“Whoever controls the present controls the past …

… and whoever controls the past controls the future.” The wingnuts continue to wage war on FDR’s memory, and liberals continue to give Ronald Reagan a pass on, e.g., crack and AIDS, both of which happened on his watch while he sat on his hands.

… and whoever controls the past controls the future.”*

Wingnuttia has taken this slogan of Ingsoc to heart; witness the decades-long campaign of vilification against JFK and the current attempt to rewrite the history of the Great Depression with FDR as the villain.

Our side has been more neglectful. It’s not that I’d want to imitate Wingnut dishonesty, but it burns me up to hear otherwise-sensible people talk as if the Reagan Administration was anything but a national disaster.

For example, Nancy Reagan gets credit for inventing the idiot slogan “Just Say No,” which admirably sums up right-wing obscurantism but had no demonstrable effect on the drug problem except to convince worried middle-class parents that the government was On Their Side. It’s never mentioned that back in 1981 crack was unheard of and the AIDS problem was still small enough so that vigorous prevention policies could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths. But Reagan didn’t want to dirty his mind with thoughts of gay sex and needle-sharing, so the problem was ignored until it was completely out of control. (Everett Koop tried and failed to change the situation.) Meanwhile, on the cocaine front, Rudy Giuliani and the Vice President’s South Florida Task Force applied the one technology – interdiction – certain to fail, and indeed the price of cocaine collapsed to the point where crack became economically feasible.

On the AIDS front, Reagan and his cronies don’t get all the blame: the gay leadership was also notably anti-prevention (see And the Band Played On). And it’s not clear what the right policy was on cocaine, though the growth of the retail crack markets clearly deserved more enforcement attention than it got. Still, crack and AIDS were the two great social disasters of the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, and they both happened on Ronald Reagan’s watch.

Can’t we at least go back to saying “National Airport”?

* Update A reader corrects my memory. The actual Party slogan is:

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com