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National NOW Times >> Fall 2004 >> Article

Golden Glow of Reagan Legacy Lacks Luster for Feminists

Ronald W. Reagan's presidency ended 15 years ago. Media coverage this summer bathed his death and burial in a golden glow of good memories. Even from the grave, the former actor weaved his magic, making it seem that only sullen, pessimistic misanthropists failed to enjoy the glorious years of his presidential reign.

For the record, it behooves feminists to remember that his presidency began the long descent into reactionary politics, which culminated in the presidency of George W. Bush. For women, minorities and the poor, the Reagan years were the bad old days.

A few reminders:

It was Reagan who proposed and promoted (among many other anti-abortion measures) the Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would have overturned Roe v. Wade and banned many forms of contraception. Reagan repeatedly compared abortion to murder, infanticide, slavery and the Holocaust.

Reagan made the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation the unofficial think-tank of his administration and George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty" its economic handbook. Gilder's economic theory, elaborated further in "Sexual Suicide," depended on the notion that women should leave the workplace to make room for more men and concentrate on raising the next generation of workers.

Reagan turned back the clock on judicial appointments for women after substantial progress made by President Jimmy Carter, who increased the numbers of women judges. He also presided over the nomination and confirmation of core members of the current right-wing Supreme Court. And he attempted to place Judge Robert Bork, a committed anti-abortion and anti-affirmative-action activist, on the Court—an attempt defeated only by a fierce campaign from NOW and other civil rights and women's groups.

In the midst of rising unemployment and poverty, which disparately harmed women and children, Reagan constantly evoked racial and elitist and gender stereotypes in his speeches by calling on his imaginary portrait of the black "welfare queen" who drives a Cadillac to pick up her food stamps that she uses to buy steak.

As if all of this does not suffice, the Reagan administration promoted the notion that affirmative action discriminates against white men. He tried to end Title IX (equal education opportunity for women and girls) and effectively ended the Women's Educational Equity Program. He also packed the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights with appointees who rejected the concept of pay equity, calling it "looney tunes" and "profoundly and irretrievably flawed."

Do these actions sound familiar? The current president and Reagan share more than the same middle initial. Old Reagan warriors surround George W. Bush, as he works to complete an agenda set many years ago by a man no feminist should forget—Ronald W. Reagan.

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