News Columns & Blogs

COMMENTARY: Kids, here’s the real scoop on the Gipper, Ronald Reagan

A bunch of churlish people who were around during the 1980s is grumbling about the proposed Ronald Reagan Day that may soon become law.

As hard as it might be to comprehend this, they seem to feel that Reagan was not a great man, despite what the chattering classes who control the way we all see things keep proclaiming.

I say this grumpy crowd is shortsighted.

The man who wants Reagan honored in California’s schools is state Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley. He says our children should, on Feb. 6 every year, “commemorate the life and achievements of Ronald Reagan.”

I’m four-square behind Runner. By all means, let’s tell our schoolkids about Reagan.

I mean, oh boy, is this ever a teaching moment!

Runner will take care to include Reagan’s positive qualities. But I worry that he might leave out some other stuff.

Here are some things I’d highlight:

Arms to terrorists

As president, Reagan was the top man in the movement to sell arms to Iran, illegally, and use the money for his favorite Central American murderers, sorry, freedom fighters, the Contras.

He did this surreptitiously, bypassing the other branches of government that the Founding Fathers seemed to think were important. Here is the Iran-Contra Report on the illegal activity: “Reagan chose to proceed in the utmost secrecy, disregarding (his) Administration’s public policy prohibiting arms sales to nations supporting terrorism.”

It’s true that Reagan was a befuddled and confused man, and from his later testimony it appears that he may not have understood everything that his subordinates (including Colin Powell and Robert Gates, mentioned prominently in the Iran-Contra Report) were up to.

But he was the Leader of the Free World at the time, and I think it’s reasonable to conclude that if he didn’t know, he should have.

The lesson for kids: Obey the law.

War on workers

By firing all striking air traffic controllers at once in 1981, he sent a message to employers everywhere: Do what you will to your workers; you won’t get any interference from the president of the United States.They were listening: It’s been tough sledding ever since for the American worker.

The lesson: Working people deserve a fair shake, too.

The Cold War

We’ve all heard the mantra that Reagan ended the Cold War and brought down the Soviet Union. This assertion might perplex the people in the former Soviet Union who believe they played a part. Ditto Mikhail Gorbachev and others.

The lesson here for kids: Don’t take credit for other children’s work.


Nobody is more loath to honor Reagan than the gay community. Reagan did virtually nothing to fight AIDS for most of his presidency, as the illness spread.

Why? Because AIDS at the time, before we knew better, was considered “the gay man’s disease.” Those who stood behind Reagan believed that afflicted people deserved whatever came to them, including illness and death, because they brought it on with their own, to them, unacceptable behavior. Reagan did not set them straight.

The lesson: Show some empathy to your fellow human beings.

I could go on, and I hope teachers will when the time comes.

Truth to tell, though, I don’t expect any of these discomfiting things to be brought up. Respectable families don’t air the dirty laundry in front of the children.

The kids are more likely to hear about how Reagan told Gorbachev to “take down this (Berlin) wall.” And what an optimistic and enthusiastic man he was during a time of national gloom.

I’ll give him that last one.

The move to canonize Reagan has been going on for decades now, and is part of a larger nationwide movement to revise history.

The other notable current example is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s move to honor the Confederacy, leaving out that embarrassing part about slavery.

The great thing about these modern movements is that they bypass those pesky eggheads, actual historians, and their irritating professional standards. When you have a media establishment and a few elected officials promoting a point of view, who needs rigor in defining the truth?

I’m guessing that the “Slavery was Swell” and “Reagan was a Hero” movements are mere precursors. Can “The Inquisition was an Inspiring Day” (with a special salute to Torquemada) be far behind?

I have one more suggestion for teaching the young ’uns on Ronald Reagan Day. We need to pair it with George Orwell Day, with an emphasis on having the kids read “1984.”

Does anyone recall what protagonist Winston Smith’s job was in “1984”? That’s right: It was rewriting history.

And one of the totalitarian government’s chief slogans, right up there with “War Is Peace”?“Ignorance Is Strength.”

Orwell was right on target with everything except the year. He should have called it “2010.”