THE GREAT MAN IN THE BOX
REMEMBERING RONALD REAGAN
I watched last week, spellbound as the nation sat through the interminable ritual of saying goodbye to Ronald Reagan. I thought we had said goodbye to him 16 years ago. Apparently not. Like the Phoenix, he has died to rise again.
I watched while two sleepy little children, about 6 and 4, trying to keep their eyes open, sat dutifully waiting to go in and look at the flag covered coffin. Their parents had obviously told them a great man was in there. I wondered how much those children knew about that great man.
Did they know the great man in the box had cut federal spending for schools to almost nothing when he was President. One of his first cuts was school lunches - which some kids used as their only meal of the day. Children were suddenly allowed only two vegetables, and it was the great man in the box who declared that ketchup counted as one of them. All that lunch money he saved went into the defense budget, which he tripled. Did they know the great man encouraged the cutting down of our forests including our redwood trees. When people were upset about that he waved it off: "When you've seen one tree you've seen them all," he laughed. People were bewildered, if he laughed maybe there was something funny about destroying our environment. So many people joined him.
I wondered if those children would have waited so patiently if they knew the great man in the box closed our mental institutions, forcing thousands of mentally ill patients onto the street. Then he cut back on housing for poor people so that millions of them were forced to live on the street too. He smiled and said, "they like the fresh air." He had a big bright smile and he used it a lot. It was the kind of smile that made everyone else smile, like a tap dancer in a vaudeville show. It made everything seem good.
Homelessness became an epidemic under Ronald Reagan. An AIDS epidemic started in his administration too, but the great man refused to do anything about it or even to discuss it. Although he did make jokes about it - but not jokes children could hear.
He liked cartoons. The old space traveler Buck Rogers was one of his favorites. Maybe that's where he got his idea for Star Wars, a science fiction defense system that Buck Rogers would be proud of. Instead of much needed money going to us earth people, it went to that fantasy. It's still going there. The man in the box started movements that go on and on.
Did those two sleepy children know about Iran Contra where the great man sanctioned the trading of arms for drugs. And he had interesting taste in friends. He supported the religious fanatics in Afghanistan including Osama bin Laden and his followers who developed into Al Qaeda. Then he ordered the attack on Grenada, a sleepy little island, destroying a hospital and killing hundreds of farmers as they worked in the fields. To this day no one can figure out why we attached them.
The great man in the box spoke out in favor of child labor. "Hard work is good for kids under 12" he said with his big friendly smile. People thought he must be right, his smile is so sure of itself.
He broke the union movement by giving tax breaks to companies like IBM and General Electric who moved their businesses out of the country where they could get cheap non-union labor, which was beginning of the end for America as a manufacturing nation. He didn't smile with that one. He did it quietly, on the sly. Outsourcing it's now called. We never recovered from that. Possibly we never will.
Did they know that as governor the great man in the box destroyed the California University system which used to be affordable for every good student. And before that, as President of the Screen Actors Guild the great man secretly worked with the House UnAmerican Activities committee to blacklist his best friends?
When Ronald Reagan became president it felt like America has just been in a train wreck. It started us down the slippery slope we're now trying to stop before we fall off. So little children, don't bother to stay up for this man. Get a good night's sleep and wake up to take America back from his legacy and his followers.
Lila Garrett is TV/screen writer director,
Winner of 2 Emmies and the Writers' Guild Award
She currently is host of CONNECT TH DOTS,
On KPFK radio (90.7FM), Pacifica's Los Angeles and Santa Barbara affiliate.