The Mythical Hero of the Right

Guess who said this:

Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit. And then, while they’re working and earning here they can pay taxes here. And then when they want to go back, they can go back. Open the borders both ways.

If you guessed Ronald Reagan, award yourself a cookie. He said in during a debate with George H.W. Bush during the 1980 election. And this was what Bush said about it:

Look, I’d like to see something done about the illegal alien problem that would be so sensitive and so understanding about labor needs and human needs that that problem wouldn’t come up. But today, if those people are here, I would reluctantly say I think they would get whatever it is, you know, that society is giving to their neighbors. But the problem has to be solved. The problem has to be solved. Because, as we have made illegal some kinds of labor that I’d like to see legal, we’re doing two things, we’re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law and secondly we’re exacerbating relations with Mexico. […] If they’re living here, I don’t want to see six and eight year old kids being made totally uneducated and made to feel like they’re living totally outside the law. These are good people, strong people.

It’s endlessly amusing and interesting how the right has turned Ronald Reagan into the embodiment of their current ideology when he was anything but. This was a man who raised taxes many times, who drove up the deficit massively, who negotiated and traded arms with terrorists and who cut and ran in Lebanon after the attack on the Marine barracks. Yet in conservative mythology he was a tax-cutting fiscal conservative who resolutely stood up to terrorism and never backed down to our enemies. The reality could hardly be more different from the myth they’ve invented.

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  • Dennis N

    Well that’s easy, I’ve heard the rejoinder straight from Willard “Mittens” Romney’s mouth: “Reagon saw that amnesty didn’t work, so I believe he would be against it today.” (Paraphrasing)

  • MikeMa

    I love when the teabaggers get photo-ops with Reagan’s portrait in the background. I think an Illinois congresscritter was the most recent one I saw but a lot of them do it. Seems more powerful than the flag to them. We do love our imagery regarless of the reality.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I wish some Democrats would start quoting Reagan verbatim in speeches and debate. Without attribution, of course, or at least until the firestorm peaked.

  • “who drove up the deficit massively…”

    Conservatives really don’t care about this one. Deficits to them are a good thing because it lets them complain about “run away” spending. The second it looks like deficits might not be a problem, they do everything they can to recreate them with irresponsible tax cuts.

  • brian

    The right wing’s hard turn against illegal immigration always baffled me, until recently. Corporate interests have traditionally favored illegal immigration, because it provides a great source of low-wage, no-benefits workers, and the supply can be throttled by strengthening or weakening enforcement, as needed.

    But after further consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the perfect issue for the GOP, and that they have taken the best, most cynical position in order to further their interests:

    1. The problem is unsolvable, so regardless of what kind of anti-immgrant noise you make (build a wall, deny them healthcare, don’t rent to them, etc.), you’ll still have all of the benefits listed above (abundant supply of low-wage, no-benefits workers).

    2. You can spend a lot of money not solving this problem, and that government spending goes to corporate coffers. Indeed, we’ve created an entire industry dedicated to not solving this problem, as expensively as possible.

    3. The anti-immigration stance appeals to blue collar workers who are ostensibly harmed by the influx of undocumented workers, keeping them in the Republican camp, and generally voting against their own economic best interests. The majority of the working poor would be much better served by strong union rights, universal healthcare, and subsidized higher education. By scapegoating the nation’s economic problems onto illegal immigrants, the GOP successfully distracts America’s growing legion of poor people into supporting self-defeating policies.

    At least that appears to be the post-Reagan game plan, as far as I can tell.

  • dochopper

    Its not what Ronnie Did , Its what the Right agrees to think they believe he did .

  • And to think, that was only 30 years ago and we have video. Imagine what could be done in double the time with an itinerant preacher in a place where testimony has to be passed by word of mouth?

  • eric

    The right wing’s hard turn against illegal immigration always baffled me, until recently

    I think of it this way. After the civil rights movements of the ’50s and ’60s, the GOP inherited dixiecrats and the like from the democrats. These voters are/were populist, racist, and insular.

    For the first 30-40 years, the Republicans just took their votes and were happy about it.

    Since about the mid-90s, the GOP has actually started listening to them.

    Yeah, I know its a lot more complicated than that, but my point is that this virulently anti-immigrant, pretty much ‘anti anything not white and male’ wing of the GOP is not new. What’s new is the fact that party leaders seem to be listening to it.

  • Trebuchet

    Brian is pretty much right on, but I want to pick a small nit: Corporations do love undocumented workers, but not because they hire them themselves. They’re generally smarter than that. They love undocumented workers because they add to the overall labor supply and suppress wages for everyone in the lower brackets. And when the Repubs get done abolishing minimum wages, that’ll work even better.

  • timberwoof

    “I wish some Democrats would start quoting Reagan verbatim in speeches and debate.”

    That is exactly what the far right wants. They’ve dragged the Overton Window so far into the neighbor’s yard that reasonable people quoting previous rightists would now look like lefties.

  • lofgren

    Yeah that wouldn’t be a victory, it would be proof-positive that we have completely lost the culture war.

  • D. C. Sessions

    That is exactly what the far right wants.

    Not everything Reagan said was either stupid or insane. Quoting Saint Ronnie of Laffer on those points is a way to introduce sane points and get the POG to repudiate their patron saint.

  • unbound

    Brian is dead on.

    Trebuchet is right to a point. The main corporations do not hire them directly. Each creates a multitude of small corporations they directly control which does a lot of the hiring…which they can dissolve at a moments notice, and create a new mini-corporation as needed (a number of medical doctors do the same thing with their mini-corporations that “own” small testing facilities). Basically the same process that keeps them from being directly implicated in places like the Northern Mariana Islands.

    As to the article itself, at least we can say the current Republicans are consistent. They don’t let fact get in the way of their beliefs with anything else either…

  • bananacat

    Reagan has gone the way of Jesus. He’s an idol for conservatives to hold up and ascribe to him any motivations they want, so they can then metaphorically bludgeon others with him.

  • Damn, that’s depressing. I remember thinking that Ronnie was the very nadir of conservative power that could make it into high office. It’s unbelievable just how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve lost. The other irony is that one of my other bête noirs of the time was Tipper Gore, for her role in trying to censor all my favorite rock albums.

  • azkyroth

    The reality could hardly be more different from the myth they’ve invented.

    Well, if the real life Reagan had been a black lesbian it would have been a tiny bit more different. But that’s about it.

  • fifthdentist

    How sad a day is it when Reagan actually was — at least on some issues — liberal? At least in these grim days …

    Hell, he wanted to zero out nuclur weapons, said torture is never justifiable, raised taxes and at one time — the horror — lived in California. He also violated the sanctity of marriage by getting hitched to a dicorced harlot.

    If he had been truly conservative, he would have stoned himself.

  • Here is a great summation of Reagan’s heresies by contemporary Republican standards.

  • lofgren

    I remember thinking that Ronnie was the very nadir of conservative power that could make it into high office.

    While not “conservative” per se, Nixon considered asserting the right of the president to assassinate American citizens without a trial, but, after having the CIA draft plans for assassinating citizens he felt were worthy of it, decided it would never fly and aborted those plans before any action was taken (besides the run-of-the-mill stalking and tracking that was already in practice).

    The current democratic administration is conservative by Reagan’s standards and totalitarian by Nixon’s. Progress!

  • dingojack

    Oh and don’t forget tha Ray-gun, after being briefed that something like 50% of Americans would be dead afer a nuclear echange that they won, began to see the folly of MAD and started talking to the Soviets.

    Actually demonstrating empathy, intellegence, foresight and pragmatisism. Almost the heresy jackpot for the current Party o’ God. – Dingo

  • lofgren

    At this point, I’m starting to yearn for a Re Ron.

  • Michael Heath

    I’ve spent some energy defending Reagan’s record in Ed’s blog, but one area which requires some nuance is his record of raising taxes, six times IIRC. That record points not towards Ronnie the tax-raiser, but instead a president willing to compromise.

    President Reagan remained relatively unconcerned about the deficit beyond mere rhetoric and fiercely opposed to raising taxes, no different than today’s conservatives. He was wrong on both counts and should be criticized for such. Like most conservatives, he wanted to wield power in a manner that gutted many programs that liberals favored, where the ‘starving the beast’* tactic emerged under his watch. To his credit he did tact left on Medicare and Social Security in the 80s from his reactionary positions in the 1960s. The difference between Reagan and today’s conservatives was he could separate his oft-warped objectives with the interests of the country where compromise trumped ideology when it threatened the national interest.

    *’Starving the beast’ is the mostly unclaimed tactic where conservatives [unconsciously?] run up deficits when in power while spending like drunken sailors. And when they’re not in power they stridently obstruct the necessary tax hikes needed to pay for their past prolificacy. This makes it easier to sell the nation a false bill of goods that we can’t afford favorite liberal spending programs, “we’re going broke!!!” Enter people like Paul Ryan and his attempt to gut Medicare. Bill O’Reilly is their chief dupe in the media; he’s a dupe because he’s so idiotic he apparently does it unconsciously – he’s not even in on the con.

  • Aquaria

    This was a man who raised taxes many times, who drove up the deficit massively, who negotiated and traded arms with terrorists and who cut and ran in Lebanon after the attack on the Marine barracks.

    He was also responsible for at least 30,000 murders and “disappearances” in El Salvador, most notably the El Mozote massacre, committed mostly by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion. And let’s not forget those six left-leaning priests the US government had their Salvadoran puppets assassinate. Oliver North passed on that order himself for that one.

    Reagan the Scumbag also permitted the mining of Nicaraguan harbors. His scumbag contras committed numerous atrocities against Nicaraguan civilians, including cutting off the breasts of women and the testicles of men.

    And let’s not forget kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS, notorious for the murders of three civil rights activists in the 60s.

    That’s why I call that piece of human filth, “Reagan the Scumbag.”

    There aren’t enough words to convey my contempt for that piece of shit.

  • Michael Heath


    Do you make your Reagan assertions as an emotional release or you think people actually believe what you write accurately characterizes Mr. Reagan?

  • abb3w

    …anyone have a good way to feed the quote into the FWD: FWD: FWD: RE: FWD: Tea-Party-esque email hive mind, only attributed as another horrible utterance by Barack HUSSEIN Obama? It would be lovely to get the right-wing world swell up in outrage, only to go “pop” when the truth comes out about the actual source.

  • birgerjohansson

    Aquaria, Michael Heath

    I remember the 1980s too well. I remember the El Salvador and Nicaragua civil wars and atrocities. I remember Angola and how warlord Jonas Savimbi was made out to be a “freedom fighter” by western media while he was systematically seeding the country with land mines to make the food production collapse as the farmers got their legs blown off. I remember the Khmer Rouge mass murderers getting western support because their enemy was allied with the Soviet Union.

    I remember Reagan halving the funding to EPA to “reduce obstacles for businesses”.

    I remember Reagan scrapping the American research into alternative energy sources.

    I remember his UN ambassador claiming “authoritarian” dictatorships (western allies) were better than “totalitarian” dictatorships (Soviet allies).

    I remember how scool classes for children with mental problems were scrapped in state after state and the pupils were expected to function in ordinary school classes.

    And I remember how cosy the relationship was between Washington and Saddam Hussein.

    Reagan a good guy? BAAAARF!

  • Michael Heath


    No one claimed Reagan was a “good guy”; no president meets that standard and no one claimed it here; that’s a strawman an eight-year old can see through. In addition you commit the same failure in thinking that Aquaria does by creating a deceptive strawman of the entire Reagan presidency. Your ‘failure of balance’ characterization and logical error is no better than how conservatives paint President Obama, especially by pinning atrocities onto Reagan which can’t be validated he’s primarily responsible or even significantly responsible while ignoring his Administration’s greatest achievements where they clearly were responsible.

    You do liberalism no service by framing your obvious emotional ire towards Reagan in a way that is not representative of his record. Instead you actually contribute towards the conservative misconception that liberals are every bit as reactively emotional in their xenophobia toward’s ‘the other’ as conservatives. Far better to frame your critique consistent with his entire record and keep it honest rather than disingenuous.

    E.g., while my reading of history reveals that the Reagan presidency was a successful one which is consistent with historians who cover presidential history, slightly more so than the Clinton presidency; it’s disingenuous to give Reagan kudos for signing tax increase legislation later in his presidency as I noted above where its framed or implied he favored such increases. Reagan defectively, I think, promoted more spending reductions of favorite liberal programs rather than tax increases, so he deserves no credit for championing the tax increases needed at the time he signed those bills. Instead he deserves credit for being willing to compromise even when it when it against his [defective] conservative positions.