This week, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, filling in for Rachel Maddow, discussed former President Ronald Reagan’s stunning 1991 announcement that he supported the "Brady Bill" mandating a seven-day waiting period to purchase a handgun.
Reagan, who happened to be a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association (which virulently opposed the "Brady Bill"), nevertheless regarded the legislation as a common-sense effort to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
Marking the passing of Reagan’s Press Secretary and the legislation’s namesake James Brady, Kornacki observed that Reagan’s support for the "Brady Bill" helped to ease the pathway towards its passage under President Bill Clinton in November 1993. However, after Congress passed a now-expired assault-weapons ban in August 1994, opponents of gun safety seized political power (beginning with the November 1994 midterm elections) and began to thwart any further efforts to decrease the carnage that turned children into corpses.
However, what Kornacki failed to mention was that the same Republican icon who boldly supported the "Brady Bill" also helped create, through one infamous act, the very circumstances that led to the demise of gun safety measures in the US — as well as health and climate safety in the world…
Twenty-seven years ago this month, the Reagan administration eliminated the Fairness Doctrine, thus allowing American commercial talk-radio stations licensed over our public airwaves, to become shamelessly slanted towards the radical right. Just under a year later, Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, originally based out of Sacramento, California, was syndicated nationally — a falsehood factory that distributed its defective products to millions of customers.
Limbaugh was widely credited with ginning up the faux-outrage towards President Clinton that brought about the GOP’s House and Senate victories in the 1994 midterms — victories that ultimately led to the blocking of further gun-safety reforms, as Kornacki noted. To this day, Limbaugh and his talk-radio imitators demonize any effort to keep Americans from dying prematurely from gun violence, and rhetorically assault politicians who advocate tough gun-safety measures.
Yes, Reagan backed the "Brady Bill" in 1991. Yet the very next year, he actually wrote to Limbaugh and proclaimed him "the number-one voice of conservatism in our country." Evidently, Reagan cared more about the man whose contemptuous career he created than he did about the man who literally took a bullet for him.
Reagan’s establishment of the foundation upon which nationally syndicated wingnut radio was built also hurt the efforts of another member of his old team — his Secretary of State, George Shultz.
Shultz is one of the dwindling numbers of prominent Republicans willing to openly state that human-caused climate change is real, and willing to support a policy solution to this problem (a revenue-neutral carbon tax). Of course, the problem is that for a Republican in Congress to openly support such a reasonable policy, he or she must run through a gauntlet of hate and lies created by Limbaugh and his syndicated right-wing radio colleagues, all of whom have attacked climate change as a "hoax" (largely because of the support these hosts receive from organizations funded by the fossil-fuel lobby).
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On June 5, 2014, Nancy Reagan visited her late husband’s gravesite in Simi Valley, California. Her grief was quite difficult to watch. It was clear that she misses Ronald Reagan intensely, and may never get over the fact that he is gone.
The former First Lady came out as an advocate of embryonic stem-call research in the 2000s, apparently believing that such research could one day cure Alzheimer’s disease, the malady that made her a widow. Of course, the right-wing radio radicals her husband empowered loathe the idea of embryonic stem-cell research; remember when Limbaugh viciously attacked Michael J. Fox in 2006 over the latter’s support for such research?
Let’s say Reagan hadn’t died ten years ago, and hadn’t fully succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine, for a moment, that he had enough presence of mind in his later years to realize the hell he unleashed upon our country, and upon our planet, by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine and empowering demagogues such as Limbaugh to lead the evil effort to block needed action on gun safety, medical research and carbon pollution. Would he have turned to Nancy and admitted he was wrong? Would he have called Brady and Shultz, and told them he was sorry?
As my friend Betsy Rosenberg wrote in 2012:
Ironic, isn’t it, that in his famous 1964 speech endorsing Barry Goldwater, he declared:
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.
Think about his actions as president, and try not to choke on your anger.
Thirty years ago, Reagan’s re-election campaign proclaimed that it was "Morning in America." Thanks to his decision to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine, he created the circumstances that ultimately prevented untold numbers in this country and around the world from seeing another morning. Thanks to that decision, we’re having a rendezvous with a destructive destiny.
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D.R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and a former contributor to the conservative website Human Events Online. He has also written for the Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, ClimateCrocks.com, FrumForum.com, the Ripon Forum, Truth-Out.org, TheNextRight.com, and BookerRising.com. In addition, he hosted a Blog Talk Radio program, The Notes, from August 2009 to June, 2010. You can follow him on Twitter here: @DRTucker.