Revolution #117, January 27, 2008

“American Greatness”—And Why Obama and Reagan Really DO Belong Together

“But I think, when I think about great presidents, I think about those who transform how we think about ourselves as a country in fundamental ways… And, you know, there are circumstances in which, I would argue, Ronald Reagan was a very successful president, even though I did not agree with him on many issues, partly because at the end of his presidency, people, I think, said, ‘You know what? We can regain our greatness. Individual responsibility and personal responsibility are important.’ And they transformed the culture and not simply promoted one or two particular issues.”

—Barack Obama

“Regain our greatness”? How about we just bring a little bit of the fucking real into the discussion, okay?

Reagan promoted outright racism and “USA Number One” chauvinism. He began his 1980 election campaign with an appearance in Philadelphia, Mississippi where he praised “states’ rights.” And Philadelphia, Mississippi, you see, was where a mob of KKK murdered three civil rights workers—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—in 1964. “States’ rights” was the code word used by Klansmen and their more polite supporters to justify the lynchings, the murders, and all the rest of the terror they used against people fighting against segregation. And Reagan matched this with the so-called war on drugs that resulted in massive imprisonment of Black and Latino youth…all while he at minimum turned a blind eye to the dope that was pumped into the ghetto during the 1980s, some by CIA operatives and “assets.”

Reagan was also famous for threatening nuclear war—including with his infamous joke: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” In actual policy, he not only rattled horrific nuclear weapons. He armed brutes and thugs to carry out terror from Nicaragua to Afghanistan, from El Salvador and Guatemala to Angola and Mozambique, and scores of places beyond. And in most of those places, the death toll ran not into the thousands, not into the tens of thousands, but into the hundreds of thousands of human beings that somehow got in the way of American empire…oops, I mean American greatness. He fostered the war between Iraq and Iran that took the lives of a million people. And, oh yeah, he also backed to the hilt the apartheid government of South Africa and the racist state of Israel—when both were dealing with serious internal rebellions of their oppressed by the most brutal means imaginable.

And these are just a few of his crimes. You could fill a hundred books with what he did to women, to workers, to gay people (including his vicious policies on AIDS)…with the way he brought Christian fascists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson into prominence…well, the list goes on. And yes, he did promote the idea that not only is there nothing wrong with the merciless dog-eat-dog ethos of America, it’s actually the only way to go—that’s what Obama means by the code words of “individual and social responsibility.”

“How We Think About Ourselves as a Country”

But here’s where Obama lets out a little bit of truth: that Reagan “transformed how we think about ourselves as a country.” You see, up to then you had people a little bit beginning to come to grips with the reality of America and, for once, not the storybook bullshit. So, yeah, Reagan’s great “talent,” as Obama lets on, was that he got people to think about all these crimes in different ways, especially after the ’60s generation had begun to bring out the undeniable truth about so-called “American greatness.” Reagan came out there with this shit-eating grin and salesman’s chuckle, and all the while he mobilized a fascist social base ready to bully anybody, and he narcotized those in the middle, and he effectively silenced and marginalized those who stood for anything decent.

Barack Obama is telling you what he thinks is great. Barack Obama is telling you how he plans to operate—to do a job of convincing people that the ugly shit that America does, all the torture and murder and arrogance that it carries out and that stinks in the nostrils of people all over the world, really smells like roses. Even as people in this country barely begin to come to grips with Abu Ghraib, and Fallujah, and all the rest, he wants to “transform how we think about ourselves as a country in fundamental ways.” And he wants to do it like Reagan did.

Now it’s up to you—do you want to convince yourself that he doesn’t mean it? Do you want to go along with the idea that thinking about something differently changes its character?

Or will you stare the truth in its face, repudiate any desire for any more so-called “American greatness,” and transform how you think and act on that basis?

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