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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-06-09 - 10:22 p.m.

"...One for the Gipper"

By Joan Callaway

The President Ronald Reagan that I remember was affable, familiar, and always ready with a quip. He was not, however, the paragon the mourners would have us believe him to be. While I sympathize with Nancy Reagan and the rest of his family for the debilitating Alzheimer’s Disease he and they have long endured, many of his policies I found a little like Robin Hood gone amok – taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

He graduated from Eureka College, a small Christian school near Peoria, Illinois, not far from his family’s home. This exposure undoubtedly led him to some of his conservative views.

My first memories of him, of course, were from the movies and later as host of TV’s General Electric Theatre. He played in several unremarkable and unmemorable movies, but one I remember is Kings Row in which he played a small town playboy whose legs were amputated by a careless surgeon. He got his nickname from the role of Knute Rockne, All American, the Notre Dame football hero, George “The Gipper” Gipp, in which he delivered the immortal line, “Win one for the Gipper.”

It was his five-year term as President of the Screen Actors’ Guild that started his political career. Very concerned about communism in the United States, he willingly testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, leading to the blacklisting of several actors. He later became an FBI informant.

As Governor of California, he was responsible for downgrading the state hospital system in the early 1970’s with the closure of three state mental hospitals. It was believed that the new psychotropic drugs would make hospitals obsolete. The mental health realignment shifted the responsibility for mental health programming from the State to the counties of California. However, the promise of adequate state monies followed for only a time, but due to recessions and reduced tax revenues, the promise has not been kept.

The most visible effect of hospital closures and reduced funding to the Counties is the increasingly large number of mentally ill who can be found wandering the streets, parks and malls, sleeping under bridges, in doorways, in shelters, or if they are very lucky, in cheap motels. It is estimated that at least 20,000 prison inmates in California could benefit from treatment for mental illness.

The county in which I live is one of the lucky ones. I’ll write more about Yolo Community Care Continuum at another time. It is, however, credited to Tom Bates - not “The Gipper.”

In addition to the tough budget cuts for mental health in California, some of the hardest hit under the Reagan administration were Medicaid, Aid for Dependent Children, and food stamps – in other words, the poor. You may recall that his Agriculture Department wanted to define ketchup and relish as vegetables for the school lunch program.

I found few of his policies palatable. His indifference to the pleas for help in the blooming AIDS crisis delayed the slowing of this plague. He opposed affirmative action and racial quotas at a time they were necessary for African Americans to progress in academics and employment. He sought a tax credit for segregated Bob Jones University, which infuriated the black population. When the air traffic controllers went out on strike, Reagan interfered with the union and fired them all, as I recall, which caused chaos until new controllers were trained and in place. As governor, he proposed more tax increases than any governor before or since. He signed the California Therapeutic Abortion Act, but then later said that he regretted having signed it. He stayed away from that issue as much as possible.

I did not and do not approve of Reagan’s economic policies, which left the nation with trillions of dollars of debt nor some of the foreign policy hanky-panky, notably the Iran-Contra scandal, which ultimately led us into the current Iraq debacle. Still, he did forge relationships with Mikhail Gorbachev that eventually led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the critical push that led to the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. President Reagan at one time supported Osama bin Laden.

What I recall most favorably about President Reagan was his sunny optimism about our country, and that when confronted with evidence that his tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, he was not ashamed to change course. It is interesting how our one-time friends can turn out to become our worst enemies. And how short our memories are – with or without Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to an Associated Press article in yesterday's Sacramento Bee, perhaps "President Reagan’s sweetest legacy is his love of Jelly Belly’s." The company began shipping the miniature jelly-beans to Governor Reagan when he decided to quit smoking back in 1967. Reaganomics really worked for the Fairfield Jelly Belly Company as it has grown to 670 employees, shipping 13 billion jelly beans a year!

From my friend, Bev's journal yesterday at http://funnytheworld.com: "The body's hardly even cold and this afternoon, as the casket was making its way down Connecticut Avenue, my e-mail brought me an offer a "rare two-disk box DVD set" of "Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator." And so it begins. First we canonize him and now we're going to capitalize on his memory. Ahhh...it's a great country."

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