The Reagan Mythology

The good folks at Think Progress have some startling news for wingnuts:

As the Main Street Movement of students, workers, and other middle class Americans erupts across America, many conservatives have invoked the legacy of former president Ronald Reagan to demand that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) not back down from his push to end collective bargaining for his state’s public employees. In a prank call with the Buffalo Beast’s Ian Murphy, where Murphy pretended to be right-wing billionare David Koch, Walker himself even fantasized about being just like Reagan.

Yet conservatives may be shocked to learn that their idol Reagan was once a union boss himself. Reagan was the only president in American history to have belonged to a union, the AFL-CIO affiliated Screen Actors Guild. And he even served six terms as president of the organized labor group. Additionally, Reagan was a staunch advocate for the collective bargaining rights of one of the world’s most famous and most influential trade unions, Poland’s Solidarity movement.

Founded in September 1980, Solidarity was formed in Soviet-occupied Poland as the USSR’s first free and independent trade union. By 1981, the union had grown to 10 million people and became a powerful force for demanding economic and political reforms within the Soviet Union. Solidarity began to use strikes to demand these reforms, and the Soviets responded by jailing their leaders and cracking down on their right to organize. During his Christmas address to the nation on December 23, 1981, President Reagan condemned the Soviet-backed Polish crackdowns on labor unions, promoting the “basic right of free trade unions and to strike”:

    REAGAN: The Polish government has trampled underfoot to the UN Charter and Helsinki accords. It has even broken the Gdańsk Agreement of 1980 by which the Polish government recognized the basic right of free trade unions and to strike.

It’s been said over and over again, but it is so true- Ronald Reagan would be expelled from the party today for insufficient conservatism. And while we are at it, how funny is it that the same people who are all worked up over the freedom pr0n in the middle east have ZERO idea of the role unions played in freeing eastern Europe, or the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Lane Kirkland? Just a bunch of useful idiots for the big money boys.

37 replies
  1. 1
    Svensker says:

    I dunno. Seems like the only reason Ronnie liked Solidarity was cuz it was agin the commies.

  2. 2
    Alex S. says:

    Reagan – Hollywood actor, union boss, divorcee, what’s not to like?

  3. 3
    cathyx says:

    The big money boys need people who lack common sense to push their agenda. That’s the only way it could work.

  4. 4

    Yet conservatives may be shocked to learn

    Conservatives would also be shocked to find themselves attacked by flying monkeys. And flying monkey attack is far more likely than learning for your average Con.

  5. 5
    fasteddie9318 says:

    Is Reagan becoming the new normal? Because talk about moving the Overton window; if lefties are going to start holding the dangerously right wing Ronald Reagan up as some kind of paragon of moderation, we’ve already lost.

  6. 6
    Culture of Truth says:

    Yeah but at least Reagan cut the debt and left us with a surplus!

    Wait, what?

  7. 7
    Tom says:

    I think it’s a little misleading to just come out and say “Reagan was a union leader.”

    Yes, he was, but you can also say “Reagan was a liberal.” Which he was, but he wasn’t when he went into politics. He went through a rather stark political transformation in the early 60s.

    Now, I don’t doubt that he supported Poland’s union movement, you also must note that he fired the air traffic controllers who went on strike.

    So, who really knows where Reagan the president would stand on the Wisconsin labor issue, but I don’t think we can infer that he would be for the unions because he used to be a union leader.

  8. 8
    Califlander says:

    I think they understand full well the role of unions in securing public freedom.

    That’s why they want to kill the unions.

  9. 9
    General Stuck says:

    Reagan came out of the starting gate not unlike Walker, and his true believing cadres flooded out into the various federal agencies with bureaucratic hit lists to dismantle liberal governance and law. They, like Walker thought a big election win made them masters of the American universe for the rest of us to bow down to the wingnut gawds now ruling the roost.

    Reagan got his clock cleaned in 1982 for this massive over reach, and dialed it back quite a bit toward a semblance of responsible governance (RINO) that included a fair degree of progressive support by the same voters that brought him to office in a landslide victory, paying heed with that dialing back the delusional thinking from a self appointed mandate, that wasn’t quite what they thought it was.

    The problem now is the republican party is run by crazy people who when faced with a brick wall of public disapproval, look to deal with it by political explosives and battering rams. This is not all bad news for liberals and dems, at least in a sane country. The jury is still out on that one though.

  10. 10
    kdaug says:

    And while we are at it, how funny is it that the same people who are all worked up over the freedom pr0n in the middle east have ZERO idea of the role unions played in freeing eastern Europe, or the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Lane Kirkland?

    How funny? Not funny. Not funny at all.

    But Reagan has moved from man to myth. And in mythology, you can re-tell the story however you want to suit your needs.

    They’re building the altars (Regan National, They’re creating the new narrative (“Tear down this wall” vs. glasnost and perestroika). They’re erasing the less-flattering bits ($300 wrenches, “I don’t remember” 70+ times at the Iran-Contra hearings, Iran-Contra itself).

    Reality be damned. In the conservative mind, Reagan is as real as Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunion.

    He’s a hero, not a man.

  11. 11
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    Even if the wingnuts are aware of Reagan’s old SAG membership / leadership, remember the Prodigal Son – Reagan absolved all that icky old union-supporting behavior by crushing PATCO under his heel.

  12. 12
    Davis X. Machina says:


    That’s why they want to kill the unions.

    This is why unions must be killed off.

    They are a real, working (albeit barely) affront to the notion that there is no such thing as society, that there are only individual men and women, and families.

    If they exist, then the gospel might be wrong. And the gospel can’t be wrong.

    So unions must cease to exist. The Market demands it, blessed be the Market, the righteous Judge.

  13. 13
    Baud says:

    To be fair, a lot of President’s get mythologized: Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, for example. I think what makes the Reagan myth unique is how heavily one of the two major political parties in this country relies on it to justify their policy stances.

  14. 14
    General Stuck says:

    Walker is a case study for liberals to learn by. Americans don’t care much for crusading ideologues, neither from the right, or left. They will tolerate a degree of active populism, but only if it is flexible and tailored to meet their needs, or, dare I say, pragmatic.

  15. 15
    scav says:

    Here’s a cute little Reagan deatail I’ve been wondering where to put:
    Constitution Is Cited as Bar to Pension for Reagan

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 — The National Taxpayers Union said today that President Reagan had violated the Constitution by accepting $178,000 in pension payments from California over the past seven years.
    A White House lawyer, however, already has rejected the complaint. The senior associate counsel to the President, C. Christopher Cox, denied that the Constitution barred Mr. Reagan from collecting a pension from his service as Governor of California. Mr. Reagan collects $29,188 a year from the state.
    . . . .
    Mr. Taylor [of the National Taxpayers Union] said Mr. Reagan had set a bad example for what he estimated were 150,000 ”double dippers” — people who collecting Government salaries and pensions at the same time. Most are retired military personnel.

    No idea where it all went as it was breaking out into an arcane discussion of what was or wasn’t an ’emolument’ by even the end of the article, but there we are.

    And why do the words Broke, Pension, Teachers Union and California Governor keep drifting through my mind to vague images of my parents no way in hell voting for the Gyp as president? Did he do something sneaky to the CA budget by balancing something on their backs? Or is this another of my traditional hallucinations?

  16. 16
    HRA says:

    I don’t see a comparison of what Reagan did to the wildcat strike of the air controllers to what Walker is doing in WI. I think Reagan would have seen a comparison of Madison to Gdansk and would have been against Walker’s idiocy.

  17. 17
    Mike Kay (Chief of Staff) says:

    @scav: reagan = welfare queen

  18. 18
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @HRA:On the other hand, I think I’m an Adelié penguin.
    You have fantasies, I have fantasies, but mine are more entertaining.

  19. 19
  20. 20
    PurpleGirl says:

    This is an essay about Reagan and connections to the MCA and various criminals/criminal elements. It mentions his action as SAG president exempting MCA from the rule against talent agents also being producers.

    This entry at IMDB about Reagan gives many more details of his career and the path it took once his movie career began to tank in the late 1940s. It too mentions the MCA exemption, and further goes into his role as an FBI informant for anti-communism actions involving Hollywood and actors, especially.

    Reagan was thoroughly bought out by the dark side of the Force.

  21. 21
    Davis X. Machina says:


    Reagan’s putative warm embrace of unionism, and his actual warm embrace of Thatcherism, are hard to reconcile.

  22. 22
    Matt says:

    For conservatives, Reagan now occupies a similar rhetorical space as Jesus – what he actually said or did isn’t important, he’s just a prop they can project their own values onto when it’s convenient.

    Sure, they’d kick Ronnie out for being a RINO – but they’d kick Jesus out of their churches for being a hippie liberal, so what’s new?

  23. 23
    ppcli says:

    True: There’s lots of mythologizing about Reagan, and, like Nixon, the positions he actually took would have gotten him drummed out of todays GOP. But let’s not get carried away: he was absolutely, 100% in the John Birch camp when it came to unions.

    The bit about being a union member and leader was something he would often bring up, in his folksy, Reagan-ie way, whenever someone would accuse him of being anti-labour. But it was a transparent dodge, and he knew it. He was the head of the SAG when he was younger and less of a paleo-conservative but even then he was basically management’s stooge. Several of his “negotiations” conceded management even more than they were asking for. For example, once the ubiquity and scope of TV became apparent, a natural question of compensation arose for actors who had appeared in movies that were broadcast on TV. Naturally, for older films, TV broadcast hadn’t been anticipated when the original contracts were written, so the union and the studios needed to figure out what kind of mechanical royalties actors would get. Enter Ronnie. Even paleo-conservatives like Glenn Ford were apoplectic with the sweetheart deal for management that Reagan worked out. In exchange for a token payment to a pension fund, Reagan gave the rights away! A windfall for the studios that cost the older generation of actors millions.

    And as for Wałęsa, that was just because he was an opponent of the regime. (In fact, I remember a (admittedly not all that funny) joke that was going around our circle at the time. Typical conversation: “A: Hey, I read the most amazing thing in the paper: Reagan just gave a big freedom award to a union leader! B: Really? Wow, I never thought I’d see the day. Who was it? A: Lech Wałęsa. B: Ha, ha, very funny.”

    Reagan would be to the left of most GOP’ers today on many or maybe even most issues, but he deferred to no one in his loathing and efforts to destroy organized labour. Though certainly he would never have been as politically tone-deaf as Walker is turning out to be.

  24. 24
    Maude says:

    @Davis X. Machina:
    Hope you’ve got your weight up. It’s almost time to migrate.

    Ronnie was a total fake.

  25. 25
    JCT says:

    @Matt: And as the school curriculum flap in Texas shows, “history” to these nuts is infinitely malleable. Just look at the makeover some of the Founders received. Besides, everything is black and white to the wingnuts, they are as concrete in their thinking as a toddler — though they are trending towards infantile as of late. There is no concept of shame or nuance.

    Or then again, they could be just hopelessly dishonest and continue to see our political system as an endless game to be “won”, truth and real history be damned.

  26. 26
    scav says:

    @JCT: Don’t forget how malleable Scripture and God Himself are to their mighty wills.

  27. 27
    maya says:


    He,[Reagan] went through a rather stark political transformation in the early 60s.

    Years ago I came across an interesting photo spread in Architectural Digest. In the late 50’s, as a reward for doing such a great job selling lightbulbs on G E Theater, Jack Welsh built an all-electric house up in Pacific Palisades for the Reagans. That might have had something to do with his, seen the light, Republican conversion. He didn’t leave the Democratic Party, they just couldn’t match Jack’s offer.

  28. 28
    Navigator says:

    Democratic politicians in these union-bashing states should immediately offer up bills to abolish those states’ observation of Labor Day, and make their GOP opponents vote on it.

    Heads would explode.

  29. 29
    Malovich says:

    I am beginning to understand that the Reagan ‘myth’ wasn’t supported and revered for his actual policies from the lens of the present, but from how far to the right they were *at the time*.

    It’s not about what he did, it was about how hard he was pushing the political joystick to the right.

  30. 30
    feebog says:

    Ronald Reagan would be expelled from the party today for insufficient conservatism.

    Nope, not even close. If anything,Reagan was a pretty shrewd politician. I’m sure, just like John McCain that he would have moved much further to the right to assure he stayed in the mainstream, and while doing it would have beenquite comfortable/

  31. 31
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    When I read, the other day, that polls of Americans showed that they believed that Ronald Reagan was the best president we’ve ever had, all I could think of was, “We’ve got to stop letting the Texas Board of Education choose our textbooks.” I just finished reading a book on FDR and his wife and I remember enough from my many history classes to put Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, God forgive me..even Nixon, ahead of this guy. He was mediocre, at best. People have more and more information in this world and seem to be getting dumber and dumber.

  32. 32
    Sentient Puddle says:

    How have we gone this long without linking this?

  33. 33
    Phyllis says:

    @Navigator: Does Walker get to participate in the pension fund he’s trying to kill? SC legislators do, along with Gov. Nikki. Whose family, btw, are covered by TriCare. Because her husband is a civilian employee of the National Guard*.Not that Repub/Teaparty hypocrisy is any surprise or anything.

    *Where he is the equal employment manager.

  34. 34
    hoppy goldberg says:

    this is how it works. as dems move further and further right to placate the sources of campaign money, where does the GOP go? further right of course. they have to continue to call dems socialist, liberal tax spend etc., and stake out more extreme conservative ground. so now that dems have become basically where reagan was, the gop has to move over to the area formerly occupied by the john birch society. pretty soon they will be so far out on that limb that they will implode and become attractive only to the crazy fringe. they’d be alone out there now if they didn’t have the stew of racism and recession induced anger on their side. this leads to us being ruled forever by reaganism in the form of corporatist dems, until the misery of working classes foments enough unrest to create a new left party or a revival of populism among dems. so it is not the republicans pulling the dems further and further right, it is the dems chasing the GOP further and further right until they have no where to go but crazy.

  35. 35
    Ash says:

    A lot of people don’t even realize SAG is a union. They just think it’s some fancy club that only celebrities have membership to. Which is unfortunate, since 80% of actors make pennies and are treated like crap.

  36. 36
    JITC says:

    The argument from the pro-Walker side is that the Screen Actors Guild is NOT a public union. They further argue that unions at one point in history were necessary and that they no longer are. They have a dumb justification for everything.

  37. 37

    Useful idiots indeed. Mel Brooks must have been anticipating the Tea Baggers when he did Blazing Saddles:

    “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”

Comments are closed.