The independent news organization of Duke University

Commentary - The Reagan everyone forgot

On Feb. 3, 1994 at the Republican National Convention annual gala, President Ronald Reagan stated: "I'm not one for looking back. I figure there will be plenty of time for that when I get old. But rather, what I take from the past is inspiration for the future, and what we accomplished during our years at the White House must never be lost amid the rhetoric of political revisionists." In the wake of the death of this country's 40th president and the apparent wave of amnesia that has struck the hearts and minds of journalists and reporters, I think now would be an appropriate time to look back at the events of Reagan's presidency, which have been lost amidst a cloud of revisionism.

Although Reagan may have been a man of sunny disposition, always ready with a lighthearted joke (whether appropriate or not), history will show that domestically, our country was not necessarily the utopian "city on a hill" that many speak of during his years in office. And although Reagan's administration may have been tearing down walls in some parts of the world (or at least receiving credit for it), it was helping to build dangerous, blood-stained regimes in others. What follows are some of the Reagan administration's major "accomplishments" that were left out of the media coverage, but, hopefully, will not be left out of the history books.

In 1980, Reagan, who had been a supporter of 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act, began his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In this town, where three civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman had been brutally murdered by Ku Klux Klan members, Reagan assured southern voters that he "believed in states' rights"--an insensitive move, considering the federal legislation that had been necessary to enforce civil rights in the South. This early appearance set the tone for Reagan's stance on issues of race and civil rights. He was in opposition to the Voter's Rights Act of 1965 and even threatened to veto its proposed extension. Although Reagan is now hailed as the president who signed the legislation creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people neglect to mention that he also sided with Senator Jesse Helms in calling him a Communist (which in Reagan's eyes was a synonym for anything anti-imperialist and anti-American, similar to the word "terrorist" now).

Reagan is often hailed for his accomplishments in foreign affairs, namely the fall of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War. Not often mentioned are the effects his presidency had on the rest of the world. In South Africa, Reagan supported the apartheid government, saying it was "a country that has stood by us in every war we've ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals" and denounced Nelson Mandela's African National Congress as a terrorist organization. When Congress passed sanctions on South Africa, he vetoed the bill--a veto that Congress then overrode. In 1984, Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu called the Reagan administration "immoral, evil and totally un-Christian" at a U.S. Committee meeting on Capitol Hill and received an unprecedented standing ovation. In Nicaragua Reagan supported Contra rebels and called them "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers," despite the fact that they killed over 30,000 people. His administration also supported El Salvador's government, whose death squads received national attention after the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the rape and murder of four American nuns.

One could argue that Reagan's actions in the White House are actually responsible for the current War on Terror being waged by the Bush administration. President George W. Bush said Reagan, who he claims as his hero, "believed that God takes the side of justice and that America has a special calling to oppose tyranny and defend freedom." How then does Bush explain Reagan's backing of Saddam Hussein, current public enemy number one, and the fact that he provided Iraq with arms, chemical warfare and financial support? In 1982, Reagan removed Iraq from the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations and in 1984 opened full diplomatic relations with Baghdad. The same weapons that justified Bush's violation of International Law and invasion of Iraq were gifts from his professed role model, Ronald Reagan--not to mention Reagan's support of Islamic radicals in Afghanistan who later formed the al Qaeda network.

In light of Reagan's death, some may see this column as an untimely commentary on the dark events of his presidency. I see, however, it as a necessary examination of aspects of his presidency, which have mysteriously been forgotten by the media, even as we are facing some of the consequences of his administration's actions. It was unfortunate that Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's, but it would be even more unfortunate if the American public did too. I wish to see history told accurately, so that students like myself, and younger, who did not live through the Reagan era or were merely infants, will not be deceived by a biased view of the past, but presented with a balanced critique, including both the good and the bad. Like Reagan, I simply wish to see his administration's story told accurately, and not "lost amid the rhetoric of political revisionists."

Amelia Herbert is a Trinity senior.


Share and discuss “Commentary - The Reagan everyone forgot” on social media.