Reagan-izing History

January 2004


Rewriting History is not a random event. It happens as much by PR as by revelation.

My sister sent me a link to a poll on whether to replace FDR's portrait on the dime with that of Ronald Reagan. I answered the poll, with what I thought was an obvious answer: "no." Then, I was shocked to see that almost 30 percent of the respondents had disagreed with me. Evidently, they did not know who Franklin Delano Roosevelt was.

I am consistently shocked by how little most folks know of history. In the present information age, such appalling ignorance must be deliberate. In the past, most peoples' grasp of the events of their time was a reflection of the newspaper they read. And in 1840 or 1940 there were starkly different newspapers to read in this country.

Some people will tell you the government is trying to ruin our educational system and make our children stupid and ignorant. It just isn't so. There are too many good teachers out there and too many concerned parents. There is more institutional intransigence than nefarious or insidious malice taking place in our schools.

The general prevailing opinion has gotten to be that history is irrelevant. History is relevant. We are the people about whom our Constitution and Bill of Rights were written. If we are to maintain a firm grasp upon our rights, then we have to do so with our eyes open. Keeping your eyes tight shut in ignorance is not a good survival strategy in a republic. If enough people do it, then the difference between our republic and run-of-the-mill tyranny becomes an academic distinction.

In case you were wondering, FDR was the US President who saw us through the Great Depression and was the principle architect of our conduct and victory against Fascism in Word War II (though he did not live to see it).

Reagan defied the Constitution (Iran/Contra) and all things being equal, he should probably have been impeached for treason. His administration looted the Social Security Trust Fund (that FDR started) and amassed more public debt in eight short years than all sides spent conducting World War II. So, why are the achievements of FDR forgotten and the faults of Reagan forgiven? History is funny like that. Those in power, with the privilege of printing what they like in the history text books, they like what Reagan stood for: a more uneven distribution of wealth and greater privileges for the wealthy. They disliked FDR when he was alive and resisted every attempt to deify him (like Lincoln) after his death.

It is sad that we re-write history so far from the truth of the events, and so often. Knowledge is power and a knowledge of the means by which we were brought to the present is very helpful in understanding how to make an attempt at changing the course of future history. That is the chief danger of history and the reason why it is so often reaganized: buried under pleasant sounding lies by cynical people, out for whatever they can get.

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