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Sundays With The Christianists: American History Texts That Will Win One For The Gipper
As we saw last week, America in the late 1970s was in quite the fix, and what we really needed was for a man on a white horse to come and save America at the last moment. Someone always comes to save America at the last moment. And as today's soundtrack reminds us, when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, we looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, we settled for Ronald Reagan. This week, our history textbooks for the Christian school market tell us all about the glories of that wonderful presidency, when we looked back to an age when movies were in black and white, and so was everything else.
Here's the short version, from our eighth-grade textbook, America: Land I Love (A Beka, 2006):
Ronald Reagan emphasized the need for America to rebuild her defenses and to take a strong stand against Communism around the world. He promised to revive America’s strength, dignity, and pride. Many referred to him as the Great Communicator because of his effective speaking ability ...
Ronald Reagan won the  election by a landslide, receiving 483 electoral votes to Carter’s 49. At the age of 69, he was the oldest man to be elected President of the United States. Reagan was inaugurated on January 20, 1981, the same day that the 52 American hostages in Tehran, Iran, were released after 444 days of captivity. The Iranians released the hostages for fear that President Reagan would keep his promise to use military action to free them.
Why would the book want to mention that the Carter administration negotiated the hostages' release, anyway, or Carter's own attempt -- unsuccessful though it was -- to rescue them? Any fool knows it was the pure righteous manliness of Ronald Reagan that made it happen.* Despite the beautiful optics of that split-screen moment, our other textbook, the 11/12th-grade United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), begins its Reagan chapter not with the inauguration/hostage release, but with the failed assassination attempt by John Hinckley, noting that the bullet had stopped "one critical, providential inch" from Reagan's heart -- they don't quite attribute the miracle to divine intervention, but are content to suggest it, because duh, of course God was watching out for Ronald Reagan -- and America -- that day: "Reagan’s coolness, pluck, and recovery during his administration’s first spring symbolized much of the national spirit that reawakened during the succeeding decade."
U.S. History also emphasizes just how historically significant Reagan's two terms were:
The Reagan years marked a clear shift in the nation’s leadership, policies, and attitudes. After a quartet of failed presidencies, Ronald Reagan projected an image of confident leadership, restoring public faith in the White House. Many Americans, tired of the cardigan sweater days of Jimmy Carter, welcomed the new president’s strong presence and inspiring rhetoric.
Yet Reagan brought more than polished images to the White House; he also brought new policy directions ... ." The "Reagan Revolution" had two simple points: America must be strong, and Americans must be free. Reagan believed that with Communist threats from Central America to Central Asia, the United States had no choice but to maintain a vigilant grip on the reins of Free World leadership. In addition, America’s economic strength must be unleashed by breaking the shackles of big government and heavy taxes that hindered growth and opportunity. Also according to his ideal, Reagan wanted to strengthen and restore America’s moral fiber by curbing government intrusion into the home, the church, and the school.
No more cardigans or capital gains taxes! We truly were free. We suppose that, to be "fair," we should also note that the next paragraph is a teensy bit less celebratory:
These simple yet ambitious goals of strength and freedom answered a need that many Americans keenly felt in the wake of humiliations abroad and hardships at home. That these goals were never quite achieved and that Reagan’s rhetoric often fell short of reality did not diminish the revolution of spirit that America experienced at the dawn of its third century.
Main thing, though, is that we felt great! Yr Doktor Zoom remembers an insanely surreal car-dealer ad that ran on Phoenix television stations during a holiday weekend in 1981, featuring a solemn voiceover intoning something or other about how America was back and strong again, never weak again, as a hand plunged a small American flag into the grass in front of a headstone, as if Veteran's Day under Reagan were a small reenactment of the taking of Iwo Jima.
The bestest thing that Reagan did, according to Land I Love, was that he returned America to "traditional values and common-sense government" and got our economy all fixed up good. We were especially charmed by this seriously weird description of Reagan's economic agenda:
Reagan stressed that: (1) budgets should be balanced, (2) the money supply should be stable -- many wanted it to be backed by gold -- and (3) trade and business should be free from government regulation. Critics labeled these concepts ”Reaganomics," not realizing that Reagan’s ideas were part of the traditional principles that had made America great.
We aren't quite sure how they came up with those three as the centerpiece of Reaganomics, which most sane people would equate with "supply-side" economics -- the idea that massive tax cuts would stimulate such frenzied economic expansion that the loss of revenue from those cuts would be more than made up for by the fabulous growth of the economy as a whole. And sure, Reagan was all about a return to the gold standard. You can put just about anything into a history book if you wish really hard. Land I Love tells us that Reagan got right to work cutting the deficit, which was very very bad, and apparently happened mostly under Jimmy Carter, for 12 years:
The chief cause of America’s economic problems was the government’s deficit spending. The federal government had a budget deficit because it had long spent more money than it received in taxes and borrowed to cover the difference. It borrowed this money from private citizens and foreigners who earned interest on these loans. During the Carter years, as the government continued to print more money to meet its obligations, inflation soared ... After having 12 yearly deficits in a row the United States had a huge national debt (the total amount owed from past deficits) of over a trillion dollars. President Reagan fought inflation and unemployment by reducing government spending and decreasing taxes, giving private individuals more money to invest in the economy He cut $35 billion out of the federal budget for 1981.
It's really an impressive bit of bullshit -- they never quite claim that Reagan did eliminate the deficit, but they sure do make it sound like he did, with that one budget cut. Land I Love also credits Reagan's 1981 tax-cutting with reducing unemployment from "11% to 5%" in 1982, without of course mentioning that he raised taxes again in 1982, or noting that the tax cuts plus military spending actually led to record deficits under Reagan -- yet oddly, those deficits didn't ruin the economy like they were supposed to.
U.S. History at least has the decency to explain what "supply-side" economics was, and notes that while Reagan cut taxes, the budget cuts that were supposedly going to end deficit spending never happened -- and of course, that was the fault of those wasteful liberals in Congress:
In 1981 Congress approved budget cuts of $35 billion, reducing funding for some highway programs as well as educational, welfare, and arts assistance. Critics who feared that the conservative Reagan would have a "take no prisoners" approach to the huge federal budget had little to fear, however. Fully 90¢ of every federal budget dollar went for programs that Congress considered untouchable, since cutting them would be politically damaging. It soon became clear that much of the budget was simply a collection of special interest entitlements. As a result there were no big budget bites, only some gnawing on the edges.
And then there's this supremely weird paragraph detailing how budget cuts hurt the most vulnerable, and then dismissing the effects of those cuts:
the budget cuts were neither without effect on the poor nor without drawbacks for the economy as a whole. Budget restraints, for example, forced cutbacks in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), stopping payment to those who had worked for only a four-month period. With over a quarter of all children in America living in single-parent homes, the effect was extensive. AFDC payments ended for four hundred thousand homes. Many welfare mothers, without jobs programs to bridge the gap from the welfare rolls to the work force, found it necessary -- lacking a ladder of opportunity -- to simply "stay in the safety net" and remain on welfare. The growing problems and inadequacies of the welfare system, however, often had more to do with the mounting social problems of drug addiction and illegitimacy than with the budget.
Those budget cuts sure caused some real problems, but they were nowhere near as bad as all the drugs and illegitimacy, which we won't actually provide you any details about, but those poors really needed to clean up their act. Trust us on that.
Similarly, U.S. History explains that defense spending increased every year under Reagan, but that's OK, because we really had become weak during the '70s, and so we needed every single weapons system that came along (including the ones that didn't work), because Communism had to be opposed. As a result, the national debt increased from just short of $1 trillion at the start of his presidency to $2.3 trillion by 1990. Yet somehow, the section on Reagonomics ends by praising Reagan for incredible prosperity during his presidency, cheerfully explaining that "per capita income during Reagan’s term grew by an unprecedented seventeen per cent," which sort of hides the small detail that most of that income growth came at the top end of the income scale.
But hey, we felt great about America, even though we'd rather have John Wayne.
Next Week: More Reagan, and a digression praising Strom Thurmond that doesn't include the word "segregation" anywhere.
*And maybe a bit of secret negotiation helped the timing, but that's an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that has no place in a history book.