Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reagan vs. the Progressives

By Paul Kengor on The American Spectator:

America this week marks the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth. Born February 6, 1911, Reagan lived a remarkable life, with a presidency of utmost consequence, winning, among other things, 44 states in 1980 and 49 in 1984, plus a Cold War against a truly Evil Empire. Oh, yes, he also won a long battle -- less recognized -- against progressives. It was a crucial battle -- even less understood -- that began for Reagan, with fascinating twists, back in Hollywood. The Reagan centennial is a golden opportunity to consider what happened there and to draw lessons for what America faces with progressives today.

In the 1980s, the progressives Reagan faced called themselves "liberals." In the 1940s, when Reagan first encountered them, as a liberal himself, they weren't shy about calling themselves progressives. More telling, Reagan was shocked to find that many of those spearheading "progressive" groups and causes weren't really progressives but were communists exploiting progressives, their labels, and their organizations. Understanding this is no mere historical curiosity; no, for Reagan, it was a life-changing wake-up call, initiating a personal-political transformation that, ultimately, and dramatically, led to the presidency and victory in the Cold War. That path included Reagan handing the progressives their biggest setback since the founding of their movement -- a setback they're striving to "change" and "reform" right now.

Before considering Reagan's conversion, it's key to understand what was happening with Hollywood's progressives in this period. Many "progressives," especially following the surge by Communist Party USA (CPUSA) during the Great Depression, were actually closet communists lifting the progressive label to dupe progressives. This was done quite cynically and successfully, whether ordered and orchestrated from CPUSA headquarters in New York, from CPUSA's branch office in Los Angeles, or from Comintern headquarters in Moscow. It's fascinating, and would be hilarious if not so sad, that the Soviets even referred to Joe Stalin as a progressive. The Soviet Ministry of Education framed Stalin as "the great leader of the Soviet people and of all progressive mankind."

Similarly, in Washington, some self-proclaimed "progressives" serving President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were actually communists penetrating and influencing the administration: Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White, Harold Glasser, Alger Hiss. Even FDR's most trusted adviser, Harry Hopkins, may have been a closet communist masquerading as a progressive. That's the conclusion of some experts who have dissected the Venona transcripts.

The communist pilfering of the "progressive" label was evident in a major Congressional report in December 1961, the most in-depth investigation of communist front groups ever done. Titled, "Guide to Subversive Organizations and Publications," the investigation went back to the early 20th century. Probably the most popular title listing in the 994-page cumulative index is the word "progressive."

That brings me to Hollywood, where the exploitation of the progressive label was especially rich, and where communists truly desired to hijack the motion-picture industry. Progressives would be central to that plan.

Consider the group, Progressive Citizens of America (PCA), which was thoroughly penetrated. One liberal actor exploited was the great Gene Kelly, a pleasant, patriotic American. Kelly was enlisted as a progressive prop to stand in front of a giant American flag and lead the Pledge of Allegiance. He rallied the progressives in reverential renditions of "America." In one sorry display, the all-American boy was cast to provide the introduction at PCA's initial meeting in Los Angeles on February 11, 1947. The evening's theme was established before Kelly spoke, as a large screen flashed photographs of bombed Hiroshima, with rolling footage of the dead and maimed. That evening, PCA board members would be elected. On the ballot were secret hard-line Hollywood communists like John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, as well as non-communist liberals like Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Lena Horne, and Melvyn Douglas.

Take another sorry case, where Katharine Hepburn was the opening speaker at a May 19, 1947 Progressive Party Rally at Hollywood Legion Stadium. Draped in a long, flame-red dress, the liberal New Englander read a speech scripted by Trumbo -- and so admired by People's Daily World that it reprinted the entire text.

This manipulation was old hat for the comrades, who found no shortage of progressives to do the bidding of Stalin.

Alas, into this waded an actor named Ronald Reagan, mid-30s, politically passionate. As a committed FDR liberal, Reagan was susceptible to the conniving of communists. He was targeted immediately after World War II, a quick victim of several front-groups. He was very "naïve," Reagan admitted later, "blindly and busily" joining "every organization I could find that would guarantee to save the world." He was "an active" but unwitting participant "in what now and then turned out to be communist causes." The deceived Reagan assumed these folks were "liberals, and being liberals ourselves, [we] bedded down with them."

Most redeeming about Ronald Reagan is that when he learned, he really learned. By October 1947, he was testifying before Congress on communist infiltration. Later still, he would explain: "The communist plan for Hollywood was remarkably simple. It was merely to take over the motion picture business … [as] a grand world-wide propaganda base." Before TV and mass production of foreign films, said Reagan, American movies dominated 95% of the world's screens, with an audience of "500,000,000 souls" around the globe. "Takeover of this enormous plant and its gradual transformation into a communist gristmill was a grandiose idea. It would have been a magnificent coup for our enemies."

In Reagan's view, those were the stakes, prodded by a "master scheme" to "line up big-name dupes to collect money and create prestige." Progressives were central to the plan. Even at the height of party membership, CPUSA never had more than about 100,000 members; it couldn't advance without progressives.

Americans needed to wake up, as had Reagan.

Of course, the rest is history. Reagan began a historic march to the presidency that, by the 1980s, threatened to squash the progressive long march that preceded him. He had splendid success, but one thing about progressives -- which Reagan understood -- is their patient ability to work slowly, incrementally, with victories not necessarily at the ballot box but in other influential facets of American life, like education. They waited and waited, until, in November 2008, enough oblivious Americans, especially moderates and independents, were duped like Reagan once had been -- and voted into office a progressive-in-chief campaigning under the banner of "change." Some things never change.

We must learn what Ronald Reagan learned: The progressive left isn't going away, ever-awaiting the next step in the evolutionary chain. It's an ebb and flow, but always creeping toward centralization; or, what Reagan called "creeping socialism." We must awaken, providing progressives with more setbacks. Most of all, we must not to be fooled, misled, duped, certainly not more than once. Ronald Reagan's life, and path, is a history and life lesson for all of us.

Reagan at 100 -- Super Bowl XLV Tribute Commercial

Watch President Reagan's Centennial Celebration Events Live!

Both tonight at tomorrow, there are a number of events surrounding President Reagan's 100th birthday that can be watched online.

Saturday, February 5, 2011 -- 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
The Reagan Foundation will stream live A Concert for America -- A Tribute to Ronald Reagan.  The concert is comprised of live music and in-person and video tributes from world leaders and prominent individuals whose lives were impacted by the legacy of President Reagan.  The evening's lineup includes The Beach Boys, Lonestar, Lee Greenwood, Fred Thompson, Jerry West, and video tributes from George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Sunday, February 6, 2011 -- 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
The Reagan Foundation will stream live President Reagan's official birthday celebration.  The program includes a 21-gun salute, a F-18 flyover, keynote remarks by Secretary James Baker and the official laying of the presidential wreath on President Reagan's memorial site.

Click here to watch these events....

Feulner on Reagan at 100

It's been more than six years since our nation bid farewell to Ronald Reagan, born 100 years ago this month. Yet it seems at times as though he never left.

Consider how Reagan's name surfaced repeatedly after the most recent State of the Union address as pundits - both liberal and conservative - weighed the speech's effectiveness. His Photoshopped image is on the cover of Time, his arm draped around President Obama.

"If Obama has bounced back from the drubbing his party took at the polls last November," Richard Norton Smith writes in the magazine, "it is in no small measure because he has been acting positively Reaganesque as of late."

Acting, perhaps, but not governing. It's worth reminding ourselves as we mark the centennial of Reagan's birth what he accomplished - and how.

It's important to do this in part because much of what passes for praise of Reagan is veiled criticism. Reagan is hailed, for example, as a great communicator. And with good reason: Few politicians could match his rhetorical skill and his ability to articulate great themes that resonated with the American people.

But that's where many on the left stop. What they really seek to emulate is not his policies or his agenda. They hope that if they study his methods, a little of his "magic" will rub off on the liberal policies that have proved such a hard sell over the past two years. Dress the liberal agenda in Reaganesque terms, and the electorate is yours, right?

What condescending nonsense. It wasn't just Reagan's ability to communicate that endeared him to millions of Americans. It was the fact that he was articulating their most deeply cherished beliefs. It went well beyond the optimistic outlook - which, although welcome, is something any president can attempt. It was because he spoke in direct terms that avoided the usual buzzword approach we get from Washington.

He used that approach to say what many Americans thought: Taxes are too high - let's cut them. Inflation is too high - let's tame it. The Cold War can be won, not managed, and the world made safer for everybody - let's do it.

The fable of the left (the hard left, anyway - many others are coming around) is that this was all smoke and mirrors. But the facts tell a different story. Starting from the "stagflation" mess his predecessor handed him, Reagan created a genuine economic miracle. After a three-stage tax cut and a reduction in government growth, our economy began to expand - by 31 percent from 1983 to 1989 in real terms. Americans of every class - rich, middle-class and poor - saw their wealth increase.

It was our nation's longest peacetime expansion in a long and prosperous history. By decade's end, we had added the economic equivalent of a new Germany to our gross national product. Inflation was cut by two-thirds, interest rates by half. Unemployment dropped to the lowest level in 15 years.

Even before the end of his first term, the signs of distinct progress were unmistakable. Small wonder that Reagan's famous "Morning in America" campaign resonated with so many voters, leading to a landslide re-election in 1984. Starting from the "stagflation" mess his predecessor handed him, Reagan created a genuine economic miracle.

People loved him for it. That's why so many politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, seek to portray themselves as latter-day Reagans. To decide whether they deserve this mantle, however, consider this quote from his farewell address:

" 'We the people' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. 'We the people' are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast."

Only a politician who agrees with this - and governs accordingly - can be considered Reagan's true heir.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation ( is an independent site and is not affiliated with any official web sites, associations, or organizations associated with President Reagan. Any views expressed or content included on this site do not necessarily reflect the views, positions, or opinions of any of the organizations or individuals named, linked, or advertised.

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