Friday, April 22, 2005

Inauguration

I have wanted to start a blog for some time; a place where I could publish my political thoughts and opinions. So this, finally, is the result.

First, a word about the title of the blog. Webfoot is slang for an Oregonian. Though I was born in Yuma, Arizona, and by that fact am probably more deserving of the moniker "Arizona desert rat" (as my father used to call me), I have lived most of my life here in Oregon, both of my grown sons are native Oregonians, and, most importantly, I consider myself an Oregonian. The conservative part is my political ideology, a characteristic of which I am unappologetic, and proudly affirm. The fact that I am a conservative Oregonian, especially here in the Portland area (one of the most politically leftist areas in the United States), is what gives the title of this blog its antithetical contrast.

Next, a few words about me. My father was a stanch Republican, so when I came of voting age, and having much love and respect for my father, I registered as a Republican too. And I pretty much voted Republican as well. But not out of real endorsement of Republican policy or ideals. It was more that I found Republican candidates somewhat less reprehensible than Democratic and Independent candidates. I was a faithful watcher of Saturday Night Live, and standup comedians, and I dutifully bought into their characterizations of Ronald Regan at the time, as well as the press and scientific community who advocated Nuclear freeze and ridiculed the Strategic Defense Initiative (Reagan's missile defense shield). And so, even though I voted for Ronald Reagan--both terms--I despised him. The fall of the Soviet Union almost brought me to my senses, but then the press started hammering away at the Iran/Contra scandal, and I forgot all about the greatest achievment by a president in the 20th century. By the 2000 election I also acceded to the popular media's characterization of George W. Bush, believing that he was a dimwitted puppet controlled and managed by Dick Cheney, and voted for him only because I saw Al Gore as a thoroughly spineless and unprincipled political whore. Prior to the 9-11 tragedy, I had become so cynical and disgusted with all things politcal I was on the verge of giving up voting entirely.

But 9-11 changed everything for me. I had considered myself to be a skeptic, a "complex" person, and one to roll my eyes at my father's generation's reverence for the flag. Yet days after 9-11, as I drove through town on errands, upon noticing that all the flags were flying at half-mast I suddenly found myself in tears and at that moment finally understood my father's deep feeling for our flag, he who had fought and had been severely wounded in World War II. I have always been a reader, but before the attack it had all been fiction; after the attack I began to read almost exclusively nonfiction: history, philosophy, Christian apologetics, political theory, biographies and current events. The last three and a half years have been transforming for me, kindling a political and patriotic awakening in me, and rekindling my religeous faith.

To start this blog off I'd like to post a letter I wrote in response to an acquaintance's question about Ronald Reagan soon after the former President's death. He had been a child at the time of Reagan's presidency and wanted to know what I remembered of that time, having lived through that administration as an adult. The following is my response.

I voted for Reagan both times, and yet it's easy to forget as I had done until I read Dinesh D'Souza's book, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. Both times I voted for Reagan it was much the same as when I voted for George W Bush in 2000: I couldn't stomach voting for the other guy. Concerning both men I bought into the unrelenting propaganda from the popular media about their mental inferiority and the idea that they were being "run" by others around them. 9-11 and President Bush's response to it changed my mind completely about him and turned me into an ardent supporter; the fall of the Berlin wall was what finally changed my mind about President Reagan--but only to a limited degree. It wasn't until I read D'Souza's book and his recitation of those events that I had lived through, that I realized that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of the 20th century (or the 21st, for that matter) and how thoroughly I had been deceived by the popular media about him.

Consider first the country that Pres. Reagan took over--the Carter years: 18-21% interest rates, high unemployment, double-digit inflation (the misery index, a concept which Carter himself developed that was the sum of inflation and unemployment to illustrate economic hardship, had risen from 13% under Ford to over 20% under Carter). Carter believed the US was immoral in supporting a dictator such as the Shaw of Iran, pulled all US military and economic aid from his regime, and thus insured the ascendancy of a regime a million times worse: the mullacrocy that has reigned since; and to thank him for his help, the Ayatollah had our entire embassy taken hostage and held for over a year while every night we were treated to the sights of American flags being burned and throngs of Iranians screaming "death to America!" From '74 to '80, while America seemed to trust John Kerry's assertion that "...we have nothing to fear from Communism," 9 counties fell to communist regimes and Soviet influence: South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Angola, Grenada, and Nicaragua. And in '79, at the hight of Carter's tearful eloquence about detent, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. And Carter's response to all this? On 15 July 79 he addressed the nation and said that Americans were suffering a national malaise and had taken it for granted that we would live better than our parents and that America would always be a world leader, but we should modify those expectations, we would have to learn to live with less. The new era would be an era of limits.

Under Pres. Reagan's administration the "misery index" fell to less than 10%. Immediately upon taking office he set about to put his economic policies into action. His plan consisted of: drastically cutting taxes, abolishing much of federal regulation of certain businesses and government enforced monopolies, cutting congressional spending. He was much more successful at the first two, than the third, but that was enough; we are still reaping the benefits of the economic revolution his policies caused.

But to me his greatest legacy is his courage and brilliance as a cold warrior. Contrary to the left-sported myth that Reagan was being "handled" by his inner circle of staff, many of them were horrified by his posture on world communism and the Soviets in particular. Remember that detent was the accepted best hope for American/Soviet relations by both political parties at the time. Budget Director, David Stockman, senior White House aide, and chief of staff Donald Regan have all been highly critical of the President in their memiors. Talking with Secretary of State George Shultz, his national security adviser, Robert McFarlane expressed his mystification at how Reagan knew so little and yet accomplished so much. Former President Nixon wrote books in the 1980s warning that "the Soviet system will not collapse" and "the most we can do is learn to live with our differences" through a policy of "hard headed detent." Richard Perle, then assistant secretary of defense once told President Reagan at a dinner party that the majority of the people in the defense department disagreed with his policies for dealing with the Soviet Union and were actively working to undermine them. At Reagan's first press conference in the Old Executive Office Building, he said that the signed agreements with the Soviets meant nothing because they had "openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat." There was an audible gasp from those in attendance and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, standing in the corner of the room, conspicuously rolled his eyes. As for the other side of the political isle, the vituperation of his policies was rabid and unrelenting. The nuclear freeze movement--a kind of collective hysteria mixed with willful stupidity--swept through not just the United States, supported even by Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, but through the entire free world. A 1982 poll stated that more than 70% of Americans supported the nuclear freeze concept. In October of 1983 more than 2 million people demonstrated in London, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris and other European cities against proposed Pershing and cruise missile deployments in Europe in response to recently deployed Soviet SS-20s targeting Western Europe. And while comedians mocked him, the intelligensia fulminated him, political rivals fought him, and many of the middle class masses (like me) were mystified or alarmed at dangers the media decried, he continued to raise the military budget, strengthen our defenses, pressure the Soviets, not only with equivalent strategic arms to their build-ups, but the portent of new American scientific miracles such as the Strategic Defense Initiative (which the press mockingly dubbed "Star Wars").

On 23 March 1983 Pres. Reagan gave his speech to the American people announcing his plan for SDI. Ultimately this proved to be the coup de grace to the arms race. George Shultz has said that SDI was entirely Reagan's idea. Shultz was skeptical, Eagleburger was aghast at the idea, senior officials at the Defense Department were opposed, and anticipating those reactions, Reagan had kept its development from them and utilized only the internal White House staff in its preparation. Upon his announcement, Robert McNamara called it "pie in the sky", the New York Times called it a "pipe dream, a projection of fantasy into policy," General Secretary Andropov said it was "insane" and "a bid to disarm the Soviet Union." But while Western pundits and scientists scoffed, and the Soviets publicly denounced, they were secretly terrified. They had seen American scientists perform herculean, seemingly impossible feats before: the Manhattan Project, the moon landings. It all had just the effect that Reagan predicted: it forced them back to the negotiating table (they had broken off arms limitation talks after the Pershing missile deployments). In October of 1986, Reykjavik it all came to a head. Gorbachev offered to cut the Soviet nuclear arsenal by 50% under one condition that only revealed at the end of the summit: a US promise not to deploy missile defense. Reagan, going against all advice, refused and terminated the summit. The next day Gorbachev, still reeling, said to Reagan, "I don't know what else I could have done." "You could have said yes," replied Reagan icily. On the flight back to the US, all the President's aides were in a panic; how could they explain to the American people that the President had turned down a 50% reduction in nuclear arms? As they fretted Reagan sat writing on a yellow legal pad; the surviving original testifies that the speech he gave the day after returning from Iceland was almost word for word what he wrote on the plane back: "There was no way I could tell our people their government would not protect them against nuclear destruction...I went to Reykjavik determined that everything was negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future." Despite being savaged in the press, his resolve won out and in December of 87 Gorbachev relented on SDI and signed the INF Treaty in which both the US and the USSR abolished their intermediate-ranged nuclear missiles. Between May 88 and early 89 Gorbachev agreed to substantial unilateral cuts in Soviet armed forces stationed on the Western European border, and pulled troops out of Afghanistan. Soviet advisers left Ethiopia. With Gorbachev's approval, Cuban troops left Angola. And shortly after Reagan left office, the Berlin wall came down.

The first 34 years of my life were spent under the specter of nuclear annihilation. But my sons can now live their lives free of that threat. Certainly they have their own threats to contend with: a terrorist could someday smuggle a nuclear bomb onto American soil, or even build one here in secret. That's a horrible thought, but nothing compared to the destruction of human civilization we faced before the Soviet Union was dismantled. To what greater accomplishment can any American president of our age lay claim? To whom do we, the American people, owe a greater debt of gratitude and respect?

2 comments:

MomMitchell said...

Don: I am quite impressed by this writing. Altho, I have read alot of your fiction, this was very enligntening to me. I really think your expertise in writing "non-fiction" exceeds your fiction writin. Concise and clean! I love you as a son but must admit I also love your mind. Much of that you get from your Father. I am much more inflenced by me emotional bent and as a result often get sidetracked in my thinking processes. I will be watching...
Love--MomMitchell

Dan said...

Wow, I love that your mother commented on this blog. Don, you are a great thinker. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.