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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Reagan: the Cue Card President

Former Speaker Tip O’Neill said of Reagan: “he knows less than any president I’ve ever known.” A hundred and seventy page book by Mark Green and Gail MacColl fills page after page with Mr. Reagan’s verbal errors, falsifications and wild political exaggerations. Among the items in “Reagan’s Reign of Error” are assertions that ‘once launched, a Trident nuclear missile can be recalled,’ or the elderly on Medicaid are “a faceless mass, waiting for handouts, or the homeless are, “you might say, homeless by choice,” or “Unemployment insurance is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. Now comes Sam Donaldson of ABC News with a handful of internal White House “talking points” memos that break all records for assuming that nothing resides in the Presidential head.

For a meeting with top corporate executives on February 24th, Mr. Reagan’s aides instruct him to the minute as regarding his performance, to wit: “You move to the end of the Cabinet Room (under President Coolidge’s picture) for handshake photos with the participants.”

For a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators on the nuclear arms treaty, the memo put the very words in his mouth, to wit:

–“Bob (Byrd), I appreciate you and your colleagues coming down today. I know there has been a good deal of discussion in your hearings about the Treaty’s implications for NATO. On that

point, I’m pleased you were able to make this -rip together, and Bob, I want to thank you especially for undertaking this and for handling your discussions over there so effectively. I want to thank all of you for your input and advice.”

For a meeting with oil company mogul, Armand Hammer, the “talking points memo performs this ventriloquy: “Thank you, Armand, for coming here to present the report of the President’s

Cancer Panel, “I’m sure you’d agree that within the federal government there is no one more important in our fight against cancer than these gentlemen, Dr. Otis Bowen, and Dr. Vincent DeVita, with whom you’ve worked so closely.” Later, Mr. Reagan

is told to turn to Dr. Bowen and ask “Otis, what are your thoughts?” (Hammer’s factories, by the way, emit significant cancer-causing chemicals.)

There is even a memo giving him the exact words for a meeting with the 1988 National Easter Seal Child, as in “Shawn, congratulations on being selected as the 1988 Easter Seal Child, and Col. Cisneros, congratulations on being selected as the 1988 Easter Seal Adult Representative.”

What is one to make of this meticulous displacement of elemental verbal spontaneity by the President? Certainly one cannot imagine any of his predecessors — Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman or Roosevelt — accepting such puppetry. And none of them were ever called “The Great Communicator.”

From the ever present cue cards to the teleprompter for his speeches and television addresses, Ronald Reagan is proving that a well dressed, smiling manikin can be President. As a man well versed with horses and their handlers, he has no difficulty in following the instructions Of his Presidential handlers. And, as

Mr. Reagan said in May 1984, “You’d be surprised how much [being] a good actor pays off” in politics.

Of course, matters could be worse. As with the anchorman of the movie, Broadcast News, someone could be speaking his lines directly into his ears. Then there is always the future RoboPresident as in the movie Robocop.

But for now, allowing his intellect to be programmed hour after hour has a cumulative effect of serious disregard for the facts, or disregard for anything other than how it plays over the television. As George Bush’s press secretary cynically put it in 1984; “if reporters document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, so what? Maybe two hundred people read it.”

Green and MacColl had this to say about his Presidential prevarications: “He would shamelessly tell us that the Pope supported his policy of aiding the Contras, that Justice Holmes remarked “Keep government poor and remain free,” that Brezhnev invented the idea of a nuclear freeze. None of these statements were true, nor were hundreds like them.” His November 19, 1986 press conferences on the arms-for-hostages scandal set the historic record for lying, they noted, adding that Reagan is “simply incapable of entertaining information that conflicts with his ideology. When facts differ from his beliefs, he changes the facts, not his beliefs.”

The leader of our government sets the tone for those whom he appoints to work for him. The Reaganite regime’s corruption is now a matter of record for dozens of his appointees who left office have done something far worse than their personal graft. They have left behind a much more secretive, uncaring, wasteful, giveaway, deficit-ridden and problem-producing government that spies on its people and its own civil servants, and mortgages future generations with the heaviest of fiscal burdens and societal neglects.

It is enough to make us think harder about what we should be doing between now and the November elections.