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Ronald Reagan

Confronting an Icon’s Flaw

by D.J. McGuire

The day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare the Chinese Communist regime to be the rightful holder of the Chinese seat at the United Nations (removing the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan), President Richard Nixon took a call from Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. Tim Naftali reported on a particularly odious piece of the call in The Atlantic.

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.

The particular reference was aimed at a delegation from Tanzania which, according to Naftali, “started dancing in the General Assembly” when the body voted as it did.

When an icon is revealed to be flawed – and, being human, we’re all flawed – the first instinct is to ignore it, then to minimize it. For those of us who see Ronald Reagan as a successful president – and I still do – these are mistakes which would compound on Reagan’s 1971 error. There are three reasons in particular.

First, minimization makes no sense. Unless there is another recording somewhere in which Reagan called Pierre Trudeau a “frog” or aimed ethnic epithets at the European nations that also enabled the CCP to seize the seat (Naftali notes that Nixon’s own State Department pointed the finger at Britain and France), then this particular criticism was not only racist, but particularly racist toward Africans. It is an odious statement and should be called as such. It is a stain on Reagan’s legacy and a sign of his flaws.

Secondly, it can inform on Reagan’s foreign policy – and not in a good way. Reagan’s anti-Communism galvanized the democratic world and enabled the Cold War to be won with minimal actual conflict. That doesn’t mean it was mistake-free. The Reagan Administration badly underestimated Nelson Mandela – who, contrary to the panicked assertions of the apartheid regime in South Africa, marginalized and effectively froze out the South African Communists. Historians need to examine – if they haven’t already – how much of our Angola policy could have been different had we paid more attention on the ground, rather than look to the first anti-Communist with South African backing. Is it possible a different anti-Communist leader could have been more effective in transitioning to a political battle in the 1990s, rather than maintaining the civil war?

Such lack of attention is obvious in other Cold War flashpoints outside of Europe. In Afghanistan, the reliance on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia propped up unreliable faction leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rather than Ahmed Shah Massoud. The former enabled the Taliban to take power and al-Qaeda to establish a presence there in the 1990s. The latter fought the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance until the day they killed him – September 9, 2001. Reagan was out of office when Nicaragua was able to vote out Manuel Ortega, but his successor largely abandoned Central America to its own devices, allowing Ortega to retake power in 2006. He is still there as Nicaragua slides into tyranny and destabilizes its neighbors again.

We now know that democracy and freedom were just as important to anti-Communists in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America as in Europe. Many knew then, too – including folks in the Reagan Administration like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elliot Abrams. This 1971 conversation should force us to ask how much that was reflected at the top.

Finally, it has vital importance to the arguments we have today. For nearly all Never Trump conservatives (including myself), Reagan is the political model of what Trump is not: optimistic rather than cynical, opposed to tyranny rather than admiring it, welcoming to immigrants rather than fearful of them. This incident, even from 48 years away, gives supporters of Trump the chance to claim a piece of Reagan’s mantle. The more conservatives outside of Trump’s orbit refuse to condemn the racist statement, the easier that claim will be.

For all of Ronald Reagan’s successes, whitewashing his mistakes is never worth it. That Trump backers could use his predecessor’s private racist statement to validate his own public racist statements and policies simply makes the price of ignoring the past all the more unacceptable.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

“Zero Tolerance” on the Border: Not Just Heartless, but Also Thoughtless

by D.J. McGuire

So much ink has been spilled and bandwith used on the “zero tolerance” policy initiated at the border with Mexico that I wondered if I really could add anything of significance. It turns out I can, for there is so much (understandable) outrage at the utter heartlessness of family separation and industrial-building-size holding pens for children that very little attention has been paid to just how stupid this policy is – and how anything requiring an actual, long-term solution will require America to ditch her present isolationist funk and return to the robust interventions of her past.

First up, though, is the initial stupidity. One can only assume that those still clinging to a defense of “zero tolerance” without resorting to outright racism are concerned about security and crime. I would humbly submit that these issue (rather than racism) are likely the most pertinent and powerful reasons for people to become immigration restrictionists in the first place (after 9/11, these reasons pushed me into restrictionism for roughly a decade). Yet it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of thought to recognize that (1) asylum seekers and those escaping violence in their homelands are hardly security threats to the nation, and (2) that splitting families apart and keeping children in holding pens is a near-perfect way to encourage anger at America and her laws. If there is a better way to prime young people for MS-13, I honestly can’t come up with one at the moment.

Ending “zero tolerance” is merely a short-term answer. In the long run, the dissolution of order and peace in Central America needs to be addressed. For too long, Americans have been taught and told, repeatedly, that our historical interventions in region have caused more trouble than they were worth. To be fair, not every action America took was in the best interest of the people there (or even here). However, we are now seeing one our border (and one could argue have been seeing since 2014 at least) the effect of a quarter-century of not playing a role in the region: Guatemala and Honduras in chaos, El Salvador suffering under a left-wing ex-Communist government (where the opposition is a party whose founder is best known as a death-squad leader), and Nicaragua back under Sandinista control – and suffering under violent tyranny once more.

This is a far cry from the situation in the early 1990s, after three Administrations (Carter, Reagan, and Bush the Elder) that understood the importance of building and supporting stable, democratic governments in Central America. They also saw those who did reach our shores (or the Rio Grande) from that region as victims – and potential allies in our efforts to help those left behind.

There is no such fore-sighted vision in the current Administration, but the opposition (yes, fellow Democrats, I’m talking to you) seems to share this myopia. However much Democrats are willing to fight “zero tolerance” (and they deserve credit and support for that), they need to recognize that people don’t just start suffering when they are within reach of an American border official. Central America needs our help, and it needs our help now.

What we are seeing at the border is the wage of isolationism. Our growing refusal to engage with the rest of the world does not allow us to ignore their suffering. It simply comes to our doorstep.

The Trump Administration is doubling down on keeping its head in the sand with “zero tolerance” – and if polling is any indication, most Republicans are following suit. The Democrats need to do more than just try to reverse this policy, they need to attack the isolationism that led to it.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.

Trump’s Taco Trucks

 

Segments:
Taco Truck Tuesday for the Trump campaign

Gary Johnson’s big endorsement

Great debate flops (including Ronald Reagan)

Who’d gain most if Johnson is in the debates?

Jill Stein’s city mixup

Why John Kasich is a donkey butt (of sorts)

Send us your questions!

Check out this episode

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The Sanders Earthquake

Yesterday I wrote a post about my concerns that Bernie Sanders would be taken apart by the rightwing attack machine should he win the Democratic nomination. While the response was mostly positive, many Sanders supporters dismissed my concerns as either the hysterical rants of a Hillary Clinton shill, or at odds with current inter-party polling match-ups that suggest Sanders would defeat GOP frontrunner Donald Trump handily in a national election. Still others argued that Sanders is leading a new political earthquake that will destroy all in his path.

So today I want to speak to that reaction. I base my concern about Sanders viability on my experience of having lived through the presidential elections of 1972, 1984, 1988, and 2004, when liberal candidates got defined by their opponents and ultimately trounced by their GOP opponents. (I don’t count 2000 because Al Gore won the popular vote.) I’ve seen people on Facebook dismiss those examples as being out of step for this year. Their arguments range from “no one could’ve beaten Ronald Reagan in 1984” to “Michael Dukakis was a weak candidate” to “young voters are being energized by Sanders and will turn out in record numbers.” Let’s look at each of those claims.

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