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Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Myth and the Dream

Lately there has been a slew of news articles - practically amounting to an apotheosis - of Ronald Reagan and his supposedly wonderful legacy.

I don't know who is buying all this propaganda, besides the deluded, reactionary types who voted for him in the first place.  But even though at the time I was not nearly as politically aware as I later became, I vividly recall the bullshit he spouted.  No one in my family was deceived by his actorish posturing; indeed, his obvious cluelessness about what to do or say next when on some occasion or another he was momentarily jostled "off-script" was a source of mirth and indignation to us.

The man was an actor, first and last; the Presidency was his greatest role of all. 

I could reminisce further about all that, but instead I urge my truckbuddies to refresh their own memories with Ted Kennedy's "The Dream Shall Never Die" concession speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention - which has been recognized as one of the greatest American political speeches of the twentieth century, and deservedly so.  A few excerpts follow, but do read the full text or watch the video here, why don't you.
The serious issue before us tonight is the cause for which the Democratic Party has stood in its finest hours, the cause that keeps our Party young and makes it, in the second century of its age, the largest political Party in this republic and the longest lasting political Party on this planet.

Our cause has been, since the days of Thomas Jefferson, the cause of the common man and the common woman.

Our commitment has been, since the days of Andrew Jackson, to all those he called "the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers." On this foundation we have defined our values, refined our policies, and refreshed our faith. . . .

We cannot let the great purposes of the Democratic Party become the bygone passages of history.

We must not permit the Republicans to seize and run on the slogans of prosperity. We heard the orators at their convention all trying to talk like Democrats. They proved that even Republican nominees can quote Franklin Roosevelt to their own purpose.

The Grand Old Party thinks it has found a great new trick, but 40 years ago an earlier generation of Republicans attempted the same trick. And Franklin Roosevelt himself replied, "Most Republican leaders have bitterly fought and blocked the forward surge of average men and women in their pursuit of happiness. Let us not be deluded that overnight those leaders have suddenly become the friends of average men and women."

"You know," he continued, "very few of us are that gullible." And four years later when the Republicans tried that trick again, Franklin Roosevelt asked, "Can the Old Guard pass itself off as the New Deal? I think not. We have all seen many marvelous stunts in the circus, but no performing elephant could turn a handspring without falling flat on its back."

The 1980 Republican convention was awash with crocodile tears for our economic distress, but it is by their long record and not their recent words that you shall know them.

The same Republicans who are talking about the crisis of unemployment have nominated a man who once said, and I quote, "Unemployment insurance is a prepaid vacation plan for freeloaders." And that nominee is no friend of labor.

The same Republicans who are talking about the problems of the inner cities have nominated a man who said, and I quote, "I have included in my morning and evening prayers every day the prayer that the Federal Government not bail out New York." And that nominee is no friend of this city and our great urban centers across this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about security for the elderly have nominated a man who said just four years ago that "Participation in social security should be made voluntary." And that nominee is no friend of the senior citizens of this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about preserving the environment have nominated a man who last year made the preposterous statement, and I quote, "Eighty percent of our air pollution comes from plants and trees." And that nominee is no friend of the environment.

And the same Republicans who are invoking Franklin Roosevelt have nominated a man who said in 1976, and these are his exact words, "Fascism was really the basis of the New Deal." And that nominee whose name is Ronald Reagan has no right to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. . . .

The tax cut of our Republican opponents takes the name of tax reform in vain. It is a wonderfully Republican idea that would redistribute income in the wrong direction. It's good news for any of you with incomes over 200,000 dollars a year. For the few of you, it offers a pot of gold worth 14,000 dollars. But the Republican tax cut is bad news for the middle income families. For the many of you, they plan a pittance of 200 dollars a year, and that is not what the Democratic Party means when we say tax reform.

The vast majority of Americans cannot afford this panacea from a Republican nominee who has denounced the progressive income tax as the invention of Karl Marx. I am afraid he has confused Karl Marx with Theodore Roosevelt -- that obscure Republican president who sought and fought for a tax system based on ability to pay. Theodore Roosevelt was not Karl Marx, and the Republican tax scheme is not tax reform.

Finally, we cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must -- We must not surrender -- We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth.

The President, the Vice President, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the Federal Government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the President, the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, then it's good enough for you and every family in America.

There were some -- There were some who said we should be silent about our differences on issues during this convention, but the heritage of the Democratic Party has been a history of democracy. We fight hard because we care deeply about our principles and purposes. We did not flee this struggle. We welcome the contrast with the empty and expedient spectacle last month in Detroit where no nomination was contested, no question was debated, and no one dared to raise any doubt or dissent.

Democrats can be proud that we chose a different course and a different platform. . . . Let this be our commitment: Whatever sacrifices must be made will be shared and shared fairly. And let this be our confidence: At the end of our journey and always before us shines that ideal of liberty and justice for all.
Which all just goes to show:  the more things change, the more things stay the same.  You know what I mean, fellas?


Anonymous said...

You know I think so very unkindly of Reagan...to me, he was one of the worse Presidents we ever had. Even my blog is named TRICKLEDOWN BS. Because that is how strong I feel about his askew philosophy and misguided economics.


Staircase Witch said...

I am very much with you. Ever read Haynes Johnson's Sleepwalking through History? That remains the most accurate history of the Reagan administration ever written. And it's the least hagiographic. (I don't think there is even a trace of hagiography in it.) I blame them entirely for setting us on our present course. And X blames them entirely for the Challenger disaster, which was one of the most devastating events of his teenage years.

My parents voted for Kennedy in the Democratic primary that year. My mother adored him, as she had adored his brothers, and not simply because she was Irish-American. I think Carter was a much better president than most people are willing to give him credit for--I'd say he was one of our most intelligent, moral commanders-in-chief in recent decades. But reading this speech--and I was watching the primary with my family when he gave it--I can't help regretting the missed opportunity. Despite his personal failings, I'm glad we had him for so long to be one of our better angels.

Stan said...

It never seizes to amaze me of America's amnesia of history. Remember a little thing called the Iran-Contra affair? Arming and funding thugs in South America to go on killing sprees of innocent priest and nuns. Your absolutely right in that Reagan was nothing but a two bit B actor playing the role for the powers that be. I just shake my head when they recognize Reagan's 100th birthday. Who the fuck cares? Hope he's burning in hell if there is one, with the rest of them!

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate your thoughts, folks. Glad I'm not the only one who remembers rightly what a scam Reagan ran.

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