I’m old enough to remember Ronald Reagan proclaiming to us on national television these words: “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.”
Later President Reagan admitted that he was — repeat — WAS lying when he made this claim. (Reagan did not do the repeat thing when he admitted to lying; that’s me being snarky.)
But this was not actually Reagan’s biggest lie in my opinion. When he said, in his 1981 inaugural address, that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” that was his biggest lie. It’s a lie whose consequences we have been living with for 35 years as his efforts to shift the tax burden onto the middle class, cut funding for education, and hold down the federally mandated minimum wage by breaking the power of unions, have paid off for the “one percent.”
In addition to this there is the web of lies surrounding President Reagan’s support for the Contras, the conservative terrorist organization that was trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing government. I remember this aspect of Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal vividly because I went on a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua in 1984 and, during a visit to a rural area, was told that the Contras had killed a Swiss ambulance driver with a roadside bomb on the very road we were then cruising along. About a year and a half later I was in Switzerland visiting friends in the Canton of Fribourg and was upset to see newspaper clippings they had saved that described the killing, by the Contras, of the ambulance driver, their countryman.
Our tax dollars at work.
President Reagan managed to survive the Iran-Contra scandal, though, for a time, it looked like he might face impeachment. As details of Iran-Contra surfaced, the public gradually concluded that the President had been dishonest about the whole affair. According to one poll, only 12 percent of Americans believed him when he claimed he had no prior knowledge of U.S. government funding of the Contras.
So why isn’t Ronald Reagan known as a “congenital liar,” to use the words once employed by conservative columnist William Safire with reference to Hillary Clinton? And how can RNC Chair Reince Priebus get away with saying of her that she is “incapable of telling the truth?” Even more to the point, how can Priebus make this obviously dishonest claim (i.e., lie) about Hillary Clinton with a straight face while at the same time supporting someone like Donald Trump? I, for one, would pay good money to see Mr. Priebus attempt to defend the honesty of Mr. Trump’s various ridiculous claims, starting with his insistence that no, he was not responsible for those Trump-promoting phone calls by “John Miller” back in the 1990s.
But back to Ronald Reagan: his lies were much more blatant and significant than any slick talking or sneaky email usage that Hillary is guilty of, so why should she be perceived as not trustworthy in a way that Reagan never was?
The short answer, as I’ve said elsewhere, is that she has been relentlessly hammered by a Republican Party obsessed with portraying her and her husband as dishonest. These endless attacks have had a payoff, even though they almost invariably turn up no evidence of deceit or wrongdoing on her part. What they do turn up – the emails again – is trivial compared to the deceit and wrongdoing of which Ronald Reagan was guilty. The point is, if the Democratic Party had made up its mind to portray President Reagan as a habitual liar, “incapable of telling the truth,” his reputation would certainly have suffered. I’m glad the Democrats never engaged in such a campaign, however, since I think this kind of character assassination is bad for the country as a whole.
I’m not picking on this particular late president because I believe him to be unusually dishonest. Actually, I think he is about average or maybe only slightly below average in honesty, but no worse or barely worse than most. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is above average. I say this because, first of all, a PolitiFact study of deceit by politicians found her to be above average in her degree of honesty and, secondly, because, despite the mind-numbingly incessant attacks leveled against her since 1992, nothing she has been shown to have done matches in dishonesty Reagan’s Iran-Contra actions. Nor, for that matter, Vice President G. H. W. Bush’s dishonest claim to have been “out of the loop” during the Iran-Contra scandal. Nor George W. Bush’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” and connections to 9-11. In light of the dishonesty represented by these various scandals, Hillary is clearly better than most of her predecessors where honesty is concerned.
I say “predecessors” because I believe that she is likely to be our next president. Certainly a win is not in the bag, but the odds are very much in her favor. And when I vote on November 8, part of me is going to be motivated by my hostility toward the character assassinating tactics that the GOP has tried to use against her. I look forward to being able to say, “Congratulations, Madam President. You have prevailed despite the morally repulsive actions of these unscrupulous and small-minded men who have tried to bring you down.”