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Remembering a Governor and a President

Copyright © 2004 by David E. Ross

Do not speak ill of the dead.

Ancient Greek saying

Ronald Reagan — former Governor of California and former President of the United States — died this past weekend. Eulogies dominate the newspapers, magazines, and TV. The Greeks were correct in many ways, but the outpouring of praise for Reagan is just too much. It is similar to pouring too much sugar into a cup of coffee, sweet but sickening.

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To a very large extent, the uprising of college students that began in the mid-1960s can be traced to the "Free Speech Movement" at UC Berkeley, which had nothing to do with the war in Vietnam.

Along one edge of the UC Berkeley campus, a wall near the campus's Sather Gate curved inward. Outside the wall and the gate, the public sidewalk formed a large semi-circle within the bay of that curve. This was a place where students would setup small tables to hand out literature advocating various causes. Because of the bay in the wall, this activity did not block the sidewalk. Thus, the city of Berkeley did not have cause to remove the students and their tables.

In the mid-1960s — before Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California — the cause promoted at one table was support for workers striking against the Oakland Tribune newspaper. Literature was being handed out calling for a demonstration at the newspaper offices. The Oakland Tribune was owned by Bill Knowland, former U.S. Senator from California.

Knowland called his friend Dorothy Chandler (who not only was a part-owner of the Los Angeles Times but was also a member of the University of California Board of Regents). What Knowland and Chandler knew — but the students did not know — was that UC Berkeley had recently become the owner of the semi-circle of sidewalk just outside Sather Gate in a land-swap with the city of Berkeley. Knowland told Chandler that he felt it was wrong that her university was allowing its property to be used to plan a demonstration against his newspaper. Chandler, being a newspaper person, fully sympathized with Knowland and had the chancellor at UC Berkeley call out the University Police to close what had been a "free speech area" for many years. The students rioted, destroying a police squad car.

Thus began the unrest among college students that evolved into the anti-war movement.

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In 1966, when Ronald Reagan was first elected Governor of California, I was a computer programmer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Reagan came into office with a promise to clean up the mess in the state colleges and universities. What he meant was that he would end the student unrest that began here and then spread across the nation. While much of that unrest focused on the war in Vietnam, the underlying cause was how voting adults (many of the students being over 21) were being treated as children. The legal expression in loco parentis (in place of the parent) was repeatedly cited by university administrators for their rules governing student behavior despite the fact that the law said the students were already too old to be treated that way by their own parents. Heavy-handed action backed by the Governor only further inflamed the students. The unrest did not end until the war ended. In the meantime, the Legislature lowered the age of majority to 18, making almost all college students adults and rules for them based on in loco parentis unenforceable.

Shortly after Reagan's election, I left UCLA to work in private industry, where salaries for programmers were much higher. Under Reagan, that disparity increased significantly, impairing the ability of professors (including several Nobel laureates) to conduct any research that required the use of computers. When I worked at UCLA before Reagan's election, the mere mention of a labor union there caused great laughter. By the time Reagan left office, labor unions were strongly entrenched in the University of California system, a response both to attempts to impose abusive labor practices on non-teaching employees and to holding to salary, wage, and benefit structures that failed to compete with private industry.

By the end of Reagan's final term as Governor, my wife and I had bought a house in Oak Park. At that time, Oak Park was in the Simi Valley Unified School District, a quirk caused by local government boundaries that followed old rancho boundaries drawn some 200 years earlier by the King of Spain on a map of his colony of California that did not show any mountains. High school students in Oak Park had to travel 20 miles one-way by bus to Royal High School in Simi Valley, past three other high schools in two other school districts. The Legislature passed a bill that would have allowed Oak Park students to attend Agoura High School, only 2 miles away in the Las Virgenes Unified School District. Governor Reagan vetoed the bill!

Many remember how, under President Reagan, weapons were sold to Iran so that funds from that sale could be diverted to Central American causes for which Congress had prohibited any funding. However, the one issue of Reagan's administration that sticks most strongly in my mind is how he attempted to cut funding for school lunches for children living in poverty. After all, the schools all had ketchup; and, according to Reagan, ketchup is a vegetable. Therefore, funding to ensure school lunches were balanced by including vegetables was unnecessary.

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My daughter Heather read what I wrote about Ronald Reagan and contributed the following.

How about the fact that under Reagan the U.S. helped train Osama Bin Laden? How about the fact that under Reagan the U.S. supplied intelligence to Saddam?

How about the fact that Reagan ignored the AIDS crisis?

How about the fact that he thought that funding enough weapons to blow up the world several times over was better than funding programs that would have saved lives?

What about Grenada or his support for the Botha administration in South Africa? When Congress passed the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986 Reagan vetoed it.

How about the fact that he was the Hollywood insider for McCarthy?

Note: When Reagan's term as President ended, Heather was 17 years old.

8 June 2004

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Speaking of Central America, the Reuters news service reports that eulogies for our ex-President are rare in that part of the world. Too many people there remember how the Reagan administration backed repressive, reactionary governments against popular uprisings and also backed the reactionary uprising by the Contras in Nicaragua against that nation's elected left-wing government. An estimated 150,000 people died in Central America's civil wars during Reagan's two terms in office. Many were civilians tortured and murdered by army troops or death squads linked to armed forces that received heavy U.S. support.

President Reagan's "supply side" economics led to the worst federal deficit in our nation's history (until the deficit of the current Bush administration). "Trickle down economics" led to the trickle up recession that cost the current President's father his re-election. While many blame the Bush-the-father, they fail to recognize that economic trends sometimes take a while to become established. In other words, the recession that led to the election of Bill Clinton as President had its roots in the Reagan administration. (Similarly, the latest recession resulted from a failure by President Clinton to notice that an economic expansion had evolved into a dangerous bubble.)

Of course, Reagan seems to be remembered most for being our President during the collapse of the Soviet Union, of his "evil empire". But Reagan did not bring down the Soviet Union. He — and the rest of the "western world" — merely watched from the sidelines as a nation collapsed because of the failure of its own decayed economic and political systems. The Soviet Union was doomed regardless of who was President of the United States at that time.

President Reagan is being given credit for everything good that happened during his administration, whether he was responsible or not. Some even seem to credit him with creating good weather. On the other hand, wrong-doing by his immediate subordinates has been ignored — even when those individuals were convicted of crimes — because Reagan claimed he did not know (or did not remember) what was happening.

Was Ronald Reagan a great President? I don't think so!

7 June 2004

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