Saturday, July 07, 2012

Myths of Saint Ronnie

President Ronald Reagan was responsible for the famous phrase, “Government is the problem.” He is also remembered for saying, “The worst words you can hear are I am the government and I’m here to help.” He said a lot of other stupid things as well, but the damage that followed from his anti-government remarks is with us still. He was apparently also responsible for encouraging Grover Norquist to start Americans for Tax Reform, itself having done almost irreparable damage to our body politic.

I don’t know where Reagan acquired his anti-government bias but he apparently believed it. I guess he had in mind programs like Social Security, Public Education, the IRS, Medicare, the Post Office, the Veterans Administration, and other such harmful programs. He was also apparently obsessed with welfare and I gather really believed that “Welfare Queens” drove to pick up their monthly checks in large pink cadillacs.

In any case, these myths still survive in some quarters, and are, in my opinion, completely false. He and his devotees think that the problem with government is bureaucracy and inefficiency. Those who believe this apparently have had no experience with the bureaucracies that exist in our overly large private companies. If you have ever suffered at the hands of big insurance, big banks, big telephone companies, and the like, you will know what I mean. Even if it were true that some governmental agencies were unusually inefficient, inept, or unresponsive, that does not mean they necessarily have to be that way. The idea that private companies can do things better than governmental agencies, at least in the abstract, is completely false. Basically they only perform the same functions as governmental agencies but tack on their profits as well. Privatizing health care, energy, the Post Office, and other such agencies is basically nothing but an unnecessary gift of money to the private sector. Student loans are a good example, as there was no reason they should have been outsourced to banks, and when Obama stopped this , billions of dollars were saved. Insurance companies certainly have no business being involved in health care and are the primary reason our health care is much more expensive and less efficient than that of other industrialized nations.

In all fairness to Reagan I doubt he realized the Frankenstein monster that would be created by Norquist. After all, he did not hesitate to raise taxes several times. The idea that government should not raise taxes at any time, under any circumstances, for any reason, is basically insane. The fact that Norquist managed to get virtually all Republicans to sign this ridiculous pledge has been exceedingly harmful to our country and continues to be so. There are hopeful signs that even some Republicans have finally realized this and are now refusing to sign.

There are some things in public life that are far too important to be privatized: Social Security, Medicare, Prisons, Education, the Post Office, and others. Somehow the private sector has been remarkably successful in promoting the myths of Saint Ronnie, and even the magic of Saint Ronnie himself. He was a terrible President, thoughtless, ill-informed, opinionated, stubborn, and in the cases of Iran/Contra and Granada, even criminal. He seems to have been at times unable to distinguish reality from motion pictures. And yes, he was a “Great Communicator,” because his intellect was on the same level as the audience he addressed: “If you’ve seen one Redwood tree you’ve seen em all,” “ A tree's a tree. How many more do you need to look at?” “Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.” “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” “You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.” “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.” "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” And etc. etc. etc. Genius at work.

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

Elbert Hubbard

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