Ronald Reagan's Real Record, Part 2

Some Even Worse Impacts of Reaganism

Reagan's attitude and policies revealed that he was either ignorant of the facts, or simply didn't care. Indeed, until public protest forced Reagan to back away a bit from his drastic cuts in human services, things had gotten so bad that his Agriculture Department sought to cut the school lunch program and, to suit their purposes, even redefined ketchup and relish as vegetables to try to claim that kids were getting proper nutrition.

To make matters worse for workers and families, Reagan also put an end to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which threw 400,000 people into unemployment lines. He cut Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), putting another 500,000 people out looking for jobs. He reduced spending for Housing and Urban Development, which drastically reduced affordable housing and triggered the increases in poverty, hunger and homelessness that have continued to the present day.

Reagan also changed the definition of "unemployment." Before Reagan was president, if people worked less than 21 hours a week, they were not counted as employed. But, Reagan changed the definition so that if people worked 20 hours or more per week, they were to be counted as "fully employed." He also made it so that if people were out of work for more than two years, they were no longer counted as "unemployed." And all that was to make it appear as if unemployment was not as bad as it really was (and no president since then has corrected that situation).

The reality is that Ronald Reagan caused and ignored a lot of human suffering. But one of the worst things he did was wage war on the labor force, and particularly on labor unions. This began when Reagan fired and replaced 13,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 after they staged a work stoppage to bring attention to their plight. Rather than advise fair negotiations or allow collective bargaining, Reagan abused his power to simply break their union. (And notice that today Republicans are still doing the same thing, and, like Reagan, they do the bidding of corporations and ignore the fact that it was labor unions that finally established many worker rights and enabled the American Middle Class to grow large and great --- until Reaganism began to gradually but steadily shrink it and diminish it to what it is today.)

Reagan not only refused to bargain or negotiate fairly. He then demonized all other labor unions and labeled strikers as greedy, lazy, selfish and unpatriotic. This sent a clear signal to the business world and the labor force. In fact, it was more than a signal. It was an opening salvo that started an open war on labor unions. It opened the floodgates to negative attitudes and unfair treatment of employees and workers everywhere, and it started a trend that has continued to this day, with diminishing rights and protections, loss of benefits, and unfair, inequitable compensation for workers. (And by the way, that trend has steadily increased during the last 30 years, and even today it is why Republicans are still trying to destroy labor unions and prevent collective bargaining, serving the interests of big businesses and corporations while betraying and denying the rights of all employees who work hard for a living.)

By 1982, just one year into Reagan's recession, 44 percent of all union contracts included either wage freezes or wage give-backs, while in the prior years between 1964 and 1980 before Reagan came to power there had been no wage freezes or give-backs. Even worse, the Reagan strategy was just the beginning of an anti-worker, anti-labor trend that has continued to this day. It has had an extremely devastating effect on the middle class and the working poor throughout the eighties, nineties and beyond (because it was continued and expanded by the Bush regime).

Reagan also manipulated the membership of the National Labor Relations Board, the organization that mediates labor disputes. He made sure it was dominated by conservatives who consistently ruled in favor of business and against workers and union organizers. He did the same thing wherever possible on the courts by appointing extremely conservative right-wing judges.

The consequences of Reagan's war on workers have been devastating. Twenty years after Reagan implemented his policies, the percentage of union members working in private sector businesses dropped below ten percent. That was the lowest percentage in sixty years and the lowest in the western world.

That is an indicator of how successful Reagan's war on labor unions has been, and it is why so many formerly middle class workers are now not paid enough to support their families. It is why they have to pay more in health insurance premiums and more in payroll deductions. It's why they have to either endure shrinking health and retirement benefits or go entirely without. It is why workers have to do more work with less resources. And it is why top corporate executives still enjoy absurdly extravagant income "compensation" packages, while everyone else has become less and less financially secure, more and more people fall into the working poor population, and poverty, hunger and homelessness increase.

By the way, in 2011 Reaganite Republicans renewed their war on labor unions, so we should consider some relevant history about that war, because Reagan didn't actually start it.

In the 1920s, corporate bosses and other employers used violence to silence workers who wanted to form or belong to labor unions. Hired goons and thugs would go out with baseball bats and bust heads and break up any workers who assembled to voice their grievances.

That is why in 1935 Congress and President Roosevelt passed The National Labor Relations Act, which limited the means with which employers could react to workers who wanted to create or become members of labor unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity to express or communicate their grievances and requests.

In 1947, however, Congress passed The Labor–Management Relations Act, also called The Taft–Hartley Act, which amended the National Labor Relations Act. The Taft-Hartley Act was designed to monitor and control the activities and power of labor unions. In order to pass the act, Congress had to override U.S. President Harry S. Truman's veto. Truman argued that it was a "dangerous intrusion on free speech," and that it would "conflict with important principles of our democratic society." Labor leaders called it the "slave-labor bill." But, while it did have a negative effect on labor unions, in spite of that, labor unions grew. And their success, along with the great results of Roosevelt’s New Deal, enabled the American Middle Class grew large and great.

That’s why Reaganism was designed to wipe out the New Deal, and also destroy labor unions.

There are many other reasons why Reagan damaged America and caused suffering and hardship, but his actions against the workers of this country and against the poor and the working poor were the worst. And his policies, like Bush’s, were grossly hypocritical, because while they were purported to be Christian, they certainly did not treat the least of our brethren as they would treat the Lord, as the Christ Jesus said we should do. In fact, they were cruel and heartless.

Now, yet another myth about Reagan is that he was always amiable and liked everyone. But, in fact, Reagan possessed an ugly mean streak, and his political career really fits the definition of a demagogue who stirs up the emotions and appeals to the pride, prejudice and hate of a lot of people to serve his own partisan political interests.

Ironically, Reagan’s mean streak was exposed long before he became president. It was demonstrated as soon as he became Governor of California back in 1967. For example, it was demonstrated in his disregard for the mentally ill and for all the professionals who cared for them. Reagan demanded steep budget cuts in state hospitals, and he demanded that the mentally ill be released from state institutions if they could be deemed "not harmful to society." In doing that, Reagan started a trend of turning mental patients in state institutions out on the street, which he pushed even harder when he became president.

Consequently, most state government policies now dictate that no matter how mentally ill patients are, as long as they can somehow be deemed "not harmful" they can no longer be cared for in a public hospital or state institution. The rationale of Reaganite Republicans is that "we can't afford to care for them." That's why we see so many mentally ill people on the street, homeless. That's also why we have seen the increasing criminalization of the mentally ill, because many communities find that throwing them in jail is the easiest way to get them off the street.

Reagan’s mean streak revealed itself as soon as he became president too, and history will eventually reveal the truth about him. In fact, it’s been gradually happening for awhile, and that will increase. 

For instance, a genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt in March 2013 elicited chilling testimony from Mayan survivors who as children watched their families slaughtered by a right-wing military that was supported and supplied by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

As the New York Times reported on April 15, 2013, the entire Native Mayan Ixil population was a military target for genocide in a campaign endorsed, supported and funded by the Reagan administration. But of course, the ostensible justification for Reagan and his national security team in 1981 for supplying military aid to the regime of the brutal right-wing dictator of Guatemala was to pursue the goal of exterminating "Marxist guerrillas" and people associated with their "civilian support mechanisms." A very convenient way to justify it.

According to a White House "Situation Room Checklist" dated April 8, 1981: “State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems and they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador."

That of course was a reference to the fact that President Jimmy Carter had not been sympathetic to the right-wing dictators, and also a reference to the Reagan administration’s expanding support for another right-wing dictatorial regime in El Salvador, notorious for slaughtering its political opponents (including Catholic clergy) with the infamous “Death Squads” that were also supported and funded by Reagan. (And Reagan also supported cruel and murderous dictators in many other countries as well, claiming that they were not dictators but good leaders who were merely "fighting the communists" -- a misleading rationale and justification Reagan successfully sold to many Americans.)

Reagan’s mean streak was also blatantly demonstrated in 1969 as Governor of California, with his intolerant and brutally violent reaction to the student Free Speech Movement in Berkeley at the University of California. He had angrily told the University Regents that he would not tolerate protests, nor listen to their grievances. He simply warned student protesters, "If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with."

Sure enough, Reagan created a bloodbath in Berkeley, and while today all conscientious and reasonable Americans would condemn such violent brutality against protesters, at the time all the Reaganites and most Republicans cheered.

That is very significant, because in doing that, Ronald Reagan exacerbated the violent right-wing reactionary confrontations that had swept across America in the 1960s — first in reaction to the civil rights movement and demonstrations, then in reaction to the anti-war demonstrations and marches all across the country. All that conflict and violence caused a tremendous amount of grief, despair and suffering. And when it peaked with the brutal police riots against anti-war demonstrators in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, then with Reagan’s crackdown on the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1969, and then with the killing of student protestors at Kent State in 1970, it left the country deeply divided and terribly polarized. And no wonder. It was horribly brutal and violent abuse of power.

Reagan's mean streak is also evident in the "anti-crime" initiatives he pushed as president, because Reagan's ideological bent politicized criminal law issues. The result was unforgiving legislation known as the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which ushered in both procedural and substantive laws that are terribly unfair and continue to haunt the administration of federal criminal justice. It severely restricts the discretion of judges, and results in terribly unfair prescribed minimum sentences. (See the article on Violence, Crime and Corruption In America for more details about the origin and impact of Reagan's Act.)

But, perhaps the most damaging thing Reagan did was to claim that government was the problem. That served the interests of the wealthiest few, big business and large corporations, at our expense. Advocating "deregulation," entitlements and tax cuts for the wealthy, Reagan started a trend that has had a devastating effect during the last 30 years, because it increasingly granted wider corporate license and free rein, which enabled horrible abuses of the power of money.

Reaganism enabled and allowed terrible shirking of corporate responsibility, and this has consequently affected our lives in innumerable negative and devastating ways due to the resulting corporate greed and corruption. The corporate scandals of the 1990s and 2000s and the financial crisis caused in 2008 by predatory lenders, banks and financial institutions are merely symptoms of all the greed and corruption, and they were like the tip of a huge iceberg.

The Reaganite "corporate welfare gravy train" ensured maximum corporate profits, and enabled the incomes of corporate executives and chief executive officers (CEOs) to skyrocket to incredible heights during the last twenty years. In fact, just in the decade of the 1990s, CEO income rose 481 percent! The combined pay of America's five highest paid CEOs in 1999 was a staggering $1.2 billion, and the average CEO in America is now paid about five hundred times the average employee's wages.

To show you the rate of increase, back in 1980 the average CEO of a major corporation was paid 42 times more than an average American worker. By 1990, CEOs were paid 85 times more than workers. By 1999 (after Congress was controlled by Republicans for just five years), CEOs were paid 476 times more than the average worker. And that trend continued and got even worse due to Republican abuse of power. (See the articles on Poverty: America’s Hidden Shame and The American Economy for some other relevant information and statistics.)

All this speaks to Ronald Reagan's real legacy and record, and an accurate and full history will reveal that. It will also reveal that George W. Bush not only continued but expanded Reaganite policies and caused even more harm and injustice. That is why we must repudiate Reaganism, Bushism, the "Christian Right," the so called "Tea Party" Libertarian Movement, and the right-wing Neo-Conservative Movement, once and for all -- because it's not a matter of "politics." It's a matter of what's rights and what's wrong -- and even though Reagan was very charming, he was dead wrong.