I'm Coming out of the Closet


Remembering Ronald Reagan

I'm coming out of the closet–in 1984, I voted for Ronald Reagan. Why, you may wonder, would that qualify as my favorite mistake? As it turns out, in the aftermath of the Reagan Revolution, I was so disgusted with politics that I didn't vote again until the 2000 election,when I voted for Ralph Nader–which, given how things unfolded, proved to be one of my least favorite mistakes. I call my vote for Reagan one of my favorite mistakes because it gives me a backdrop against which I now view the moral failure of the resurgence of the uncritically pro-capitalist, pro-business, pro-screw-poor-people, libertarianism that drives a certain tea loving constituency in politics today.

Critics will rightly point out here that Reagan might well have found the Tea-baggers unsavory as well. I'm not arguing that he would have been running around with Rand Paul and Sarah Palin, ginning up support by patronizing Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, screaming for Obama's birth certificate and channeling Cassandra on the issue of death panels. As much as it might pain Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer to admit, Reagan would most likely be considered a nasty moderate if he showed up on the scene today. Nevertheless, what he did do was provide political cover for people whose primary motivation has to do with accumulating more at the expense of those who already have less. The primary message of those who oppose healthcare reform, who support the throw-out-the-immigrants-and-let-me-pick-tomatoes impulse to xenophobia, who believe BP and Goldman-Sachs et al. are getting a bum-rap, who made a constitutional ban on same sex marriage (and not an ill-conceived war) the fundamental issue in the 2004 election is . . . I've got mine; and if you don't have yours, that signals a defect in you. Not, mind you, a defect in the system, but in the individual–who, it is believed, is inherently lazy, venal, and short-sighted with respect to self-interest.

Again, critics will take delight in observing that there clearly are poor people who are lazy, venal, and short-sighted (e.g., Reagan's tone-deaf reference to "welfare queens"). To which I would respond that those character flaws are not merely reserved to the poor (e.g., Tony Hayward's tone deaf reference to getting back his life on the yacht). Moreover, there are plenty of poor people who are industrious, honest, and who take the long view, but who have been hemmed in by a system that stacks the deck in favor of smart aleck white guys like me.

So, there you go. I was a contributor to the current cultural grabfest. Admitting it is the first step on the path to recovery. The real test of recovery, however, isn't confession, but making amends. I continue to hope that that includes for me a lifetime of seeking justice. One thing's for sure, though, it wouldn't have been possible for me without a big mistake. So now you know my dirty little secret. Let history deal fairly with me.

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