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The Antelope

The Antelope

Obsession with past yields poor policy

Elliot Gonnella
By Elliot Gonnella
Antelope Staff

Hero worship is a term you may have heard and it boils down to idolizing someone (usually six feet under) to the point that it becomes an unhealthy obsession. I am not criticizing the admiration of an individual or their work. I really enjoy Bob Ross and, thanks to him, have been trying my hand at painting (with limited success). If the opportunity arose in which I could buy one of his original paintings without breaking the bank, I would do so in a heartbeat.
I am instead referring to the range of the absurd, such as paying money for a used facial tissue into which your idol blew their nose or having a cardboard cutout you salute every day. This can be seen in many aspects of our culture, with varying degrees of awkwardness, from general discomfort to skin-crawling levels of disturbing.

For an easy comparison, I’ll use music as a punching bag. In the music industry, especially with the current generation who look back 20 or 50 years and moan about how much ‘better’ music was in those days. We all know one of these people and they’re easy to spot, as they wear Nirvana shirts and moan that “I was born in the wrong generation because music is garbage these days.” This idea of a golden age of music is absurd; no matter what decade or century you’re from, there has always been bad music.

Personally, I cannot understand a single word Kurt Cobain ‘sang’ in any of his songs and think classical composers like Bach and Beethoven were complete and total sellouts. The Nickelback of their age, if you would.
Golden ages look that way because they are powered by nostalgia, which is often used by those who were at their peak in that time. Sometimes that term is used in an ironic sense, much like the 1870’s Gilded Age in the US. It is true that there were powerful individuals in that time, but there have been similar individuals through history, and none of them were stainless saints.

Transitioning into politics, this hero worship is dangerous, as it is mind-numbing. One I often like to point out as misguided reverence goes to the only president mentioned just as many times as Jesus/God in a conservative speech: Ronald Reagan. Talk to any hardcore right-winger, even if they weren’t alive during his presidency, and you will hear nothing but praise. He singlehandedly pulled the nation out of recession, promoted Christian values and ended Communism!

While he did stop a recession, the impact was short term. His supply-side economics was dramatically flawed, adding massive amounts of debt and creating the false perception that tax cuts solve everything. No, they do not. Tax cuts on individuals do not encourage them to work more but create more supply without raising the level of demand. Increasing spending on research and development and producing a better-educated work force to work more effectively would have been far more superior steps.

As far as Christian values, it was used more as a whistle than an actual lifestyle. Though he did write checks to individuals who were in need, Reagan cut welfare for millions while doing so. Looking at his presidency as a whole, he used Christianity as a calling card rather than something on which to base policy.

While it is true that the weapons build-up did advance the collapse of the U.S.S.R. (along with maybe breaking an agreement or three), it wasn’t as much of a death blow as some may think. The U.S.S.R. was already buckling under debts, revolution in the satellite states and a general lack of political muscle.  The best example I heard is that the U.S.S.R. was already choking while the U.S. watched. About two minutes later, the U.S. came along and slammed their foot on the U.S.S.R.’s throat. Reagan’s spending increases just sped up the collapse by a year or two.

Add in some other business like Iran-Contra, his wife’s obsession with astrology and the impact it had on policy and you can’t understand why so many conservatives idolize this actor-turned-politician as infallible and unshakable. The final nail in the coffin is that, had the 1980s occurred in today’s political climate, he wouldn’t even win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thirty-seven years have passed since Reagan first became president and in that time, the world has changed. We are living in a different era and sound bites that used to get voters to the polls have become actual dogma.  Even with the myth that Reagan was a firm Republican, today many in Congress or the White House would consider him a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He was a hardliner for his time, but in the current environment, with his flexibility on the Department of Education, gun rights and other more-liberal policies, he would find few supporters.  

Despite all of that, I will not label Reagan as the worst president. He paved the way for no-fault divorces, raised taxes once seeing the error of his policies, promoted clean air policies, formally apologized for Japanese Internment Camps and made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday. He is not either a flawless individual or greed reincarnated as human, but rather a human being trying to do one of the most difficult jobs on earth. Policies and party beliefs were as much a part of him as any other president, but his raw charisma and acting abilities makes him a very memorable president.

Golden ages and great people are decided in the eye of the beholder, and there is nothing wrong with seeing admirable qualities in certain people or a specific era. Just make sure that you acknowledge the good with the bad. No period of time is flawless, just as no human is perfect.

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