Former first lady Nancy Reagan died Sunday at the age of 94. She served as first lady from 1981 to 1989 and was known for her campaign to fight drug and alcohol abuse among youth. The refrain “Just Say No” became synonymous with those efforts and a pop culture watchword. The first lady appeared repeatedly on TV and enlisted more established groups to advance the anti-drug message. “Just Say No” clubs were started nationwide in schools and elsewhere.
I wish I could say some nice things about her having died, but I simply have run out of sympathy for oligarchs and people whose actions in their lifetime have resulted in a lot of harm, but which society somehow seems to conveniently forget the moment they die because they were in positions of power or, in her case, lovely ladies with a great sense of style and a loving husband.
The truth is that Nancy Reagan was just part of the disease that has been eating away at our democracy and integrity as a nation.
The “Just say No” slogan was so out of touch with the realities of not only substance abuse but the human condition in general that it is right up there with “Let them eat cake“.
That slogan was part of a failed and bankrupting war on drugs for which people are still paying today in ways we can’t imagine, such as Alice Marie Johnson who has been spending the last 19 years in prison as one of thousands of first time, non-violent offenders who were given mandatory lengthy prison terms thanks to the war on drugs policies enacted by Ronald Reagan and lobbied for by Nancy. Johnson was sentenced to life in prison as a result, even though she has never even sold drugs.
Where is the sympathy for Alice Marie Johnson and the countless victims of the anti drug propaganda perpetrated and codified into law by the Reagans? Does anyone mourn a woman who has been sent to jail for life for alleged drug abuse and distribution?
For the record, the war on drugs is the main reason the US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, with people of color being affected the most. Not to mention the fact that it hasn’t worked, and has done more harm than good. Nancy’s approach failed to see drug abuse as a health problem that needs to be handled and treated as such, and instead was dumbed down to a simplified slogan followed by imprisonment.
Reagan was also essentially an oligarch who threw lavish parties and soirees at the White House with celebrity guests, living the good life. She was mockingly dubbed “Queen Nancy” for what many viewed as excessive spending during the 1981-82 recession, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. She directed major repairs and redecoration in the White House, which hadn’t been done since renovations in the 1960s, and purchased new china. Her elegantly expensive wardrobe, often allegedly donated by the designers, sparked criticism as well.
She also spent a lifetime lobbying against abortion and a woman’s right to chose. The only reason she later was for stem cell research is because her husband had fallen sick to Alzheimer’s. Up until then, she did all she could to make sure that women who need abortion, don’t get it.
Reagan also caught flak for being overly involved in her husband’s administration, particularly in the hiring and firing of top advisers. A number of memoirs from those who worked for the Reagans said that Nancy Reagan pushed out those she perceived as detrimental to her husband.
One White House chief of staff, Donald Regan, said in his 1988 book that he was fired after disagreeing with her over what the president should do during the Iran-Contra scandal. “She becomes very vindictive if she thinks somebody is going to harm the reputation of her husband or herself, or won’t give in to her,” he said at the time, according to People magazine.
Nancy Reagan had also begun consulting an astrologer (!!) to deal with her own fears over her husband’s safety after the March 1981 assassination attempt. Shot in the chest, the president underwent emergency surgery to save his life. Regan wrote that in later years, the first lady required major decisions regarding the president’s schedule to be run past the San Francisco fortune teller.
So here we have a woman who was entertaining famous guests and throwing lavish parties while her husband took food out of peoples’ mouths by employing pejorative catchphrases such as “Welfare Queens” in an anti-welfare, anti-labor and anti-social safety net crusade. He spent the majority of his time in office busting unions such as firing 11,000 FAA employees (a move from which the FAA still has not fully recovered, not to mention the lives of those 11,000 people who were adversely impacted by his crusade against labor) and privatized everything. In a way, his policies and actions have helped pave the way for the fascist Republican party that has emerged as the result of his union and middle class busting policies, greed and avarice.
At the end of the day, when all the sweet talks of admiration about her elegance and grace and great marriage to Ronnie have settled, she was just another vulture on an ivory tower, sucking dry the average person and engaging in her own personal idea of social darwinism. Much like Scalia, she, too, can go to hell for all I care.