Good Riddance


January 19, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles. -- Together again, Ronald Reagan and Georg Bush, who ran the United States for 12 years, patted each other on the back last Wednesday at the White House.

The 41st president gave the 40th president the Medal of Freedom and the 40th gave a short speech about what they had accomplished.

''Together we got the government off the backs of the American people,'' said Mr. Reagan. ''We created millions of new jobs and showed a watching world the power of free enterprise. . . . Together, we did make a better future.''

We will remember these two -- for a very long time.

We and our children, perhaps our grandchildren, will remember as we pay off the debts they left us, clean up the broken streets and the broken people they tossed onto them, try to rebuild an economic, social and legal structure to make this one nation again, with a truly level American field rather than a shining city on the hill for the rich and a pit for the poor.

I did not feel this angry about Messrs. Reagan and Bush until I sat down to make a list of the positives and negatives of their stewardship of the country since 1981.

On the positive side, I thought first that, in the beginning, they gave us all a necessary reminder that a healthy business climate was a prerequisite for what another president called a great society.

Then, though I could argue with many specific decisions and actions, I thought that on balance they did a commendable job of managing the end of the Cold War.

SC Third, their attacks on an overregulated society and government waste were necessary and justified -- even if they may have done more harm than good with deregulation and forgot about waste when they became the government.

Unfortunately, this column is not long enough to include all the negatives I found myself writing down, including these:

* They distorted the idea of ''E Pluribus Unum,'' that we are each one among many, attacking the idea that we are all in this together and substituting the notion that, in their America, it's every man for himself.

* Like mirror Marxists, they deliberately declared class war in America, not only extolling the virtues of what President Bush called the ''investing class'' -- his friends and family -- but constantly charging that the relative decline of the United States' domination of the global economy was the fault of the managed, their alleged low productivity, rather than any of the demonstrable stupidity and greed of managers and investors.

* They destroyed as much as they could of the mechanisms that promised upward mobility to the men and women and children of the middle and lower classes: the funding of public education, college scholarships and loans, subsidized housing, health insurance, mass transit and pension benefits. (And, it is worth noting, in modern America class war is inseparable from race war, because of the hugely disproportionate presence of black Americans in the lower class and the lower-middle class.)

* Preaching law and order, they used the former as a tool to reward friends and punish adversaries and let the latter be shattered as more and more poverty, more and more greed, and more emphasis on aloneness among the many produced more and more crime at all levels of the society, from the mean streets to meaner executive suites to high levels of their government.

* They deliberately bankrupted the United States government -- aided by the ignorance of Congress -- with ever-increasing deficits. It was not because their economic policies failed, but because they succeeded: The idea of cutting government revenues was indeed to get government off the backs of people, not by freeing them but by strangling government, particularly the parts that were even marginally suspected of redistributing income down rather than up.

* They promoted a tinny, belligerent patriotism that gave them, their men and segments of the military and defense industry license to lie, cheat and steal in the name of national security -- a concept they trivialized in computer-game wars against trumped-up enemies.

* They appointed unprepared and zealous conservative ideologues to lifetime federal judgeships around the country, young ones, who could prove to be the legal equivalent of computer viruses over the coming years.

So that is what I thought as the medals were being passed around at the White House. Good riddance.

Mr. Reagan closed by saying, ''God bless the United States of America!'' And help us, too, I thought. We need it after these two.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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