You can see at the RNC Convention that many of the Teapublicans, desperate to be portrayed as a real, traditional conservative (who is anyone but George W Bush) and more mainstream and acceptable to independents, have latched onto Ronald Reagan as this great man they aspire to be. No one knows (or they’re not saying) how many months or years Reagan had Alzheimer’s disease during his presidency and how that affected his decisions. But one thing is clear: sick or healthy, Reagan was the worst president ever.
Indeed, many of today’s worst national and international problems can be traced to misjudgments and malfeasance from the Reagan years – from the swelling national debt to out-of-control banks, from the decline of the U.S. middle class to the inaction on energy independence, from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
All of these disasters are part of the Reagan Legacy. Yet, possibly the most insidious residue from the Reagan Years was the concept of manipulating information – what some Reagan officials liked to call “perception management” – as a means of societal control.
In that endeavor, Reagan’s team took aim at two key entities – the CIA’s analytical division and the Washington press corps – with the realization that if the information produced and disseminated by those two groups could be controlled then the insider community of Washington and the broader American public could be managed.
That enabled the Reagan administration to exaggerate the threat posed by the Soviet Union (after Reagan’s CIA chief William Casey and his deputy Robert Gates purged many of the CIA analysts who correctly saw a decaying empire eager for accommodation with the West).
Similarly, well-financed right-wing operatives and administration officials worked to marginalize mainstream journalists (the “liberal press”) who raised troublesome questions about Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies.
The impact of these information strategies had deadly consequences even years later, such as when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney essentially dictated the intelligence “analysis” on Iraq’s WMD to the CIA and the Washington press corps fell in line behind the march to war.
Even today, President Barack Obama complains that his options for addressing the nation’s growing problems are limited by what he calls the Reagan “narrative,” demonizing government.