As anyone who has a modem and email address knows, CBS is planning to show a mini-series called "The Reagans" some time this month. Furthermore, the series, which Republicans have labeled a "hit job," surely will be known more for its controversy than its entertainment or artistic value. The whole affair also tells us something about the nature of the political classes that dominate our society.
Before going further, let me say that I have no plans of watching this show, whether or not it is accurate (and it is doubtful that Hollywood could reproduce any historical event with accuracy). We don’t have outside television reception in our house, and I sure don’t plan to call the cable company or install a satellite dish just so I can view this bit of tripe. Thus, I am commenting only on what I have read on the Internet.
Being that the lead character in this series is James Brolin, husband of actress and Democratic Party activist (and self-confessed Ronald and Nancy-hater) Barbara Streisand — who was a constant fixture on the set — my guess is that the mini-series will try to portray Reagan and the former First Lady in the worst possible light. Hey, that’s show biz, and since Hollywood is the home of the most vocal — and wealthiest — Democratic supporters, one would expect Hollywood to produce something that paints Republicans as villains.
There seems to be some justification for Republican angst. Reagan, who was a fairly affable character before tragically being struck with Alzheimer’s Disease and a friend to many homosexuals, is going to be portrayed as something on the other side of Jerry Falwell when it comes to opinions on homosexuality. (One of the lines in what CBS calls a "meticulously researched" script has Ronald saying to Nancy about AIDS and homosexuals, "Those who live in sin will die in sin." The producers admit Reagan never said anything like that, but since the government apparently did not come up with a "cure" for AIDS during Reagan’s term, it is OK to take dramatic license here.)
Never mind that Bill Clinton, hero to Babs Streisand and friends, didn’t cure AIDS, either, but Bill was a Friend of Hollywood, so it does not matter what he did. Actually, it was the Reagan Administration that first pushed the HIV-AIDS theory in 1984, which has been a real boon to drug companies that were able to bring back the failed cancer drug AZT and receive billions of "free" research dollars to develop so-called AIDS drugs. (Whether or not HIV causes AIDS has been well-debated in other forums, including this page, and since I am writing on the mini-series, not AIDS, I do not push this area of discussion any further.)
Elsewhere, they have Reagan really losing it upon the discovery of the Iran-Contra affair, which actually did occur, although the scene that CBS uses to portray this situation is fictitious and rather silly. But, then again, Hollywood generally is a rather silly place, so it should not surprise us that Babs and company are going to give us silly, slipshod work. It wouldn’t be Hollywood, otherwise.
Apparently, the movie does deal with one rather unsavory aspect of Reagan’s presidency, that being Nancy Reagan’s dependence upon astrology to help determine her husband’s work schedule. Whether or not the producers actually tell us what happened (the movie supposedly has the Reagans working together on astrology, but who knows what really occurred), I would find it surprising that the Hollywood set believes dependence upon the stars is a bad thing. That is because if there is any one group in this country that consults the "stars," it is the "stars" of Hollywood themselves. (Maybe Babs has thrown in this astrology affair as a way to praise Ronnie and Nancy. Who knows?)
Republicans are screaming to high heavens about this whole affair, since to them, Reagan was a White Knight on Horseback, saving us from the Jimmy Carter malaise. (I remember Reagan’s 1984 re-election slogan, "America is Back!" as well as the "Morning in America" theme. Indeed, as I will point out later, America was "back" during the Reagan years — back to sending troops into one disastrous situation after another, just as had been done during the Vietnam War.)
While Carter presided over what seems to have been a disastrous presidency, there were a number of positive developments that occurred during his term, something that if they had any sense, Democrats would be celebrating, not trying to hide. But, more important, Carter did not send U.S. troops abroad, as did his successors, and the U.S. Government was not responsible for literally thousands of civilian deaths abroad, which has not been the case for Reagan, George Bush I, George Bush II, and Bill Clinton. If anything, Reagan’s adventurism undid the solid foreign policy contributions of the Carter Administration and led us into many of the same murderous predicaments abroad that had characterized the administrations of LBJ and Richard Nixon.
Even Reagan’s alleged economic contributions — other than lowering the top tax rates from 70 percent (something that Keynesian anti-economist Paul Krugman still laments) to about where they are today — were due mostly to the economic deregulation begun during the Carter years, as well as Carter’s Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volker. In other words, Reagan is not the villain portrayed by Babs and her husband, but neither is he the Savior of America, as so many Republican conservatives want to believe.
Once upon a time, before the United States became a thoroughly-politicized society, Hollywood concentrated upon making movies that had real plots and were not attempts to politically propagandize people. (Granted, I am leaving out the Hollywood of World War II, which produced political propaganda that would have made Goebbels and Stalin proud.) Those days are gone forever. Today, we have Democrats trying to portray a president whom they hated (and still hate) while trying to tell us that they are trying to be "accurate." On the other hand, we have Republicans trying to deify someone who was a flawed president, like anyone else.
Now, had the Democrats wanted to present a bad side of the Reagan presidency, they could have called upon me. I would have told them that Reagan’s CIA was involved in car bombings in Lebanon that killed innocent civilians, and led to the untimely deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers; I would have pointed out that Reagan gave us the disastrous "war on drugs" and vastly increased the police powers of the state to arrest Americans and seize the property of innocent people (on the mere pretense that there "might have been" alleged drug activity) because a small number of Americans did not to listen to Nancy Reagan and decided, instead, to "just say yes" to drug use.
I would have pointed out how Reagan’s Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 basically permitted to federal government to criminalize just about everything, and how the Reagan presidency ultimately led to an explosion of the U.S. prison population, which consists mostly of non-violent drug offenders. Moreover, I would have told them that despite the fact that environmentalists thoroughly hated Reagan, it was his administration that began to apply criminal sanctions to alleged violations of environmental regulations, which meant that people went to prison because some federal bureaucrats did not like them putting sand or clean fill dirt on their own property. It was Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency that vastly expanded its powers during the 12-years of Reagan-Bush I, and it was the Reagan Administration that permitted William Bennett and other Neoconservatives to have a platform from which they could nationalize education policies. Just as Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice under Janet Reno actually wrote most of the rightly-vilified Patriot Act that Reno’s successor trotted off again after the 9/11 attacks, Reagan expanded the powers of the central government in a way totally inconsistent with his "freedom and free enterprise" rhetoric.
Indeed, had Babs and company really done some "meticulous research," they would have found that thanks to Reagan’s presidency, Bill Clinton was able to exercise powers to do those things which the CBS executives really liked. To put it another way, without Reagan, there would have been no Clinton, or at least a Clinton who acted like Bill Clinton.
For all of the talk about "restoring America," the ultimate legacy of Ronald Reagan was to further entrench the vast — and unconstitutional — powers of the federal government. Had the people from CBS been willing to portray this fact as the end result of Reagan’s two terms (instead of its bogus AIDS quotations), I might have been willing to call my cable company. As it is, I think instead I will just read the latest book by James Bovard. Now, any one of his books would create the potential for a movie blockbuster. Instead, the political classes and their Hollywood allies give us lies, tripe, and mediocrity.
November 3, 2003