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SOCIAL SCIENTISTS await the opening of Presidential libraries with excitement, because each one--even Gerald Ford's--organizes and unveils important documents and mementos previously kept from view. But the hype surrounding the Ronald Wilson Reagan's collection promises to be unprecedented. For although such museums typically include a President's private memoranda, it's hard to believe Reagan owns enough such documents to back the many assertions he has made with seeming disregard for fact.
Though the actual groundbreaking is years away, preparation has already started. The guidebook for this magical museum was published late last year. Ronald Reagan's Reign of Error, by Mark Green (a former Nader Raider) and Gail MacColl (a veteran preppie parodist who worked on The Preppie Handbook and an L.L. Bean catalogue spoof), diligently tallies the seemingly endless stream of Reagan's assertions that only the "Great Communicator" himself has been able to substantiate.
The book suggests ample funding sources for the Presidential library. The deepest well of money could be the tremendous increases in government spending and taxes over the past two decades identified first, and solely, by Reagan. He said early in his Presidency that "in the last 10 years, federal spending has increased more than 300 percent," and that "the percentage of your earnings the federal government took in taxes in 1960 has almost doubled." But official government records show only a 200 percent spending increase (46.5 percent when adjusted for inflation) and a rise in the tax rate from 10 percent to only 12.5 percent for the periods in question. In locating these missing revenues. Reagan should have more than enough for the building and all its trappings.
Since his early days on the mashed potatoes circuit, the amiable conservative has made big government the biggest but of his jokes. So it is likely that the biggest, and most popular of the displays will be on regulation. One whole wing will have to be devoted to the 19,000 businesses which, in 1962. Reagan said had been nationalized by the federal government (No one has ever catalogued more than a few hundred). Another very large room will reveal 15,000 General Motors employees, whom G.M. 'itself never knew existed, slaving away on federal paperwork.' Posted across one wall will be the complete set of 44 OSHA regulations for climbing a ladder which Reagan alluded to in a 1978 speech. Up until now, the agency has only published and enforced two.
One area that has been buried under a slag heap of red tape has been the environment. As part of his attempt to cut through this morass. President Reagan has made available substantial portions of previously preserved lands for development. To answer critics who complained of dwindling resources. Reagan said last March that "there is today in the United States as much forest as there was when Washington was at Valley Forge." Though the U.S. Forest Service places the figure at about 30 percent, the back yard of the Reagan memorial will have the 500 million acres of trees previously thought cut down (Visitors, however, will be forced to don gas masks before entering because, as the Republican nominee said before the 1980 election, "approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation.").
FOREIGN AFFAIRS is another area where the Californian has made a sharp break from the past, both in policy and in conventional wisdom. In this portion of the museum, scholars will for the first time get a glimpse at valuable documentation showing that the United States actually owned the Panama Canal (contrary to the 1903 treaty) and that North and South Vietnam had been two separate countries for centuries (despite volumes of history books and years when both were ruled by the same government, excepting periods of Chinese and French colonization). Bolstering the United States strategic forces is one of the major accomplishments of the Reagan Administration, and while the President has broken a lot of new ground in this field, the item likely to get the most attention will be the display case showing the submarine-launched missile that is recallable--a device the Pentagon is not yet aware of.
Yet there is a limit to the size of the memorial, so tourists will not get a chance to see everything from Ronald Reagan's career. Missing will be the interviews and speeches he gave throughout the '60s and '70s suggesting that Social Security no longer be compulsory (In 1966, he said, "Social Security ought to be voluntary." In 1980, he said, "I never suggested that Social Security should be voluntary"). Gone will be the suggestions that the United States re-establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan ("I misstated"), his endorsement of a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, and the campaign promise of a balanced budget ("In the first place, I said that [a balanced budget] was our goal, not a promise."). And in the wake of the current furor over the President's special hunger commission and the presence of a widespread problem, it is unlikely that the archives will put out on display the text of a 1964 TV speech in which the retired actor said "We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet."
IF REAGAN loses his reelection bid, it should in part be because millions of Americans, regardless of ideology or party, are embarrassed that their leader is so consistently stupid, misinformed, or dishonest. The library will be built in 1985, and in front will be a statue of Abraham Lincoln engraved with the first Republican President's pertinent insight: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." If, as most pundits predict, Reagan does win four more years, the memorial will not be erected until 1989. And next to that bust of the Great Emancipator will be a marble likeness of the Great Communicator with his famous refutation below: "There you go again."
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