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Wednesday, June 09, 2004
A number of people are saying, in their Reagan tributes, that he was a great believer in human freedom. Neoconservatives, who support agressive advocacy of human rights in foreign policy, characterize him as a demigod.

I don't think they are remembering the same Reagan that I remember. Reagan opposed the side of freedom in Angola, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Haiti, and especially South Africa, where his administration considered Nelson Mandela, who turned out to be one of the genuine human rights heroes of the 20th Century, a giant on the level of Ghandhi and King, as nothing more than a dangerous communist sympathizer. Indeed, Reagan's subordinates used to bash Reagan's predecessor, Jimmy Carter, for a touchy-feely human rights-based foreign policy. Reagan's official policy wasn't support for human rights, but anticommunism combined with realpolitik.

Reagan didn't advocate freedom in domestic affairs either. His Attorney General, Ed Meese, tried to ban porn at a time when the VCR was liberating many American adults to finally explore their sexual fantasies. Meese also took the position that the familiar Miranda warnings that criminal suspects have received since the 1960's only protect guilty people. And Reagan supported the notorious Bob Jones University all the way to the Supreme Court in its attempt to retain its tax exemption while depriving its students of the freedom to date someone of their choice who happens to be of a different race.

Of course, lots of lies are always told about Presidents soon after their death. Nixon got the same treatment in 1994. We don't like to speak ill of the dead. But Reagan was no human rights crusader, and should not be seen as one.

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