The Reagan LegacyOver the next few days and weeks, there will be thousands of appreciations of Ronald Reagan's legacy published in newspapers and magazines, or aired on broadcast and cable television. These will focus on largely familiar territory – his reputation as “The Great Communicator”, or his ability to persuade the 1984 electorate that it was somehow “morning in America”, or his role in the defeat of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. Let me add my voice to this chorus of commentators, and ask you to consider several less familiar aspects of his legacy.
I did not vote for Ronald Reagan. I did not share the ideological view of his Administration, or agree with the thrust of many of his policies. Consequently, I was as shocked as anyone to hear that Nancy Reagan had been using another astrologer – Joan Quigley – during the years of her husband's Presidency.
The evidence put forward in books by former Reagan aides Donald Regan and Michael Deaver, as well as the First Lady and Quigley, indicates that Nancy's astrologer was heavily involved in the creation of President Reagan's schedule. The facts seem to indicate that the President himself had no problem with this state of affairs – which would imply tacit approval. Hence, it is fair to say that, as far as we know, Ronald Reagan was the only “astrology-friendly” President in recent history. Quigley additionally claims that her input was also instrumental in forging Reagan's so-called “Teflon” – that is, his unique ability to deflect criticism, and retain the affection of the public. Speaking as a professional astrologer, I find this assertion vaguely plausible – but I believe that in this area she more likely overstates her impact. In my experience, skillful exploitation of astrological timing is not enough to transform a sow's ear into a silk purse. Astrology isn't magic that can be conjured by a skillful wizard, and used to shield a client from the inevitable impact of their actions. In the end, the intellectual, emotional and spiritual value of the ideas impelling an individual must also be factored in, as well as an evaluation of the relevancy of those ideas with regard to the cosmic weather of the times. In retrospect, what is absolutely clear in my mind is that the ideals impelling Ronald Reagan were both infectious, and simply far superior to the soul-denying, totalitarian ideology impelling the Soviet Union. If the situation was reversed, I doubt that astrology would have had any meaningful impact on the outcome at all. It certainly appears that Reagan was capable of growing as a leader, and changing direction when the moment dictated it – as he did when he eventually embraced the idea of arms control, and found a friend in the leader of the Soviet Union. Now, if Quigley had any meaningful role in encouraging this kind of flexibility on Reagan's part, then her impact on the Nation must be judged as extraordinary.
There is another aspect of Reagan's legacy that is worth examination. Reagan was the first neo-conservative President. His approach to the nation's foreign, domestic and economic policy during his first term is often thought of as being instrumental in not only America's triumph over the Soviet Union, but in the creation of an economic and political revolution. But was this revolution more than smoke and mirrors, and is it likely to last? Many of these same ideas, like supply-side economics and a brash, martial approach to American foreign policy, have become a staple of the current Bush Administration.
In my Human Potential Left essay of May 23, 2003, “It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn” (www.hpleft.com/050503.html), I wrote:
“Saturn is a planet that astrologers associate with the need to accommodate the demands of physical reality, and with testing the theoretical and material foundations of all human activity. Beginning in the fall of 2003, and throughout 2004, transiting Saturn will be conjunct the natal Suns of both President Bush and the United States of America. This passage of Saturn over the natal Sun of a person, corporation or nation, typically brings a period of intense struggle, resulting in either a hard earned victory, and the assumption of even greater responsibilities – or in failure, and a need to take stock of errors and change direction. This period can also mark a time of tremendous physical stress and psychological fatigue, even physical breakdown. The Sun in the chart of a country inevitably describes its President, King or Prime Minister.”
Seen from the astrological perspective, it's fascinating to note that Ronald Reagan dies with transiting Saturn within three days of forming its final conjunction with the United States' natal Sun. Now, I would never claim that I had foreseen this particular development. In truth, I hadn't even considered it. But we have just witnessed the final physical breakdown of an American President – and clearly the most important American President to hold office in the twenty-nine years since transiting Saturn's last conjunction with the United States' natal Sun. While this physical manifestation is particularly interesting to students of astrology, let me suggest that there may be a more important insight emerging with regard to the ultimate verdict of this Saturn transit on the enduring value of Reagan's approach. In a very real sense, the brash, go it alone, damn world opinion approach to foreign policy that especially characterized Reagan's first term as President, is also dying today amid the ashes of Iraq. The cheap euphoria that accompanied Reagan's victory in Grenada is now juxtaposed against the growing uneasiness that increasing numbers of Americans feel about the impact of Bush's invasion/occupation. It may be morning again in America, but this sunrise was accompanied by a nasty hangover.
The Reagan Administration's dramatic increase in military spending is typically credited as driving the Soviet Union to financial ruin, and eventually dissolution. Yet, many moderate and liberal, but equally freedom-loving Americans would argue that the economic foundation of the Communist superpower were ultimately unsustainable – and was as likely to collapse under its own weight given the drain of the Soviets' Afghan misadventure, and a more measured NATO approach to collective security. In our post-9/11 era, we also wonder just how many weapons produced in response to Reagan's arms buildup have either fallen, or may one day fall, into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
With regard to supply-side economics, I note that it was ultimately the courageous policies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton that eventually led to a balanced budget, and the sense of sustainable optimism that both business owners and Wall Street immediately appreciated when evaluating the nation's fundamental economic health in the 1990s. Yet, when the current Bush Administration loudly trumpets its recent job creation numbers, the larger question as to whether the accompanying tax revenues generated will pay for the cuts in rates is rarely asked – except, ironically, by a former member of the Reagan Administration's Council of Economic Advisors, current New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman. It is almost as if, in our wish that our national existence be cut from the cloth of Reagan's infectious fairy-tale optimism, we collectively conspire to avoid posing uncomfortable questions that might spoil the fantasy.
If Reagan was the first Presidential champion of neo-conservative ideology, then George W. Bush must be considered his true successor – minus the astrologer, of course, and instead wed to a deeply subjective and idiosyncratic brand of Christianity. Hence, it strikes me that the ultimate test of the ideological premises behind the larger Reagan revolution is now underway, via the current Bush Administration. The ties between these two men do not begin and end with staff members and policies. Like Reagan, George W. Bush is a quintessentially American creation. Both men aspired/aspire to do good in the world. Both fashioned their Presidencies around a defense of freedom and embrace of optimism – which, all things being equal, is a noble foundation. But the larger question that posterity must answer is whether either man had the breath of understanding, and intellectual and spiritual curiosity, necessary to appreciate, and discriminate between, the various permutations of light and shadow present in the manifest world. For Ronald Reagan, perhaps assisted in his quest by the illuminating lens provided by Joan Quigley, and surveying the field of battle against a backdrop dominated by the overwhelmingly dark shadow cast by the Soviet Union, my answer is yes – at least for his time, which is probably all that we can reasonably ask of any man or woman. For George W. Bush, who today faces an enemy without borders, and at a moment in a cycle of national leadership and direction where both good intentions and superior understanding and perception are necessary, I strongly suspect that history's answer will be no.
Matthew Carnicelli © 2004. All rights reserved.
Originally published June 6, 2004; revised June 7, 2004.
For more on Saturn's conjunction of the United States Sun see:
Documenting the Impact of Cosmic Gravity, Part II
Getting to Know You
Documenting the Impact of Cosmic Gravity, Part I
Laying Naked Neo-Conservative Incompetence
Why John Kerry Matters
The Turning Point
Saturn and the Rush to War
Rumsfeld Awakens from the Dream
A Viewer's Guide to a Gathering Storm
It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn