Ronald Reagan was a secret FBI anti-commie snitch

Newly released documents Documents released in 2001 revealed that Ronald Reagan served as a secret FBI snitch during the Red Scare (we already knew he named names during the hearings, but now we also know that he snuck around behind his friends' and members' backs and destroyed their lives):
It was revealed last week that the future President played another role as well: as a secret FBI informant, code name T-10. According to an article published in the San Jose Mercury News, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that Reagan and his first wife, Actress Jane Wyman, provided federal agents with the names of actors they believed were Communist sympathizers.
American Notes Hollywood (via Digg)

(Image: File:Ronald Reagan in Dark Victory trailer.jpg, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)


  1. If you ask a conservative to name the greatest president they will almost always say Reagan.
    And they wonder why the Republican Party is imploding.

  2. “Newly released” documents? That news article you’re linking to is eight years old. Reagan was a monster but that doesn’t make it ok to present an old story as current news.

  3. “It was revealed last week that the future President played another role as well:”

    last week being a month before the publish date of Sunday, Jun. 24, 2001.

  4. “code name T-10”

    I can’t believe he was the precursor to the T-1000. Not very liquid metal at all.

  5. The T-10 was sent through time to become one of the most destructive infiltrative devices ever unleashed.

    Just ask Latin America.

  6. i remember the night that fucker died. it was glorious. i ended up wearing my girlfriend’s clothes and falling off a porch.

    ah, memories.

  7. Reagan’s origins were chronicled in the Douglas Adams story “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe.” Not liquid metal, but something vastly more dangerous.

  8. On the CBS news last night they were talking about heros (ship captain who dealt with pirates and the pilot who landed the airplane in the Hudson) and they flashed up footage of Reagan saying something about heroes. Why are we being shown footage of this deceased president like he is still around making good comments? Could they not find some footage of someone who is alive and present now saying something positive about heroism? I never liked RR and it makes me mad the way he is being shown as some kind of wise old guy after all these years. Like he did all these great things when in reality he did a lot of bad and shady stuff.

  9. This is not news to me. That man was a rat, plain and simple. Also a man who never had an idea of his own in his life. I can’t think of another American that I detest as much as RR, save some of the Bush gang. If I could get anywhere near it, I’d pee on his grave. Hope you’re enjoying hell, Ronnie.

    Remind me: how many people died of AIDS before he ever admitted there was a problem?

  10. The scary part is knowing people like that – cut from the same mold. I’ve worked with ultra-clean-cut, church-going, “straight arrows” like young Reagan and the thing is, you know the first chance they get to stab you in the back or conspire with any and all authority structures against you they will. It’s in their blood or something.
    A major irony being that if a hippie, commie-spouting type like Jesus ever came wandering around again Reagan and Rush and their ilk would be the first to turn him into the “authori-tahs” or slap ‘im on tha’ cross.

  11. Speaking as a (insert professional qualification here, obfuscated to preserve anonymity, just trust me), I will way that this is completely old news for the academic historical profession. Major chroniclers of McCarthyism and of Reagan have known this for a very long time; I think that the “T-10” codename and reports from his debriefers show up in highly-respected work by Ellen Schrecker, as well as more contested stuff like the “Dutch” biography by Edmund Morris. So we’ve had this for a decade or more.

  12. – The FBI papers report that despite his work as an informant, Reagan disagreed with some of the tactics of organizations like the House Un- American Activities Committee. In one FBI interview, Reagan takes issue with a group of actors and producers attempting to fire any alleged Reds. Protests Reagan: “Do they expect us to constitute ourselves as a little FBI of our own and determine just who is a Commie and who isn’t?” –

    Yep, sounds like a monster. More so than the cute and cuddly Joe Stalin the communist sympathizers were promoting.

    just sayin’

  13. What Reagan did was turn in his enemies (his PERSONAL enemies within the SAG and the Hollywood scene) in to the raving anti-communist gestapo personified by McCarthy.

    There were good people who fervently believed that communism was a global threat that justified all sorts of extreme actions. Their actions were in accordance with their (perhaps mistaken) beliefs and were (in that limited sense) honorable. Reagan, by contrast, while legitimately a fervent anti-communist, was also an opportunist who saw a way to destroy his personal enemies by blackballing them. He knew everyone in Hollywood (including himself) had at least flirted with the idea of communism when it was fashionable, and so he could denounce them and end their careers.

    Just watch his HUAC testimony. He basically says “I have zero evidence to present, but I will swear that everyone who disagrees with my leadership of the Screen Actors Guild is a dirty commie”.

    Now a hero to at least two generations of American youth. The evil wing of American Conservatism is winning, through sheer relentlessness. We need to be equally relentless in exposing the true history of Ronald Reagan, and we need to be careful not to make overblown claims – the truth is damning enough.

  14. Remind me again: where does “snitching on your friends” come in the list of conservative virtues?

    Would a T-shirt with a picture of Reagan and the message “(he finally) stopped snitching” be in good taste?

  15. Would a T-shirt with a picture of Reagan and the message “(he finally) stopped snitching” be in good taste?


    Rather than carving his face on MT Rushmore as the conservatives so want, they should just tattoo it on a horses ass.

  16. Reagan was the last good president we had. I am glad Reagan informed on communists. Too bad we can’t inform on Democrats and Republicans. Our two party system is destroying our great country. Unfortunately we don’t have patriots like Reagan any more.

    Now we have Pelosi, Reid, McCain, and every slobbering democrat and republican in the House and Senate.

    Reagan saved the world, and now we are dismantling what was once the United States of America…

    We deserve our upcoming demise.

  17. Does anyone know if he actually reported anyone? If so do you know their names? I seriously doubt Ronald Reagan personally ruined anybody’s life by snitching to the FBI (whether he intended to or not).

  18. Wow.
    I detect a pattern.

    1. Find random, heavily biased, cherry picked info on a dead/dying conservative’s.

    2. Ignore everything else.

    3. Make blog entry on random, heavily biased, cherry picked info.

    4. Profit


  19. “We deserve our upcoming demise.”

    You go first.

    Reagan saved the world from nothing. He was always a stooge for the military CIA and FBI. He put a CIA director in as VP for gods sake. He was just the lead actor in a govt theater production.

  20. These kind of blogs make me sadder than I can relate. Generally, I would consider folks who like/follow the things included in boing boing as among the more well educated and tolerant folks around, but on occasion someone trots out some icon of hatred that draws a kneejerk hostile reaction from this most tolerant segment of our society, and those that I would think would have a more three dimensional view of…well, everything. That Nixon, Reagan, W and others are cast into a pit where any abuse heaped upon them is acceptable and fun reminds me that we are only a half-minute away from the the time when people labeled as objects of hatred were branded, and a half-step away from the world where those same people are executed by self-appointed morals police. Reagan was a man, like other men, and had his weaknesses and strengths. We should all seek to emulate the strengths and avoid the weaknesses diplayed by others, but hatred is such an addictive weakness that we should avoid it most of all.

  21. @gadgets123:
    That’s one way to interpret that sentence, but another way would be that it belatedly acknowledges that the growing number of folks who mutter about black helicopters and a UN takeover; who believe that liberals are actually socialists (without knowing quite what that means) who must be stopped; who are buying up as many guns as they can in fear that Obama’s going to take them away–in short the folks who believe that the federal government is a threat when, and only when, it’s headed by a democrat, are indeed turning themselves into a group of armed, fearful, and thus dangerous, extremists.

    But it’s a poorly worded document, and though it doesn’t seem to me to be intended in the way you suggest, it could, and probably will, be interpreted by some in that way, adding fuel to the anti-federalist fire.

  22. The only reason Reagan did not do more damage than he did as a president is that his handlers made sure he only did what they wanted. I firmly believe he was Alzheimer-afflicted by the time he got into office and was managed and directed by others through the whole period.

    Loathsome, but not as loathsome as Nixon and Bush II.

  23. Reagan was the best president we’ve had in the last 50 years. And yes, I stand by that statement.

  24. Back in the 80’s, a friend of of my mom worked in a residential institution for the severely autistic. In the the common room the TV was on all the time but the autistic residents were generally quiet and seemed oblivious to anything happening on tv.

    One day she heard commotion in the common room. the autys were all laughing hysterically and rolling on the floor. One of the more verbal ones was able to explained, “We’re laughing at FunnyPuppet on tv!! Funny Puppet doesn’t match! Sounds don’t match the words! Words don’t match the face. Mouth doesn’t match eyes. HA HA HA”

    needless to say, Reagan was in the midst of giving a state of the union.

    (To the best of my recollection, this is a true story and not a friend-of-a-friend thing, but if any one else out there has heard other references to this anecdote i’d be interested to know the origins.)

    Nixon was a wretched person, but it was really Reagan who set the stage for turning America into a know-nothing nation of ignorant, oblivious, superstitious, cowardly peasants who rolled over to let .000001 percent of the population rob the country of 60 years of equity.

    And yes the Clintons were/are just as much part of the problem GWbush. They just are happen to be a little bit slicker about it.

  25. @#23 I just meant to say that okay, Reagan was an FBI informant, so what? Reading the article, it doesn’t look like he was malicious or frivolous about it. I’m sure he thought reporting communists was the right thing to do and he probably didn’t actually report too many people and they probably didn’t actually get into trouble for it. I don’t respect him more because of this, but I don’t respect him less either.

  26. Reagan was the best president we’ve had in the last 50 years. And yes, I stand by that statement.

    And as you’re standing by it, be sure to keep your chin up or you’ll swallow some of the stuff you’re neck deep in.

  27. “who are buying up as many guns as they can in fear that Obama’s going to take them away.”

    That is not a completely unreasonable fear. It was Biden who sponsored the last “assault weapons” ban.

  28. #25
    “Reagan saved the world from nothing.”

    So winning the Cold War, saving U.S. Hostages in Beirut and saving the U.S. economy don’t do it for you? I’m sure I could name more…

  29. I thought the late Phil Hartman’s portrayal on SNL said it best.

    The man was an idiot. As to his character, I’ve known many slow witted, nice people. He didn’t HAVE to do all the harm he did. Any who were fooled by him need to spend a day working with actors since they clearly don’t understand the concept.

    May his tombstone be a privy.

  30. and what might that be #34? Reagan not only won the presidency in ’80 and ’84 but it was damn-near unanimous. To see people take potshots at a dead president who was nationally and internationally revered pisses me off. Do you know how many streets are named after Reagan in Eastern Bloc countries that suffered under Communist rule?

    Reagan wasn’t perfect…but he did more in his 8 years at the helm than any president in the last 50. That’s virtually undebatable.

  31. #32 The same story is told by neurologist Oliver Sacks, in his book “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”. He describes seeing a group of aphasics laughing at one of Reagan’s televised speeches. Aphasia entails loss of specific language skills. Sacks’ patients were unable to interpret Reagan’s words, so what they were laughing at was his body language, which struck them as grotesquely false.

    The group also included a woman with tonal agnosia, who was unable to interpret gesture or expression, but had a heightened awareness of language. Her verdict, as reported by Sacks, was “Either he is brain-damaged or he has something to conceal.”

  32. Reagan’s the best President EVAR because he taught the world that ketchup is a vegetable.

    He’s the awesomest because he showed that as long as you shout real loud about being a tax cutter, nobody would notice you’re paying for everything through massive deficit spending.

    Reagan was a man’s man, because he stood in Berlin and made a speech–was that before or after he paid his respects at the Nazi cemetary?

    Reagan was l33t because he “saved” US hostages in Beiruit, nevermind managing to kill almost 300 US Marines because he ordered that they be barracked in the city instead of on ships like military commanders wanted.

    Indifference about raped and murdered nuns, support of death squads, inaction on the AIDS epidemic…yeah, Reagan was the best President EVAR.

  33. Reagan didn’t ‘win’ the Cold War. To begin with, it was still going on when he left office. That’s nothing but self-serving, ridiculously ego-centric, Republican rewriting of history.

    Reagan did not get Gorbachev elected President.
    Reagan did not cause the Perestroika and Glasnost policies.
    Reagan did not make the decision _not_ to crack down with military force on the rising protests in the East Bloc.
    Reagan did not cause Hungary to open its borders.
    Reagan did not cause the Soviet hard-liners to start a coup and put Gorbachev in house-arrest. (In fact, hard-line US policies only strengthened Soviet hard-liners)
    Reagan did not cause Boris Yeltsin to get on top of a tank that day and demand the release of Gorbachev.

    Take your head out of your ass and realize that Soviet domestic policy was no more influenced by US policy than vice-versa.

  34. Reagan, like the rest of the world knew next to nothing about AIDS in the early 80s. To slag him off for inaction on something that no one fully understood at that time is silly. So we’re blaming Reagan for terrorists killing marines in Beirut? Should we blame WTC employers for the deaths of their employees on 9/11? That’s preposterous.

  35. the cold war ended because the soviets bankrupted themselves by military spending. America has just now caught up with them.

  36. All of your parents likely voted for Reagan. Tough pill to swallow for people that so hate “what Reagan did to this country”, eh?

  37. #46 Not really. My parents did a lot of shit I didn’t like. I’ve been swallowing that pill my whole life.

  38. @ FFBSU #46:

    My parents were bitching about Reagan before bitching about Reagan was cool, man!

  39. I really wonder if you would feel the same way if Reagan had been informing on Nazis? The only difference between the two groups is that the communists have a higher body count.

  40. kind of forgetting most of the people informed on during Tail Gunner Joe’s reign were completely innocent of anything?

  41. Gosh, how dare he “snitch” on people promoting the ideology that terrorized more people than any other in the 20th century! You notice that the “stop snitchin'” message always ends up benefiting the very worst thugs?

  42. you back again? Figures you’d sneak a Drugs Windbag ad in. Hey, I hear the reason why Jabba the Rush gets airplay is because they GIVE AWAY his program to all the little stations with no money.

  43. @ #49 posted by motionview:

    I really wonder if you would feel the same way if Reagan had been informing on Nazis? The only difference between the two groups is that the communists have a higher body count.

    Indeed, have we already forgotten the millions killed by American communists?

  44. Ernunnos, that’s an absurd assertion. Really, I’m sure you can think of at least one ideology that terrorized more people than communism. Go think.

    When Reagan died I shocked my coworkers by saying “I hated him when he was alive and I’m glad he’s dead. My only regret is that his suffering is now over.”

    He killed my friends. Not to mention TRIPLING the national debt. He was a scumbag pure and simple and if I had a time machine I’d kill him before anyone knew his name. I only wish I could believe he’s burning in Hell.

  45. @ #52 posted by Ernunnos:

    Gosh, how dare he “snitch” on people promoting the ideology that terrorized more people than any other in the 20th century! You notice that the “stop snitchin'” message always ends up benefiting the very worst thugs?

    I’m not against “snitching.” I just think it should be reserved for people who have committed actual crimes. That’s supposed to be one of the differences between America and the so-called police states we aspire to be better than.

  46. I’m going to have to break out my old “Let them eat Jellybeans” record when I get home.

    I think that most of what needs to be said about the cold war and aids has been said. I’d also add that the fact that the whole hostage crisis ended when reagan took office was a testament to the fact that the shah had died, carter was hated, and that iraq was invading iran. It wasn’t a testament to Reagan’s extraordinary diplomacy.

    I know that a lot of people find it disrespectful of the man’s memory to point these things out, but there is also a real crazy attempt to Lionize Reagan. I don’t think there is a lot to be gained by a delusion of greatness on the man’s part. I have memories of the reagan era, and I feel like a lot of the posters who are trying to give me a history lesson don’t.

  47. XOPHER-
    Name a single ideology that terrorized more lives than Communism. Stalin and Mao’s death toll alone suffices to condemn Communism to the cesspool of history.

  48. Indeed, have we already forgotten the millions killed by American communists?

    About as many killed by American Nazis.

    American commies did manage to kill one rather important person. And I think much of the conspiracy theories around JFK’s death can be directly attributed to denial of the idea that commies are anything but well-meaning persecuted artists and cuddly hippies with flowers in their hair.

  49. shall we segue into the facts that none of what Stalin or Mao practiced was actually communism per se and that those painted with the red brush by snitches like Reagan were frequently not any kind of communist at all?

  50. Also: let’s not forget that Ronald Reagan’s greatest legacy may be the concept of plausible deniability.

  51. @ #69 posted by Ernunnos:

    Our government didn’t spend decades destroying the lives of innocent Americans by drumming up unwarranted fears of a Nazi conspiracy to take over the country. And as repugnant as I find Nazi ideals, I don’t think being a racist asshole should be illegal either.

    If you don’t have good reason to believe that someone is breaking the law then you shouldn’t be spying on them, no matter what their party affiliation.

    As for Oswald, I think he provides about as much justification for snitching on suspected communists as John Hinkley does for spying on suspected Jodie Foster fans.

  52. Reagan gave nuclear cruise missile technology to Saudi Arabia. You know, Saudi Arabia, the place the 911 hijackers came from? Osama’s birthplace?

  53. The American communists were managed directly out of Moscow. The only reason they didn’t get their chance to put millions “up against the wall” was because of people like Ronald Reagan.

  54. @ #80 posted by motionview:

    So said McCarthy. Of course, he never presented any actual evidence of such a conspiracy.

    And how exactly were they planning on seizing control of the federal government when the vast majority of Americans were radically anti-communist?

  55. Naw, UrShrew, I think he saw it on a piece of toilet paper.

    Allen 65: I’d also add that the fact that the whole hostage crisis ended when reagan took office was a testament to the fact that the shah had died, carter was hated, and that iraq was invading iran.

    Or to the fact that George Bush Senior went and talked to the Iranian students and asked them to keep the hostages until after the election so that Reagan could win.

  56. TF11 @26, if something’s cherry-picked, it isn’t random, and if it’s random, it can’t have been cherry-picked, by definition. So if you’re going to drop in here and sling accusations at your hosts, could you at least make up your mind what kind of accusation you’re going to sling?

    FFBSU @41, Reagan’s elections were far from unanimous. He received just over half of the popular vote in 1980, and 59% in 1984. That makes him almost as popular as FDR and LBJ (each of whom got over 60%).

  57. @ Kevitivity #87:

    Hitler was a monster, but that doesn’t mean Stalin was a hero just because he was on the other side. “Mao or Reagan” is an incredibly simplistic false dichotomy.

  58. The “Jackie Robinson of Politics”, Ronald Reagan paved the way for other super A-list performers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura and Al Franken.

  59. heh!…say, are ya getting ready for it? One day: “President Franken” (or President Al, as he prefers to be called)

  60. Reagan was elected “virtually unanimously?” Most of our parents likely voted for him?

    Noooooohhhhhh. I was old enough to vote in 1980 and 1984. I sure as hell didn’t vote for him. Lots and lots of friends and relatives and co-workers didn’t vote for him.

    In fact, acknowledging some self-selection bias, I’d say most of the people I know thought the guy was a shallow, easily manipulated, dogma-spewing figurehead of a president.

    Hey, you know what else? John Wayne wasn’t a cowboy, a crime fighter, or a war hero. He was a guy who wore makeup and read lines off of a script for a living.

  61. Takuan: heh, you are the Man.

    Seriously, though, of the last ten – and that’s from Ike to GWB – I think the best might’ve been Johnson. And that after reading Bob Caro’s biography, because I didn’t think so at the time.

  62. That harmless love affair btw Thomas and Johnson never bothered me. I’m shocked you feel that way.

  63. Hey, teabaggers, teh ‘commies’ Reagan was ratting out were Hollywood writers like Dalton Trumbo–a long way from the ‘Dirty Joe Stalin’ in your head.

    Also of interest these days, Reagan’s political career got jump-started when he fought against ‘Socialized Medicine’ aka Medicare:

    Conveniently, he neglected to mention that he was bankrolled by the AMA.

    Bonus bs points to the wingnut upthread who likes to pretend that nobody knew about AIDS back then:

    By Feb. 1, 1983, 1,025 AIDS cases were reported, and at least 394 had died in the United States. Reagan said nothing. On April 23, 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 4,177 reported cases in America and 1,807 deaths. In San Francisco, the health department reported more than 500 cases. Again, Reagan said nothing. That same year, 1984, the Democratic National Convention convened in San Francisco. Hoping to focus attention on the need for AIDS research, education and treatment, more than 100,000 sympathizers marched from the Castro to Moscone Center.

    With each diagnosis, the pain and suffering spread across America. Everyone seemed to now know someone infected with AIDS. At a White House state dinner, first lady Nancy Reagan expressed concern for a guest showing signs of significant weight loss. On July 25, 1985, the American Hospital in Paris announced that Rock Hudson had AIDS.

    With AIDS finally out of the closet, activists such as Paul Boneberg, who in 1984 started Mobilization Against AIDS in San Francisco, begged President Reagan to say something now that he, like thousands of Americans, knew a person with AIDS. Writing in the Washington Post in late 1985, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, stated: “It is surprising that the president could remain silent as 6,000 Americans died, that he could fail to acknowledge the epidemic’s existence. Perhaps his staff felt he had to, since many of his New Right supporters have raised money by campaigning against homosexuals.”

    Reagan would ultimately address the issue of AIDS while president. His remarks came May 31, 1987 (near the end of his second term), at the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington. When he spoke, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died. The disease had spread to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases.

  64. This thread is redolent with the odor of astroturf.

    But since we’re talking about Reagan, why don’t we discuss his last movie role before going into politics – in the 1964 film “The Killers”. Intended to be the very first TV movie, it was derailed somewhat by JFK’s assassination, which happened during filming. During the period of time following, it was decided not to broadcast it, as the violence depicted would have been excessive for a nation still in mourning. Reagan plays a villain, the only time he ever did. When you watch The Killers, you don’t quite see why they didn’t want to show it on TV. Yeah, it’s violent, but a lot of movies were back then.

    And then comes the scene with Reagan standing in the office tower window with a scoped rifle.

    It’s one of those weird movie moments that are extremely unsettling, but it really brings things full circle.

    A movie star whose portrayal of an assassin is upstaged by the assassination of the president, goes on to be president, and in turn is almost assassinated by a guy trying to impress a movie star. You can’t write this stuff.

  65. Wow. There is a whole lot of crazy in this thread all of a sudden. Where did it come from?

    Just off the top of my head, 38, 41 and 48 are complete lies. 38 is “saving U.S. Hostages in Beirut” — surely you don’t mean the ’83 Beirut barracks bombing? Because that would be the opposite of the point that you want to make. Perhaps you mean “saving U.S. Hostages in Tehran,” which might make more sense but would be weirdly unconstitutional, as it would imply that Reagan’s administration was bargaining for the release of the embassy hostages before assuming office. You didn’t mean that, did you? 41 indicates that the author is living in lalaland, “Reagan not only won the presidency in ’80 and ’84 but it was damn-near unanimous” is not true; the 8 point lead in 80 was convincing, yes, but 50% of the popular vote is not unanimous, and you certainly need to remember that this is right in the middle of what political scientists call the “voter depression,” with voter turnout rates in the low 50s. So, if 50% of 50% of voters is “near-unanimous,” then sure, you’re absolutely correct. Otherwise, no, you’re a tendentious schmuck. 81 is a more complex case; a conflation of the issue, certainly, along with 53; the inability to make distinctions of any sort between Moscow, the American Communist Party, socialists, pacifists, New Dealers, labor unions, or fellow travelers of any sort is a clear sign of a closed and unreachable mind.

    So, why am I writing this post? Damn cat’s on my lap, and I can’t stand up, so I’m stuck.

  66. Reagan not only won the presidency in ’80 and ’84 but it was damn-near unanimous.

    This is either a lie or a complete lack of understanding of the American electoral system.

    To see people take potshots at a dead president who was nationally and internationally revered pisses me off.

    This notion that thinking Ronald Reagan was anything less than The Greatest President Ever is revisionism displays a shocking ignorance of reality. For the record, I and a lot of other people knew while he was president that Reagan was a phony figurehead who put a smiling face on a rotten administration based on nothing but greed. He supported death squads in Central America, ran the national debt into the stratosphere, and crippled environmental regulation.

    he did more in his 8 years at the helm than any president in the last 50. That’s virtually undebatable.

    Here’s a hint: If you have to assert that something is “virtually undebatable,” chances are that it’s pretty freakin’ debatable.

  67. jelly bean dreams

    in deep dementia’s lost ravines
    reagan dreams of jelly beans
    little candy death machines
    fired from u.s. submarines

    trapezoidal brylcreem gleams
    star wars missile laser beams
    right wing death squad thug regimes
    bonzo bedtime cowboy memes

    just say no to philistines
    mommy nancy’s drugless teens
    ginned up strawman welfare queens
    ketchup vegetable cuisines

    – JIMWICh

  68. #41 says: Reagan wasn’t perfect…but he did more in his 8 years at the helm than any president in the last 50. That’s virtually undebatable.

    Yes, the virtually undebatable line is pretty obnoxious, but it’s another turn of phrase in that post that has my antennae twitching. It’s the at the helm bit that’s key here, and in fact, it explains both why this thread exploded into a 100+ flame war, the strangely vitriolic debate over Reagan’s legacy, and the meaning and importance of myth.

    Here’s the thing, and it may hurt a bit: we should always remember that presidents are not quite as important as we make them out to be. Yes, we use presidents and their personalities as stand-ins for our portrayal of a time period and the events contained therein. But we should always remember that the power of presidents is limited, and is limited on purpose. The constitution maps out a government with structurally limited powers of the chief executive; yes, throughout the twentieth century, legal, legislative, and mass media trends have served to consistently increase the power and impact of presidents, but in the end, their power is mostly that of TR’s “bully pulpit”: it is exhortatory, not imperial.

    But here’s poster #41 describing Reagan at the helm, as if the nation were a battleship, wheeling at the touch of one man. Here’s were the mythic importance of strong, militaristic, masculine leadership wins out over the realities of a conflicted, limited system of government. Poster #41 and others revere this image of a powerful and ideologically forceful leader, even more so than the man himself. So truly there is no hyperbole too hyperbolic to describe Reagan as a leader for them; the more powerful, the more important, the more world-changing, the better. It fits certain mythic requirements of the role.

    But the presidency is not the helm of a battleship. It has limited powers, and depends upon convincing divided institutions and entrenched bureaucracies to go along with the administration’s goals. More importantly, the president is certainly not in charge of larger historical forces: economics, certainly, but also geopolitical events and domestic society and culture. And finally, the president is limited to 8 years.

    Focusing on the president as a man is easy; yes, it’s a fine stand-in for a decade, and an easy way to periodicize history. But the easy thing is not always the best analytically. Debates over Reagan the man are at best a sideshow; at worst, they are an exercise in meaningless hagiography, reducing our understanding of the past to myth and legend and campfire tales when there are more complex ways to understand human events.

  69. JIMWICh… wow. That is so cool, and it captures a feeling about a decade that few other media has.

  70. JIMWICh, if that was a song, I want to listen to it. I was searching your post for the title and album so I could do just that.

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