A Reagan holiday?

JULY 4, 2010

Ronald Reagan had a “humble background” but “worked throughout his life serving freedom and advancing the public good.” He “served with honor and distinction” for eight years as U.S. president. His “commitment to the nation’s children helped lower crime and drug use in our neighborhoods.” He also “contributed to the restoration of pride in America and her values.” His policies “prepared America’s Armed Forces to meet 21st century challenges.” And, of course, his “vision of ‘peace through strength’ led to the end of the Cold War.”

These quotations come from SB944, which officially designates Feb. 6 as “Ronald Reagan Day.” A July 1 press release from the office of bill-sponsor Senator George Runner, R-Lancaster, says the bill is now awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature.

Though the state of California budget is past due, Reagan Fever has gripped the Capitol. On July 1, The Assembly unanimously passed AB1911, sponsored by Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach, which creates the “Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission” to study how best to celebrate Reagan’s 100th birthday, which will happen on Feb. 6, 2011.

“As the only California Governor to become President, Ronald Reagan stands out as one of our state’s greatest leaders,” Runner says in the release. “It is important for California school children to study such a meaningful and positive leader.”

Truer words were never spoken, though probably the Reagan history Runner wants our kids to learn is a bit different than mine. For instance, there’s this paragraph from Rick Perlstein’s outstanding 2008 book Nixonland:

[In 1967] Ronald Reagan maneuvered to force Berkeley president Clark Kerr’s resignation. Evidence suggests it may have been a quid pro quo to J. Edgar Hoover. Reagan’s security clearance form as governor required him to answer the question ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any organization which has been designated by the United States Attorney General under the provisions of Executive Order 10450?’ and warned that ‘any false statement herein may be punished as a felony.’ Reagan answered no, untruthfully, but the FBI looked the other way. Hoover was like most conservatives: they tended to cut Ronald Reagan slack.

Turns out that in 1946 Reagan had been a member of two organizations the Attorney General’s office considered “subversive.” According to this 2002 San Francisco Chronicle investigation, Reagan was a “sponsor and director” of the Committee for a Democratic Far East Policy and was a member (along with Willie & Joe cartoonist Bill Mauldin and LSD guru Timothy Leary) of the American Veterans Committee, which the government considered “communist dominated.”

Oh my. Reagan’s left-leaning activism in the 1940s (he campaigned for FDR!) has been well-reported and fairly well known at the time. But committing the crime of omission on an federal security clearance application could have (should have?) won Reagan jail time and perhaps some nasty national publicity. But as Perlstein wrote, even way back then conservatives polishing up Reagan to reflect their own image:

Though he had just proposed the largest tax increase in California history, they [conservatives] were promoting him for president. He answered a need: he humiliated the liberals. He would tell young people harassing him with signs reading MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR that the problem was they looked incapable of doing either. To him, a hippie was someone ‘who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.’ His national audience swooned.

Four decades later, we’re all still swooning. How should we explain that to the school children?

-Anthony Pignataro

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  1. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 5 July, 2010, 07:29

    I’m sure if this bill passes our children will hear things like, “he was known as Ronald ‘Rayguns'”, and, meanwhile, we *still* have no budget!

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