Reagan, Justice, and Mercy

I'm reluctant to talk about Reagan's presidency and the response to his death because the issue is extremely polarized and emotionally charged right now. Now you may guffaw, that's okay; when have I ever shied away from a polarized issue, right? We have the encomia: Tom Brokaw's voiceovers from the funeral, anecdotes about Reagan's personal interactions with ordinary people, his relationship with his wife, etc. Then there are the critiques of what many have called revisionist history: the necessary reminders that Reagan's policies on, among other things, AIDS, Latin America, programs for poor and working-class families, and women hurt a lot of people, and that we should remember those hurt by such policies at the same time we remember Reagan himself. That's a good point, but I find myself compelled to treat Reagan's death with a soft touch, as Jeanne does. She says, "I watched for just a short time, and not even talk about Reagan's 'moral' foreign policy bothered me, because a brief period of dishonesty won't kill us, and brutal honesty at this point would not be good for the soul." She calls for a pause for mourning before going into the critique. The comments in the thread are definitely worth reading; Dustin says, "The Reagan that did so much bad for the world we've inherited has been gone a long, long time, and I couldn't really find it in myself to condemn the man who passed away this weekend." For me, that's a big part of why my opinions here are tempered. My grandfather died eight years ago of Alzheimer's, and I can corroborate that it is a horrible way to die. Dustin's right, that man has been gone a long time. My grandfather had Alzheimer's for eighteen years before he died, so I don't remember what he was like before he started deteriorating. In the years right before he died, he had no idea who we (his family) were. A former carpenter, he would get lost in the house he'd designed and built with his own hands. Sometimes he'd wail, usually incoherent, half-formed words, and hit himself on the head. The lives of the two men aren't comparable, I know, but their deaths are, and their families' experiences with Alzheimer's are. I can't condemn the man who passed away last weekend, either. He was only a palimpsest.

It's important to remember, too, that Reagan wasn't a despot. He could have been the cruelest, most misogynistic oppressor the world has ever known, but he couldn't have acted alone. He had a lot of advisors, Senators, and members of Congress behind him who supported the tax cuts for the wealthy, the Mexico City Policy, the Human Life Amendment. There were plenty of despicable people in that administration.


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Sorry if this is cruel...

Reagan never let his humanity get in the way of his policies and opinions, so I will refuse to let my humanity get in my way in what I am about to say.

His death may have been horrible indeed, but if any of you have seen a person die of AIDS, of starvation, of war, those deaths are more painful (and much more numerous) than his. I will not let him be defined by his death. I will hold him accountable for his life. I do not pity him. I hate him still. He sat and did nothing as AIDS killed up to 50% of all gay men living at the time in the United States and entrenched itself into the African-American and Hispanic communities. His inaction and action in Iran/Contra facilitated the deaths of countless marines, not to mention revolutionaries in Central America. He has left a legacy of hate, of greed, of environmental destruction, of poverty that not only are we still dealing with today, but will be dealing with for the rest of our lives and the lives of our children.

No, Reagan wasn't a despot. He was worse. He was a horrible, mean-spirited president who is remembered as something good when he was really so damned bad. We remember despots for what they are (Stalin, after all, had help in his crimes against humanity, but that doesn't forgive him in our minds). Why have we so obviously forgotten with Reagan?

How dare liberals straddle the fence on this one and let those conservative assholes idolize and control how someone so evil is being remembered? How dare they forget the people who died of AIDS and were ignored, the poor who were made poorer, and the lives that were squashed for American greed? I say the following in sincerety, with all the pain and anger and heart I can muster. Goodbye Reagan. And good fucking riddance.

Regan statistic

Scott, that's a striking statistic -- "AIDS killed up to 50% of all gay men living at the time in the United States". Where did you get that figure?

I'd be interested in your response to the article I blogged here:

--Dennis G. Jerz


Hey Dennis,

Although this of course lessens my argument, I can't remember where I heard that statitistic. It may have been in "And the Band Played On..." I went back and read the comment, and I remember now that the statistic was for New York and San Francisco, and not indicative of the whole population (as if we could ever get that number anyway, with things like closets constantly graying the landscapes).

But, then again, how many deaths from AIDS were enough for Reagan to do something about it? 1, 100, 1000? It was an obvious problem, but I think his homophobia (and his total ignorance of anything not "white business male") got in the way of his doing anything about it. After all, it was only killing us faggots. God doesn't much like us anyway, so who cares. No matter his means of death, I can never forgive him for that. I WILL never forgive him for that.

I read the article, and of course, I think it's self-defeating. Reagan taught me that I was hated by people who thought it was okay to hate because of the policies of his regime. How could I then turn around and say that he had the best interests of America at heart. Whose America? Whose interests?

Thanks for the clarification

OK. That's still a striking claim. I'm always naturally suspicious of jaw-dropping statistics like that, no matter what the topic.

let me remind you - you must

let me remind you - you must have dreamt it, because your argument needs nothing else than facts to lessen it.

Roughly 10% of people are homosexual. In the mid-eighties, the 15-64 year old male population was around 85 million. So you're telling us that over three million US male gays died of AIDS? Weird, looking at the census data, no such drop in male population ever happened.

Furthermore, looking at both male and female aids death rates in the US, cumulatively from 1981 to 2001, we arrive at: 467,910.

Reagan's 'regime' did not do anything you claim it did.

The Reagans are also tolerant about homosexual men. Their interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party -- a fact confirmed for the press by Mrs. Reagan's press secretary. Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that Ronald Reagan is a closet tolerant.

Hardly a gung-ho queer killer. As to his 'ignoring' AIDS:

Precise budget requests are difficult to calculate, as online records from the 1980s are spotty. Nevertheless, New York University's archived, hard copies of budget documents from fiscal year 1984 through FY 1989 show that Reagan proposed at least $2.79 billion for AIDS research, education, and treatment. In a Congressional Research Service study titled AIDS Funding for Federal Government Programs: FY1981-FY1999, author Judith Johnson found that overall, the federal government spent $5.727 billion on AIDS under Ronald Reagan. This higher number reflects President Reagan's proposals as well as additional expenditures approved by Congress that he later signed.


Lest you accuse me of homophobia and ignorance:

Having debunked your delusional accusations against Reagan, let me tell you what he DID do. He buried the notion of détente and forced the Soviet Union to collapse.

I am Estonian, I was born six months before Reagan was elected in 1980. In case you don't know, Estonia was (forcibly) a part of the Soviet Union then. Let me also tell you that in the Soviet Union, being gay was ILLEGAL. Criminal Code section 118. Getting caught having sex with a man meant three to five years in prison.

If Reagan actually did any of the ridiculous things you lie about or are ignorant of, you would be right in your indignation. But right now you're pissing on the grave of a man who did more for the freedom of EVERYONE, man, woman, straight, gay, left, right, black or white than anyone else in the last century.

George Orwell had a word for people who can process two contradictory facts at the same time - doublethink. Knowing full well that three million gays did not die from AIDS in the 80s somehow can coexist in your mind with 'Reagan's inaction killed three million gays'.

By 1984, everyone knew about AIDS. You had your Live Aid and whatnot. If you chose to have unprotected sex with multiple partners, and got AIDS, then tough shit. Should Reagan have personally handed out condoms to people who chose to promiscuous? Should he have spent TEN billion on AIDS study? Seeing as we don't have a cure to this day, and likely won't for a long time, no.

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