“When it came to corporate greed, the Great Communicator [Ronald Reagan] was also the Great Enabler.”

-- William Kleinknecht

The book is a scathing, and well deserved, indictment of that “empty suit” Ronald Reagan, and his ultra-grasping political creed, “Reaganism,” which directly led to the “Financial Meltdown of 2008.” The disastrous economic legacy of “hyper capitalism,” that this “free market” zealot sold the country, (1981-89), along with his mean-spirited “gutting of the public sector,” is fully documented by the author William Kleinknecht. Reagan is that same pious faker, who believed in “flying saucers” and let an astrologer set “his presidential schedule,” and “repeatedly misrepresented the past as a laissez-faire utopia.” The tome is entitled: “The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America.” It’s appropriate that the author had experience as a “crime reporter.” What he has written about, in a real sense, are enormous wrongs against the people--against the public good--that threaten the very existence of the Republic.

Kleinknecht doesn’t pull any punches. He’s furious over the fact that many still buy into the “myth of Reagan.” He insists that Reagan was “the least patriotic president in American history,” and that his economic policies helped to “wipe out the high-paying jobs that were the real backbone of the country,” leaving so many “psychically adrift.” By promoting “self interest and profit,” Reagan caused a “final rout of traditional human values...Trickle-down economics had proven to be a fallacy.” Kleinknecht examined the instruments of Reaganism: such as: “mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization [and] globalization.” He concluded that these devices also helped “to weaken the family and eradicate small-town life and the sense of community,” like in the town where Reagan was born in 1911--Dixon, Illinois.

In early 1981, President Reagan pushed into law a “dramatic rollback in domestic spending.” It hit the state of Illinois particularly hard. The author reveals “an early casualty” of the cuts was a home for “the mentally retarded,” located in Dixon. It was then the city’s largest employer, with 1,200 employees. As a result of federal cuts in Medicaid funding, it had to shut its doors. Reaganism, aka “Voodoo Economics,” also contributed to the largest steel mill in the Dixon region, Northwestern Steel and Wire Co., closing down in 2001. This put 1,400 workers out on the street. The farmers in the area also took a beating from the ex-hometown boy. The author said: “Reagan helped drive hundreds of thousands more of them into ‘financial collapse’ while enriching agribusiness concerns like Cargill and Monsanto.” As a final insult to Dixon, as a result of Reagan-inspired deregulation, the bus companies don’t serve the town anymore! Greyhound pulled out in 2001. If the folks in Dixon thought Reagan was going to be like that lovable character played by Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” they were sadly mistaken. Kleinknecht emphasized for the Dixonites: “Reagan was no Jefferson Smith!”

In mid-January, 2009, I was in Los Angeles, CA, visiting with family. The weather was just delightful, so, one day, I signed up to take a bus tour, which included a sojourn up into the hills west of the city. When we were in the ritzy Bel Air area, a mostly faux-gated community, the driver pointed out where the late President Reagan was living at the time of his death, in 2004. It was a huge multimillion dollar mansion, fit for royalty, supposedly purchased for him, and his wife, by Fat Cat Republicans. [1] THERE WERE NO SIDEWALKS! I thought here’s Reagan, who climbed the ladder to political power by viciously baiting the poor and the welfare system. [2] Then, just after he left office, he gets $2 million for giving two speeches in Japan. That’s a million a clip! Reagan, the false champion of the “Common Man,” spent his last days wallowing in the lap of luxury, far from Dixon, Illinois. Talk about hypocrisy!

Reagan's public persona was crafted, to a great extent, from 1937 to 1965, while working as an actor in “B” films in Tinseltown. On the surface, he came across as a motor mouth, incapable of grasping the complexity of any situation. He knew only black and white. The Shadow side of Reagan, however, reveals that he was a snitch for the FBI, who ratted out his fellow members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), during the days of the "Red Scare." He also was a notorious womanizer, according to Marc Eliot's expose: "Reagan: The Hollywood Years." [3] It was Reagan, too, who as U.S. President, Kleinknecht reminds us, who “inspired union-busters...by ruthlessly firing the more than 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers, [PATC0)], and breaking their union in 1981.” For that act alone, many unionists are hoping he’s frying in hell.

Kleinknecht, rightly so, dedicates an entire chapter to Reaganism, and what he describes as, “The Looting of America.” The point man for President Reagan and his reckless scheme to let the Banksters run amuck on Wall Street was his Secretary of the Treasury, Donald T. Regan, a former honcho at Merrill Lynch. He pushed in the U.S. Congress for the “deregulation of the financial sector.” Kleinknecht writes that it would take years for those kinds of plans to come “to full fruition,” [including the repeal of Glass-Steagall], but that the forces unleashed were the “genesis of much that is wrong with the U.S. economy in the 21st Century.”

President Reagan drove another nail into America’s economic coffin by appointing, in 1987, an “Ayn Rand protégé, and free market purist,” Alan Greenspan, as head of the Fed. Greenspan, like Reagan, was a devotee of the half-baked economic theories of Milton Friedman. That appointment led to one serious credit and housing bubble after another, enabled, the author insists, by the financial press slavishly deifying the likes of “Greenspan, [Robert] Rubin, and Reagan.” [4] By the time another disciple of Reaganism appeared on the White House scene--President George W. Bush-- the massive sub prime mortgage scandal had hit home. It set off an “historic economic crisis,” the baleful effects of which have yet to be fully calculated or understood.

Closer to home: I remember, in 1995, when Procter & Gamble, (P&G), closed its sprawling plant in Baltimore, Maryland, eliminating about 550 jobs. I think that shut down helped to spell the beginning of the end of the Locust Point area as a blue-collar enclave. [5] P&G currently currently operates in 80 countries. [6] It was the “Spirit of Reaganism,” Kleinknecht speculates, that “empowered corporate executives to abandon the concept of loyalty to employees, shareholders and communities.”

It would be wrong to blame only Republicans for Reaganism. Kleinknecht shows that the then-Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, tried to put the brakes on Reagan’s daffy economic ideas, but that he soon--in April, 1981--caved in and waved the “white flag.” O’Neill’s Irish-Catholic constituents had jumped the Speaker about being on their boy-oh Reagan’s case. There is a parallel here with the Iraq War. It was the Congress that gave Dubya the green light to attack Iraq and who also funded the conflict. Dubya couldn’t have done it without the Democrats. The same must be said about Reagan’s horrific economic legacy.

There is just so much more in Kleinknecht’s book. He writes, in detail, about how Reagan, and his agents of deregulation, cruelly dismantled a “remarkably affluent and egalitarian society,” that had been built up over a hundred years from combining the “sweep of Populism, Progressivism and the New Deal.” Reagan, skilled in the art of political theater, “stood against everything that had been achieved in that...age of reform.” Instead of the air waves belonging to the people, for example, they are now controlled by a few huge corporations. It was Reagan, too, who invented the “soft-money” machine that “disenfranchised” the average voter on election day and made large corporations, and their lobbyists on “K” Street, in Washington, “the real power.”

Finally, the Wire Pullers, mostly from the “Sun Belt,” who pushed Reagan onto the national stage, didn’t give a good hoot about “abortion, affirmative action or school prayers.” They wanted “deep cuts in taxes and government regulators out of the way.” Reagan gave the Fat Cats what they wanted. America got in return disasters, like: the S&L Scandal, AIG, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Lehman Brothers, Bernard Madoff, and recently R. Allen Stanford. It is time for those who have bought into the “Myth of Reagan” to own up to the grim reality. And, when they do, they can thank author Kleinknecht for his fine book debunking the phony legend that is Ronald Reagan!

Suggestion: Take Ronald Reagan’s name off that airport in Washington, D.C. That airport belongs to the people. Let Reagan’s Fat Cat cronies pay for his memorials, not the taxpayers.

Notes:

[1]. Nancy Reagan claimed, in 2001, that they had paid back the cost of the mansion, $2.5 million, to their cronies who had purchased it for them. But, she never made the documents public.

[2]. Ronald Reagan repeatedly distorted the facts, re: the “Welfare Queen.” He claimed that the woman in question received “$150,000 in tax free income.” It was “$8,000.” Reagan’s purpose was to demonize the poor as “a bunch of freeloaders.”

[3]. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2008/11/382345.shtml

[4]. “Greenspan’s Bubbles” by Wm. Fleckenstein and Fred Sheehan.

[5]. http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/43721

[6]. http://www.pg.com/en_PK/home/index.shtml