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Ronald Reagan's 30-Year Time Bombs

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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From Consortium News

The failure to close the circle in saying who started the nation off on the path toward these disasters is because nearly everyone shies away from blaming Ronald Reagan for almost anything.

The overpowering consensus in Washington is that it's political suicide to criticize the 40th president of the United States, whose centennial birthday on Feb. 6 will be celebrated elaborately.

It's much safer to behave like MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and simply accept that Reagan was "one of the all-time greats."

But the truth is that Reagan's current historical reputation rests more on the effectiveness of the Republican propaganda machine -- and the timidity of many Democrats and media personalities -- than on his actual record of accomplishments.

Indeed, many of today's worst national and international problems can be traced to misjudgments and malfeasance from the Reagan years -- from the swelling national debt to out-of-control banks, from the decline of the U.S. middle class to the inaction on energy independence, from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

All of these disasters are part of the Reagan Legacy. Yet, possibly the most insidious residue from the Reagan Years was the concept of manipulating information -- what some Reagan officials liked to call "perception management" -- as a means of societal control.

In that endeavor, Reagan's team took aim at two key entities -- the CIA's analytical division and the Washington press corps -- with the realization that if the information produced and disseminated by those two groups could be controlled then the insider community of Washington and the broader American public could be managed.

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That enabled the Reagan administration to exaggerate the threat posed by the Soviet Union (after Reagan's CIA chief William Casey and his deputy Robert Gates purged many of the CIA analysts who correctly saw a decaying empire eager for accommodation with the West).

Similarly, well-financed right-wing operatives and administration officials worked to marginalize mainstream journalists (the "liberal press") who raised troublesome questions about Reagan's domestic and foreign policies.

The impact of these information strategies had deadly consequences even years later, such as when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney essentially dictated the intelligence "analysis" on Iraq's WMD  to the CIA and the Washington press corps fell in line behind the march to war.

Even today, President Barack Obama complains that his options for addressing the nation's growing problems are limited by what he calls the "Reagan narrative," demonizing government. [See's "Obama's Fear of the Reagan Narrative."]

A Central Narrative

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The Reagan Legacy also lives on as the central narrative of the now-empowered Republican Party and its Tea Party allies. The answer to domestic problems is always to cut taxes, slash government regulations and trust the private sector, while the cure for international threats is to talk tough and to take down governments that won't obey.

For Republicans, virtually all issues must be shoved into the straitjacket of Reagan's orthodoxy, while the Right's powerful media continues to build false narratives for public consumption thus guaranteeing that alternative approaches are met with unrelenting hostility.

This strategy works, in part, because progressives lack a sufficient messaging apparatus to counter the Reagan narrative and Democratic politicians know that they risk retaliation if they challenge too directly the pleasant conventional wisdom about Reagan.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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