June 16, 2004


Reagan the Divider (Rick Perlstein, June 7, 2004, Salon)

No wonder that when, in November 1983, NATO launched a war games exercise code-named Able Archer, the Soviet Union misread its intentions as offensive and put its nuclear forces on alert, and the world came closer to ending than it ever had before.

It took this near miss -- and not, certainly, the largest mass demonstration in American history, the million people who gathered in Central Park in 1982 to demonstrate for a nuclear freeze (another moment you probably won't read about in all the Reagan eulogies) -- to get Reagan thinking seriously about negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. To his enormous credit.

But he never did make a similar peace with the "welfare queens" he fabricated out of whole cloth to push his anti-compassionate conservatism. Nor with the African Americans he insulted by launching his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were slaughtered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. Nor with the Berkeley students demonstrating in a closed-off plaza whom he ordered tear-gassed by helicopter in 1969.

Nor, last but not least, with the tens of thousands of AIDS corpses whose disease he did not even deign to publicly acknowledge until 1987.

As the eulogies come down the pike, don't let conservatives, once again, win the ideological struggle to determine mainstream discourse. Remember Reagan; respect him. But don't let them make you revere him. He was a divider, not a uniter.

Except that the two aren't mutually exclusive. He united us against the Soviet Union, the Welfare State and the Sexual Revolution after a period of years in which the liberal establishment tried to close the divide between Americans and those evils.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 16, 2004 8:19 AM

Perlstein believes Reagan didn't mention AIDS until 1987? Think again.

Posted by: Matt at June 16, 2004 10:02 AM

Whoops, above link is bad. Please try this one.

Perlstein is way too smart to be making sophomoric errors like this.

Posted by: Matt at June 16, 2004 10:04 AM

I'm sorry, Matt, but the phrase "Reagan never mentioned AIDS until 1997" has been repeated so often that it has become the truth, regardless of actual events. Please apologize to Mr. Perlstein. ;)

Posted by: Just John at June 16, 2004 2:07 PM

Did Mr. Perlstein just claim that nothing can ever be launched or done in Philadelphia, due to the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964?

Posted by: John Thacker at June 16, 2004 2:21 PM

"Nor with the Berkeley students demonstrating in a closed-off plaza whom he ordered tear-gassed by helicopter in 1969."

This doesn't count, Berkeley is a foreign country.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 16, 2004 2:30 PM

There's a great story about Reagan driving away from some college protestors and them yelling that they were the future so what would he do about it. He took a pen and wrote on a piece of paper, then held it to the window: "Sell my bonds"

Posted by: oj at June 16, 2004 2:37 PM

Man it sure would have been nice if they could've gotten that cure for AIDS out of him before he got Alzheimers.

I mean he must know the cure right? That's why there's all those dead people for whom he's to blame. Right?

Posted by: NKR at June 16, 2004 2:43 PM

In my above post, I meant 19-eighty-7, not ninety-7! Oops, hope I didn't start a new repeat-until-true truth...

Posted by: Just John at June 16, 2004 2:47 PM


In 1985 I was a Freshman in college. I had already heard of Aids, or whatever it was called then. I remember taking a break from studying in the library & picking a copy of TIME (maybe Newsweek) out of the periodical section. Cover story was about Aids. Read the story -- clear message: the disease is definately transmitted by sex, especially anal sex. We don't know how easy it may be to get Aids otherwise, but anal sex is a great way to get it.

I'm straight, so the "avoid anal sex" implications of the story didn't cramp my style, but even so I really didn't need Ronnie to come on TV and tell me to be extra special careful during my college dating career.

Posted by: Twn at June 16, 2004 6:32 PM

This "uniter/divider" rhetoric is stupid. Every successful president is a divider. He divides the majority from the minority. A unified democracy is an oxymoron. Only totalitarian states have the luxury of a unified populace.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 16, 2004 8:37 PM


Excellent observation.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 17, 2004 7:31 PM