It’s the Money, Stupid: Believing the Hollywood Illusion

It began with Ronald Reagan. If you could get a trained actor to convince voters that what you saw on television or the Silver Screen was real, you could elect actors to high office. Like governor of California or even president of the United States. You pause a bit at first to reflect on the idea of what makes for a good leader. Could an actor possess the skills and the political acumen to pull off an 8-year term in the White House? Sure thing.

Ronald Reagan, ne the Great Communicator, the Gipper, the Old Ranger from the TV show, Death Valley Days, pulled it off. For 8 years as president of the United States, he convinced most of America that he was on the side of the working man. Yet he was directly responsible for massive cuts to the workforce. He convinced us to believe that a job flipping hamburgers was a manufacturing job of high purpose. At the same time he was busy firing all the Air Traffic controllers who went on strike for more pay and better working conditions. He totally destroyed unions in America, the last effective bargaining tool of the working man that better served the greatest number of Americans, not just the wealthy few.

All the while, Reagan convincingly appeared on camera to explain his positions on policy. He was smooth. He proved that you could convince most all voters of most anything if you said it with the right intonation and subtle facial expressions on camera. I remember the time Reagan needed to explain some of the new little taxes that needed to be levied to clean up the trillions of dollars he racked up over the years with his borrowing and spending spree to defeat the Evil Empire, Russia, and bring it to its knees. There was the question of raising federal taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. But Reagan said that he would be against taxing beer because that was the working man’s drink. Wow. He cared about the working man. He was just as convincing in his delivery as he had been as the Gipper in the movie “Knute Rockney, All American.” Yet under Reagan, the working man’s lot suffered several body blows in Reagan’s tax reform bills and in his philosophy on how the pie should be carved up. The working man lost out and the corporations thrived.

In late 2002, Cheney had summoned the Bush administration's economic team to his office to discuss another round of tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Then-Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill pleaded that the government -- already running a $158 billion deficit -- was heading toward a fiscal crisis. But by O'Neill's account of the meeting, Cheney silenced him by invoking his take on Reagan's legacy.

For the first time in history, had Reagan proven truly that “deficits don’t matter?” Those very words were spoken by Dick Cheney in a Cabinet meeting convinced president George W. Bush that it was their time to spend, spend, spend. Did the Republicans have no second thoughts about racking up more debt when their very avowed politics had been “conservative” for over a century? Weren’t they even a little bit red-faced at their massive borrowing and spending? Like the big-spending Democrats they have enjoyed demonizing for over a century? When you borrow, you have a shortfall, and that money you do not have to pay for your spending on weapons, invading and occupying foreign countries, is called a deficit. And when you borrow to keep the government running, you must pay the piper. You must pay the interest on the deficit or the ongoing increases of borrowing to keep on paying for the spending. “Deficits don’t matter.” What a curious notion. Yet I truly believe that Reagan convinced Americans of that very concept because he was, indeed, the Great Communicator that could explain it all in very believable terms so the American people would buy it. No one ever called him on it.

And later, Bush would borrow and spend another 4 Trillion dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a country that had no weapons of mass destruction which was the reason Bush told America it was necessary to attack them. Almost 10 years later, our servicemen still boots on the ground, we wonder why. And if the countless billions of dollars a week we are still borrowing and spending to finance such madness is worth it. And if deficits really don’t matter after all.

So under Reagan’s 8 years as president he was directly responsible for America going into debt 3 Trillion dollars more than when he took office. We as a country did not have the money to run our government, build up the armed forces in peacetime, mind you, so we borrowed it. And to hell with paying the piper at a later time or paying interest on the new debt incurred. America was great, America was back, and God was most assuredly on our side. Reagan convinced us that America was the best. He made us feel good. He seemed like a regular guy you could trust. So America did trust him. Many have said he will go down as one of the greatest American presidents.

Reagan believed in mixing church and state, and relied on religious organizations to elect him and GOP candidates from dog catcher to Senator. Reverend Jerry Falwell organized the Moral Majority which publicized hit lists on candidates NOT to vote for. All Democrats, Reagan and Falwell were in bed together. It meant more votes, and selling God and country to all Americans from the Oval Office was a piece of cake as long as Reagan was on camera reaching out to all Americans. The Christian Coalition, another group mustered their memberships to vote for Reagan and the Republicans because it would be better for our country. Besides, Reagan was opposed to abortion which suited the religious groups just fine. Jefferson and Madison turned over in their graves after Reagan convinced the American people that a separation of church and state was not really all that necessary after all. If you feel good about God you will feel good about letting His hand guide your country. And oh yeah, in the mixing of church and state, it’s probably best if you are Christian (wink, wink). 

It is very likely that Reagan proved one thing for certain, though. That you if you had the right light, audio, color and editing, you had the trappings of unleashing a great communicator upon the land. Put an accomplished, seasoned actor like Reagan behind the president’s desk in the Oval Office, all things are possible. Make-believe becomes reality. Put the right face powder on an already photogenic, well-known face that everyone recognizes instantly, and you are off to the races. It’s show time. But pay no attention to that 14-Trillion dollar debt behind the curtain. Or the 1.6 Trillion dollar deficit that is likely to never go away.

The GOP base, the wealthiest Americans run giant corporations or at least has millions of dollars of stock in these companies. Many of them such as Halliburton have no-bid contracts with our government. That means no other company can bid competitively against them. So if their hammers are sold to us taxpayers at $500 apiece, there is nothing we, nor the Tea Party, can do about it. Funny how the latter, as a group protesting government spending seems to fluff over the giant upcharges we taxpayers are burdened with from these groups like Halliburton and all the other no-bid war corporation cronies of Presidents, Congressmen and Senators. They are cronies because they get special considerations. Like billing the American taxpayer $40 million for food for soldiers in Iraq that never got served up. Or for items like a $500 hammer when the US Army could go out and buy one at Wal Mart for $9.99. Imagine that. Imagine why congressmen don’t cut spending there instead of putting Social Security and Medicare on the operating table of spending cuts. Try to imagine why the Tea Party raises so much hell about excessive government spending while overlooking spending so much for a relatively inexpensive item. Funny thing that, eh? I wonder what the Koch Brothers would say about it.

Money motivates no doubt about it. It makes silk purses out of a sow’s ear every time. Take George W. Bush. Puhlese. Money buys actors who transcend to lofty positions of great communicators. Dudes you would want to have a beer with, just ask Billy Bob. Cheney was probably right. Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. When the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor voter who believes the illusion, it’s true. Deficits don’t really matter. Nor does truth.   And when you are stealing in high places from the government Americans don’t matter either. It’s the money, stupid.