Ronald Reagan Didn't Do One Damn Thing for Oklahoma

I was driving down the road yesterday listening to the radio as one of our local right-wing extremists, Mike McCarville, eulogized former President Ronald Reagan.

(It's very important to keep tabs on political and religious extremism right now in this country. I'm quite serious about this.)

McCarville, a radio show host on a local station, beatified Reagan ad nauseam, using the weird right-wing propaganda that has quickly become part of the Reagan disinformation campaign the last couple of days: Reagan ended the Cold War, revived the economy with his trickle-down economics, made American prouder, and on and on.

None of it is true, of course. Reagan didn't end the Cold War. The Soviet Union had been weakened economically for years because of its corrupt government. Trickle-down economics had to be replaced with huge tax increases during the last years of the Reagan presidency to keep the government semi-solvent.

Reagan's budget deficits hurt the economy in countless ways. As for making Americans prouder, well, if scandal, corruption and the greed of wealthy people make you proud, then I guess Reagan did bring about a "new morning" in America. It's now called "conservative politics."

Yet the biggest absurdity in McCarville's show was his insistence that Oklahomans loved "Dutch." As a generalized statement, I think that is simply untrue.

There were and remain plenty of Oklahomans against Reagan politics. We're just not allowed to express our opinion at any length in the local media. In addition, many of those who voted for him were hoodwinked by the new conservative juggernaut and the ensuing propaganda spewed by The Daily Oklahoman and its ilk.

So I ask this second group of people: What did Ronald Reagan ever do for Oklahoma and its citizens? Here's the true answer: Not a damn thing.

Oklahoma's last oil boom went bust in the early 1980s, and Reagan's policies that supported Middle-East dictators and their ability to control a major segment of our economy did nothing to help us in this regard. In addition, Reagan's efforts to deregulate banking, was directly responsible for the saving and loans crisis in the 1980s. This also had a huge impact on Oklahoma.

For those Okies too young to remember, let me tell you how it was in Oklahoma during much of Reagan's presidency. Banks were going under throughout the state day after day, people were leaving in droves because there were no good jobs, and the government was cutting back education and other programs because there was no money. The wealthiest people in the state, however, became richer because of Reagan's tax cuts for the rich.

In fact, the disparity between the extremely wealthy and the middle-class and poor was one of the main legacies of the Reagan presidency. Does all this sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the national news was filled with tempered reports about the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan's mental lapses, his disdain of those dying of AIDS and the poor, and the idea that somehow the individual greediness of the extremely wealthy was good for America. The term "plausible deniability" became entrenched in right-wing, conservative politics during this time.

Now I know there are those Oklahomans who hate themselves so much they think their lives are somehow made better when the Gaylord family makes even more money and Oklahoma kids go without health insurance, and for you, yes, Reagan was wonderful. He ensured you made less money and had less opportunity to succeed financially. Hurray! Your kids' schools went underfunded. Hurray! Overall, Oklahoman's per capita income levels remained low. Hurray! More and more people went without adequate health care. Hurray! It was great for you.

Democrat or Republican, many of us remember the difficult 1980s in Oklahoma. That's Reagan's legacy in the state. It wasn't until the centrist Bill Clinton took over that the state began to fully rebound, and it wasn't until George Bush became president that we faced yet another fiscal crisis that damaged the state. And no amount of lies and distortion on a local, right-wing radio station can hide that fact.

When will Okies tire of the right-wing lies that keep our state down? The state will only soar again, as it did when first founded by a diverse and multicultural people, when its citizens embrace true American ideals of democracy, equal rights and opportunities, and compassion.


Okie Populism

One of the most vexing questions in the political scene today is how a majority of voters in the South, Southwest, and Midwest consistently vote against their economic interests on the national level. Oklahoma, for example, has voted Republican on the national level for two decades now, yet the conservative agenda consistently rewards a wealthy elite over middle-class and poor people.

Take President George Bush's recent tax cuts which heavily favored the most wealthiest people in the nation and consider the new corporate welfare state in which we live. Yet Oklahoma has one of the lowest per capita income levels in the nation and has recently suffered through high unemployment rates and cutbacks in education. How does granting huge tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations help the average Oklahoman?

Pundits argue the reason for this contradiction is that conservatives "play" Okies and beyond by emphasizing such emotional cultural issues as abortion or family values. Consequently, Okies may well feel such social issues outweigh their rights and success as professionals, workers and farmers.

Yet if Okies are not empowered financially and socially, how can they expect to have any voice at all in the national debate? It's a paradox.

The neocons currently in power wouldn't give the time of day to an impoverished or underemployed Oklahoman who wants to rant against abortion or the decline of family values. Conservatives support the measurement of capitalism in terms of bestowing power and voice to people. If you have the money, you get to have some say.

So why vote against your economic interests if you really want to change the culture?

The time is ripe for a new populist movement in our state, one based on the realities of our life here in this state, not one based on cultural issues we can never really resolve, that only serve to divide us.