As California’s governor, he vilified Cesar Chavez, champion of downtrodden migrant workers who toiled in the fields of Reagan’s patrons, the state’s wealthy produce growers.
When Chavez led a strike, Reagan, munching grapes like Julius Caesar, pronounced the labor leader and his cause “immoral” at a produce grower’s banquet.
I lost a lot of respect for Reagan but after he was elected president, I accepted him as America’s leader.
Reagan made mistakes and he had victories. His winning smile and self-deprecating demeanor endeared him to supporters and opponents alike.
He worked with the Democratic-led Congress because Reagan came to recognize there were big problems only the federal government could solve.
Some on the far left viciously attacked Reagan, but those critics were on the fringe, kept there by responsible mainstream Democrats like House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who considered Reagan a friend.
Agreeable disagreement was the norm.
In 1983, Islamic terrorists bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 17 Americans, including the CIA’s top Middle East intelligence expert.
Democrats didn’t politicize the tragedy and blame the president or call for his impeachment. We understood and accepted that sometimes bad things happened in dangerous places.
My, how times have changed. What went wrong?
Political civility began eroding after Reagan abolished the Federal Communication Commission’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Political speech had to be balanced, said the rule. When a broadcaster presented one point of view, it had to offer opposing opinions, too.
Once the Fairness Doctrine was gone, a little-known former disc jockey gave voice to the fear, anger and confusion many conservative radio listeners felt over America’s fast-changing and complex socioeconomic and political landscape.
Rush Limbaugh dumbed down the discussion, making it fashionable to attack progressives in simplistic, demeaning and often dishonest terms; women’s rights advocates were “feminazis,” environmentalists “whackos” and President Obama “Barack the Magic Negro.”
Republican leaders, terrified of Limbaugh, never pushed back. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, even apologized to him on the air for telling the truth.
In 1996, Roger Ailes launched Fox News Channel. More right wing voices were soon heard but as their number increased, the tone of the debate rapidly declined, with facts frequently taking a back seat to distortions and half-truths.
When Obama became president, any restraint media conservatives had shown was blown away in a cyclone of outrage over a black Democrat moving into the White House.
Conservatives hurled unfounded accusations at the new president. Reagan was never compelled to produce his birth certificate. Why was Obama?
On 9/11, horrified, Democrats didn’t charge President Bush with dereliction of duty and call for multiple investigations. Instead, we rallied to Bush seeking his reassurance and leadership.
Imagine what conservatives would be saying and doing if 9/11 happened on Obama’s watch? Their pathological obsession with Benghazi suggests the answer.
Liberals are just as guilty of dragging the dialogue into the gutter, counter right wingers. That’s false equivalency; most progressive commentators don’t want to become the thing they abhor.
When MSNBC’s Martin Bashir crossed the line last year, he was fired. But there are seldom any consequences in the conservative media for crossing that same line.
Legitimate criticism of the president is fine, but why, from the conservative point of view, is virtually everything Obama does a failure when the facts say otherwise?
Whatever happened to giving our president the benefit of the doubt or credit when it’s due? What happened to respecting and supporting America’s lawfully elected leader?
Conservative commentators are fond of declaring America is headed downhill. I agree.
Until we become better informed citizens and start living our country’s motto, e pluribus unim, we’re doomed as a nation.
Kevin Foley is an author, writer and public relations executive who lives in Kennesaw.