hollywood blacklisting.
We are asked to forget our history.
We are asked to forget, and forget, and forget.
And by the looks of the New York Times and Washington Post's memorials to the "Great Communicator," it appears that what historian Studs Terkel has referred to as "America's collective amnesia" is still acute.
Perhaps it is more serious than that.
Perhaps we have a national case of Alzheimer's Disease.
Perhaps our ability to remember relatively recent events has eroded, and our capacity for rational thought has diminished as well.
Perhaps we are becoming a danger to ourselves and others.
Perhaps we need admittance into a managed care facility for nations.
Perhaps we are "riding off into the sunset." How else do we explain our descent into Bushism?: our quick repetition of past economic and foreign policy blunders, our re-visitation of failed policies to solve current problems, our persistent dementia that results in trying the same things and expecting different results? As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease, only management of the symptoms and provision of comfort until death.
Hopefully Studs Terkel is right, and we've just suffered another blow to the head from which the American people will recover, and remember, and remember, and remember.
Paul Douglas Newman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Associate Professor of American History at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, PA