Turk’s News-in-Brief: the Gipper’s Smelly Legacy

2010 May 22
by Turk Studzel

Greetings, comrades, and welcome to this first installment of our bi-weekly foray into what an old friend of mine sardonically calls “life’s rich pageant”—the sordid, silly, and sometimes illuminating spectacle of the human condition. Nietzsche said that the big problems were like cold baths—you have to get out as fast as you got in—and in this spirit, our modus operandi in these pages will be the quick plunge, whether into the fetid cesspools of American politics, or the clear, bracing streams that flow through higher fields of human endeavor. Today, alas, the stench wafting from Washington has grown too pungent to ignore. We must pull on our hip-waders, hold our noses, and push through the “floaters” to have a look. Warning—not for those with weak stomachs!

We begin today with that icon of the American Way, pictured above, recently in the news when the late ex-president’s old employer, General Electric, announced it was donating $15 million to his upcoming centennial celebration, a nationwide tribute beginning early next year. In one of the most ironic political gestures in recent history, last June, Barack Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act with Nancy Reagan tottering at his side, officially launching what promises to be not only the canonization of “Ronnie” as an American saint, but the Corporate Elite’s final triumph over the civil rights movement, labor unionism, and the ongoing resistance to U.S. militarism and imperialism. Who would have ever believed that the election of the nation’s “first black president” would signify the Death of the Left?

The hallowed hundredth birthday, February 6, 2011, falls on what is traditionally Superbowl Sunday, so we can expect the Consciousness Industry (aka Ministry of Truth) to outdo itself with a gala kickoff and halftime pageant for the Gipper in a broadcast brimming with testimonials to his life and works. All of the usual political and media whores will be trotted out to share personal reminiscences and heart-warming anecdotes, and you can be sure that Reagan’s “achievements” will be commemorated as watersheds in the progress of democracy. But more than anything else, the celebration will be about the corporatist right’s complete takeover of the national political agenda—a victory made more ironically delicious by the presence of the “progressive” Democrat in the White House, performing the role of loyal house-negro with obvious relish. Below is Obama explaining his admiration for Reagan during the 2008 campaign:

“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s the government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Reagan, remember, was first elected governor of California in 1966 with the promises to “send the welfare bums back to work” (you know who they are) and “clean up the mess in Berkeley,” that hippie hotbed of civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activism. From there, he went on to challenge Richard Nixon’s presidential bid via the so-called “Southern strategy”—i.e., mobilizing reactionary whites against the civil rights gains of blacks—drawing Alabama governor George Wallace into a three-way competition over who could “out-nigger” who—Wallace’s infamous term. This was the very same Reagan who kicked off his 1980 post-nomination election campaign with a “states’ rights” (read: pro-Jim Crow) speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, infamous site of the Ku Klux Klan murders of ’60s civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. And the very same man who in 1970, three weeks before the Kent State and Jackson State massacres, said of student antiwar protesters, “No more appeasement. If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” Huzzah!

You see, for the U.S. ruling class, Reagan’s election to the White House was a critical turning point after the long nightmare of the black and student rebellions and the defeat in Vietnam—a thumping reassertion of Imperial Destiny and the God-given privileges of wealth. Reagan’s “Morning in America” victory over Jimmy Carter and the “gloom and doom Democrats” signaled that our Corporate Elite had regrouped and marshaled their forces, and were now ready to take back the concessions forced on them during that scary period of mass democracy we call the Sixties. It was the era when Yippie morphed seamlessly into Yuppie—Jerry Rubin into capitalist-pig EST-graduate—and when the Gospel of Greed fueled the most profligate mass consumption in world history, with Americans spending beyond their means as never before, bingeing on consumer credit and natural resources as though end times were nigh. Reagan’s skills as a purveyor of fantasy were exactly what the corporate agenda called for—a whimsical disregard for fact epitomized by his famous statement that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”

Remember Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and the CIA-spawned crack epidemic? Millions of young black men would be imprisoned in the following decades. Remember the invasion of Grenada and those “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua? The Iran-Contra deals and the ‘Star Wars” military boondoggle? Nobody—not Congress, and especially not hippie antiwar freaks—were gonna tell the military-industrial complex how to run its affairs! Remember the mass firing of striking air traffic controllers? The savings-and-loan meltdown? Tax cuts for the rich and trickle-down economics? To hell with the working- and middle-class taxpayer!

In short, Reagan presided over the launch of a massive assault on the democratic, egalitarian, and environmentalist gains of the Sixties and Seventies, and today, some twenty years after the end of his second senile term, the U.S. imperial juggernaut is chugging full bore towards corporate feudalism and a militarized police state, newly invigorated by the election of the nation’s first black president. Like Reagan, Barack Obama is chief executive PR shill for an oligarchy whose greed and lust for power know no bounds, and corporate boardrooms and elite watering holes across the land are, no doubt, ringing with mocking laughter over all those suckers—oops! “voters”—buying into all that blather about “hope” and “change.” Now, while liberals roll their eyes and “tsk, tsk” the Tea Party’s cries of “Hitler” and “socialism,” the Corporate State is indeed readying the infrastructure for a totalitarianism more thorough than Stalin or the Nazis could’ve imagined. This is uncharted territory in class warfare—an era when rolling back the Enlightenment is clearly on the horizon—yet never before have “the People” been so bereft of leadership.

With the Left in confused disarray around the globe, perhaps our only real hope lies in the forces of Chaos and Mother Earth, as in the climax of Hollywood’s recent Avatar. It seems that we are now witnessing—most visibly in Iceland and the Gulf of Mexico—Nature beginning to rise up against the corporate parasites and predators, unleashing Furies both volcanic and suboceanic to foul their rapacious schemes. Unlike Avatar’s planet of Pandora, unfortunately, Mother Earth may not be so selective about who She targets for elimination.

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