“Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close.”
So said Ronald Reagan to his consultant, Stuart Spencer,in 1966 as he started his gubernatorial career in California.
With such an attitude a politician can develop a highly refined sense of political charm with smiles and “aw shuckses” exuding like sherbet from a machine. Such a politician can also tend to become disassociated from accuracy and veracity. And soit has come to be with Ronald Reagan’s public statements over the years.
Only some of the obvious exaggerations (remember his comment in the 1980 campaign that approximately 80% of pollution comes from trees), material omissions, contrived anecdotes, voodoo statistics, denials of unpleasant facts and just plain untruths have been given national publicity. But when you see three hundred of them brought together, the cumulative effect is appalling. That is, if you think it is important for the President of the United States to know what he’s talking about.
Mark Green and Gail MacColl have brought these errors together in a new paperback book with the title “There He Goes Again: Ronald Reagan’s Reign of Error.” (Pantheon Books, 201 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022; $4.95). What’s more, they painstakingly follow each Reaganism with the correct information.
Such a book is long overdue, if only as a much needed riposte. For Mr. Reagan has long used his brand of joking, shoulder shrugs, and ridicule to trivialize or distort what his critics have asserted. “Reagan’s Reign of Error” turns the tables on the former actor.
Space permits only a few Presidential sallies to do for many.
Reagan: “Can we abandon this country [South Africa] that has stood beside us in every war we’ve ever fought?”
Reagan: “We are not trying to do anything to try and overthrow the Nicaraguan government.”
Reagan: “You have to remember, we don’t have the military industrial complex that we once had, when President Eisenhower spoke about it.”
Reagan: “Those [nuclear weapons] that are carried in ships of one kind or another, or submersibles, you are dealing there with a conventional type of weapon or instrument, and those instruments can be intercepted. They can be recalled.”
Reagan: “Incidentally, the first man who proposed the nuclear freeze was in February 21, 1981, in Moscow—Leonid Brezhnev.”
Reagan: “The percentage of your earnings the federal government took in taxes in 1960 has almost doubled.”
Reagan: “If you’ll remember, there were two million who lost their jobs in the last six months of 1980, during the election…”
Reagan: “And it costs HEW three dollars in overhead to deliver one dollar to a needy person in this country.”
Reagan: “Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal.”
Reagan: “There haven’t been cutbacks in funding for public education.”
Reagan: “As governor of California, I took charge of passing the strictest air pollution laws in the United States…”
The above fantasies have their crisp corrections or rebuttals on each page. In an introduction to the book, Mark Green, who headed two of our projects in the Seventies, points out that Reagan’s fictions are a political habit that the media has let him get away with because of low expectations. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently wrote: “This president is treated by both the press and foreign leaders as if he were a child.” “His occasional ability to retain facts is cited as a triumph when it should, in fact, be a routine occurrence…”
“No modern president has engaged in so consistent a pattern of misspeaking on such a wide range of subjects—and shown no sense of remorse,” says Green. New York Times veteran writer, James Reston, noted that “more corrections have been put out of the White House on the public statements of Ronald Reagan than any other president I’ve known.”
A Presidential campaign is coming up next year which is serious business for Americans. It is not just up to the free press to challenge Mr. Reagan’s dis-information machine, though it would be progress were reporters to do so. The informed voters can help themselves and other by holding him to modest standards of accuracy and straightforwardness on the major issues of our times. Otherwise, there he goes again!