Monday, February 14, 2011

Centenary of Bonzo's Co-Star

Ian Williams

Not just gonzos still carry a torch for Bonzo star
by Ian Williams
Tribune, February 11th, 2011

Not since Lenin has there been such a cult. They named Washington’s national airport after Ronald Reagan even while he was alive, but at least there isn’t a Capitol Hill mausoleum enshrining the pickled president. But then, looking at him while he was alive, one sometimes suspected that the embalmers began their work in vivo. As for the airport, there is a macabre synergy in naming an airport after a third-rate actor who hated government and had striking air traffic controllers arrested and manacled.

For many, an unsurprising news announcement was the one that, in American media at least, solemnly shared the news that Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s four years after he left the White House. One of his sons shares the more general apprehension that the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger was already suffering from it during his first term.

Nonetheless, across the United States this week, distinguished mainstream commentators, including, sadly, Barack Obama, are celebrating the centenary of the man whose presidency killed the rising prosperity of the post-war years, and whose ideologically-based extravagances are still unwinding in record deficits and the steady collapse of US power and prestige.

One only has to look at two American industries whose growth is in inverse proportion to American industry. The first is the prison complex. When he took office, the incarceration rate was 246 per 100,000 people. When he finished his second term it was on the way to doubling to 435. But like much of his baleful legacy, the trends that he started continue: the United States now has the highest rate in the world, at 751.

His other contribution to growth was to the military industrial complex his predecessor Dwight D Eisenhower identified. He doubled defence spending while in office, from $167 million to $343 billion and the trajectory he launched continues with over $930 billion this year budget. The other graphs to watch are those of average earnings of poor and working Americans, which have been effectively static since his election, and those of the richest Americans which have been steadily soaring ever since, as have the personal debts of working people. Pledged to reduce taxes, he paid the for arms bills and the tax cuts with massive borrowing that ran the national debt up to 50 per cent of gross domestic product. At the same time, Reagan espoused a visceral anti-government ideology (that did not apply to prisons, the police or the military) which famously deemed ketchup to count as a vegetable for school meals.

His policies crashed the US economy the way Margaret Thatcher did to Britain’s. And after the lean years of contraction, the recovery was counted as vindication of the policies that caused the original disaster. The deregulation over which he presided gave the US what was at the time the world’s biggest financial scandal, the $160 billion Savings & Loans debacle. It then went on, ever onwards and upwards, to our current derivatives armageddon. After his departure, Americans were in no doubt about his record. In 1992, fewer than a quarter of Americans thought they were better off after his two terms, while 48 per cent of them viewed him unfavorably, compared with 40 per who were prepared to give him a break.

It is unfair to blame Reagan himself. He was an affable duffer, who sincerely believed in the lines that the cabal around him wrote. That script tapped deep into the national ethos, in the same way that the Tea Party does. Sarah Palin, who does not have the excuse of Alzheimer’s for her ignorance, showed what a deep reservoir of simplicity and reflexive conservative stupidity there is to tap. But if any Brits feel superior, please explain the statue of the co-star of Bedtime for Bonzo now standing in Grosvenor Square.

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