I Write Letters

Dear Barack Obama:

Here be 10 problems, in no particular order, with positively invoking Patron Saint of Conservative Fuck-Knuckles Ronald Reagan for any reason:

1. He is the patron saint of conservative fuck-knuckles. In a hotly contested Democratic primary for the presidency, following eight long years of a Republican presidency which has left progressive activists exhausted to their very bones with outrage fatigue and fed up to the bloody teeth with conservatives, trying to distinguish yourself by claiming to be Reagan's heir—even if it has absolutely nothing to do with Reagan's actual policies—is stupid. And infuriating. And bound to be misunderstood. Praising Reagan for being a transformative visionary, in spite of both his actual vision and into what he transformed the nation, demands a pretty rigorous patience of people who have an understandably negative visceral reaction to Reagan, as they tease out the precise nuance. And, in the end, "I don't like anything Reagan did, but I like the way he did it" probably isn't a statement with enough value to haunt progressives with Ronnie's specter, anyway. We don't like it—and rightfully so.

2. "Reagan was central casting for the presidency. He was all morning in America with nothing to back it up."

3. "Ronald Reagan didn't appeal to people's optimism, he appealed to their petty, small minded bigotry and selfishness. … There's enough hagiography of Reagan on the right, I don't think Democrats really need to go there."

4. "[Reagan] ran a partisan, ideological divisive campaign that excoriated Democratic values and trumpeted GOP values. He also race baited."

5. "Lauding [the Gipper] for tapping into the country's concern with the growth and 'excesses' of the federal government, and its desire to 'return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship' [is] hardly a welcomed interpretation within progressive circles."

6. "Those excesses, of course, were feminism, the consumer rights movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement. The libertarian anti-government ideology of an unaccountable large liberal government was designed by ideological conservatives to take advantage of the backlash against these 'excesses'."

7. "Especially those of us who were not Republicans, do not look back on the Reagan years with any sense of 'clarity' and 'optimism'."

8. "To long time liberals who lived through this period as an adult, it's like waving a red flag in our faces."

9. "There's a reason their movement has developed this ridiculous St. Ronnie hagiography—it's to inextricably associate their dark, divisive ideology with his carefully manufactured cheerful persona."

10. When I hear the name Reagan, I think of two things—neither of which are "clarity" or "optimism." I am reminded that his sunny fucking optimism didn't do much good for the thousands of people who died of AIDS while he ignored its fucking existence. And I am reminded of the abject terror I used to feel when I was 10 years old and scared out of my mind that I was going to be killed by a nuke, because my president was a wanton fearmonger, just like the one we have now. The Enemy was different then, but the game was the same. In Northwest Indiana, even the children knew we were a "Soviet target" because we were—were—one of the epicenters of US steel production. "If they launch them," I remember my father saying, "at least we'll be dead right away." The thin plywood of my desktop that was meant to save me in case of attack would not. I knew that. And that attack always felt imminent—because I listened to my president. I saw him on the television, solemnly intoning grave threat. Two decades later, I understand he needed money for his moronic space weapon. Then, I was petrified.

I associate the name Ronald Reagan with deadly indifference and fear.

Yes, Mr. Obama—he changed the trajectory of America. You are correct. And yes—he buried his transformative agenda beneath a veneer of optimism. You are correct. And I don't care. I know you aren't praising his policies. I know you aren't putting him on a pedestal. I know what you were saying, and it still stinks.


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