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A few words from the Editor July 2004

Here’s a final one from the Gipper. Even dead, Ronald Reagan moves more people than most Republicans, Democrats and, I’m sorry to say, the Left do.
When Ronnie checked out last month, George W. had a majority of Americans angry over his conduct of the war. By the time the final clod of earth was tossed on RR’s grave, George W.’s approval rating had shot up more than eight points, placing him in like flint once again with the majority.

What does that say about the American people?

Obviously, many things were at play here. The orchestrators of Ron’s send-off pulled out all the stops: Nancy with hand on the flag-draped coffin; images of Reagan riding at his Simi Valley ranch; and “historic” moments when he demanded Mr. Gorbachov “pull down this wall, now.”

The media also outdid itself. The Reagan funeral pushed nearly everything off the board, including those pesky investigations into 9/11 and the prison torture cases. Reporters did everything but toss themselves sobbing onto the casket. Let’s not even talk abou the pundits.

But there was still more at work here than smoke and mirrors. Alive or dead — and with Reagan it was often hard to tell the difference — the Great Communicator seemed to connect with people even when he was doing things clearly not in their interest.

Several times during the seemingly endless mourning period, I found myself in conversations with people about Reagan. These were working class people — the people who work at the local grocery, café and tavern. These were folks who bore the brunt of the Reagan Revolution: loss of living wage jobs, pensions and healthcare; destruction of their unions; the erosion of their quality of life. Yet in every case, even after I raised those points, these people — who all identified themselves as Democrats — saw Reagan as somehow acting on behalf of a greater good.

This was the Ronald Reagan best remembered as an actor for sharing billing with a chimpanzee in Bed Time for Bonzo, and hosting the television western, Death Valley Days.

If we assume that working people are rational people capable of acting in the best interest of all and recognizing bullshit when they see it — and if we can’t assume that, we are truly lost — then what is going vis-a-vis Reagan’s ascension can’t be entirely explained away by any Svengali-like powers of the Gipper or his post-mortem publicists.

Something more fundamental is going on here — or perhaps more accurately, not going on here — to explain the reponse to Reagan’s death.

We on the Left, during RR’s administration and now during his Second Coming, too often fail to be relevant to the people we seek to organize. We spend time offering critiques and exploring obscure theories rather than addressing the bread-and-butter issues people care about. We extoll internationalism without appreciating our true native-grown traditions of resistance and survival (I’m talking about more than listening to Utah Phillips).

This is not intended as an attack on intellectuals. The intelligentsia is, like other elements of our society, an important part of the movement. But a movement of only the intelligentsia is no movement at all.

We have to find ways to make ourselves more relevant to the working people who currently settle for politicians who at least recognize and pay lip service to their values and traditions.

This is a country born out of revolution — albeit a limited revolution. We have a long tradition of resisting public and private authority. We also have a long tradition of fighting injustice. Our participation in the mid-century global wars, regardless of the motivations of our leaders, helped end fascism and restore democracy in western Europe.

We on the Left need to acknowledge these accomplishments despite any flaws or wrong roads they have led to. The Gipper never forgot that and it made it possible for him to wage class war on working people with the approval of many of those people. Harnessed to a movement seeking true social justice, the power that comes from working people’s heritage could totally change this country and the world. I hope Portland’s progressives keep that in mind as they celebrate this July 4 holiday and as you return to work afterwards.

—Dave Mazza

To the anonymous caller leaving lengthy messages critical of our Palestine coverage, I’m Italian-Anglo-Irish and was raised Catholic. I am not, as you insist, a “self-hating Jew.”



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Last Updated: August 3, 2004