Ronald Reagan Day? I’ll Be Wearing a Red Ribbon

Ronald Reagan was certainly a memorable person in California history. Not memorable in the Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk kind of way, but more in a distinctively heartless way.  That being said, it looks increasingly likely he will join Milk and Chavez with recognition.

California moved one step closer today to establishing an annual day honoring Ronald Reagan, the former president, governor and actor.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill designating Feb. 6 as Ronald Reagan Day. The measure encourages schools to spend the day commemorating Reagan’s life and accomplishments. (AP)

I’m actually not all that opposed to such a day. Reagan, despite my political differences with him, is a major historical figure. And, on occasion, such as when he signed a letter opposing the Briggs initiative, he went out of his way to do the right thing.  But if we are going to teach about Reagan’s legacy, Allen White‘s words must be heeded:

Reagan could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from so many in his administration. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan’s surgeon general, has said that because of “intradepartmental politics” he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration. The reason, he explained, was “because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs.” The president’s advisers, Koop said, “took the stand, ‘They are only getting what they justly deserve.’ ”

How profoundly different might have been the outcome if his leadership had generated compassion rather than hostility. “In the history of the AIDS epidemic, President Reagan’s legacy is one of silence,” Michael Cover, former associate executive director for public affairs at Whitman-Walker Clinic, the groundbreaking AIDS health-care organization in Washington. in 2003. “It is the silence of tens of thousands who died alone and unacknowledged, stigmatized by our government under his administration.”

Revisionist history about Reagan must be rejected. Researchers, historians and AIDS experts who know the truth must not remain silent. Too many have died for that. (SF Chronicle Op-Ed)

So, sure, let’s teach Reagan’s legacy. But front and center of that legacy is the AIDS crisis. He stood by as millions died, including some of his supposed friends from his movie days. Reagan’s inaction directly led to many needless deaths. Teach about Ronald Reagan, if for no other reason that our students will never forget an American tragedy. A tragedy whose scope could have been dramatically changed by a rapid response, but was instead ignored because the victims weren’t favored classes.

And when our students ask about Reagan, sure, by all means, you can talk about how he spent the Russians into bankruptcy, or how he blatantly and illegally defied Congress, but what I’ll remember most about Ronald Reagan will be the action that he didn’t take. And his inaction speaks as much about the man Ronald Reagan as any action, or any myth the Right is trying to build up about him.

6 thoughts on “Ronald Reagan Day? I’ll Be Wearing a Red Ribbon”

  1. But his record as president was appalling, and there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate about it.

    I mean, what’s next, CA celebrating native son and oh-so-successful President Richard Milhous Nixon?!

  2. Where to begin . . .

    massive disruption of state services, attempts to sell off state property, promised community based services for those with mental, emotional, and developmental disabilities – that still barely exist and mostly in terms of socialized costs and privatized profits, overt hositility to the free speech movement at our college campuses, trickle down policies that feel like trickled on, arms for hostages, support of central and south american dictatorships and their hideous mass murders, massive federal debt, BFF with Margaret Thatcher, PATCO, the endless war on drugs, Beirut bombing, silence in response to the aids epidemic, and perhaps worst of all, laying the ground work for bringing all those “free market solutions” home despite the utter failure of neoconservative economic policy every where they have been instituted.

    The only good thing I can come up with is that he had a loving, satisfying second marriage and that alone is not reason enough to award him a holiday, in my opinion.  

  3. remind him/her about the suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in 1983. 241 American soldiers were killed and Ronald Reagan pulled remaining U.S. forces out of Lebanon within four months.

  4. The problem is that the rightwing crazies will run with it and your ideas about teaching about AIDS (or anything else regressive and destructive he did) will not get as much mention.  

    The corporate media is so conservative and they will use this day to deify Reagan.  When Nixon died, there was almost no mention of his criminal actions by the corporate media.  The same will happen with Reagan. Democratic politicians are being so gutless on this.

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