The Reagan Years!

The Man

Do memories of the glorious nineteen eightie$ fill you with a warm glow of nostalgia?  How about with a warm glow of nausea?  Either way, you can now take a trip back to those wacky fun-filled years of the Reagan administration, with a nifty bit of software called The Reagan Years.  The version currently up is archived as and was last updated October 1999, with new material added since this page was first put up.  Any day you run the The Reagan Years program, it will write out a screenful of news about various events that happened on the same calendar day during the career of President Ronald Reagan.

To see today's Reagan administration history report right in your browser, go here.  Hell, bookmark it and come back often, or even make it your start page!  The url is  It's now implemented in PHP, so you don't need Java or Javascript any more to view it.
Why have I done this?  Well, you might say that now that this period is safely behind us, I have become rather a fan of this most entertaining of administrations.  I devour all the White House kiss-and-tell books, and all the revelations of dysfunctionality by people close to him, and I truly enjoy the madcap escapades of the various supporting cast.  I even have my favorite characters in the drama, those who are more captivating and entertaining than the rest of the actors: David Stockman, whose willingness to question what he was doing made him so out of place; Oliver North, so smugly and dishonestly self-aggrandizing that (as press secretary Larry Speakes put it) everything he said had to be divided by three; William Bradford Reynolds, whose idea of how to run civil rights enforcement was to try and purge other departments of people too sympathetic to civil rights; even Don Regan, whose arrogance offended everyone there is to offend, yet got saddled with blame that was never his...  but my all time favorite has got to be Ed Meese.

portrait of a statesmanYes, Edwin Meese III, a local boy (Oakland, CA) who went to the big time, and set a new record by being the first person to ever be investigated by three different special prosecutors for three separate White House scandals (in those days, it was one scandal to a prosecutor, not "We know he's guilty, we just have to find the crime"), and probably holds the White House record for getting hauled in front of grand juries too... and then was investigated by his own staff, which found "conduct which should not be tolerated of any government employee".  In a world-class league of hypocricy, buffoonery, and sleaze, he stands out as more hypocritical, more buffoonish, and more sleazy than even these worthy competitors.  And when it came to policy, no one did more than he to make a bad joke of Reagan's fine rhetoric about keeping government intrusion out of the private sphere, despite -- or because of? -- a right wing ideological rigidity that was extreme even by the standards of the Reagan circle.  For instance, the unconstitutional law that permitted seizing the property of people merely suspected of dealing drugs, which to this day he praises as a fine Reagan administration achievement.  He also got Reagan into his biggest embarrassments on racial issues, and made the administration's most offensive gaffes on the condition of the poor.  Of all the memoirs to come out of that administration, his has easily the highest bullshit level, and it's so dogmatic that it reads like the controlled press of a dictatorship, in which the strength and wisdom and iron will of The Leader is constantly praised and nothing he has said or done is ever mistaken.  If ever there was a public servant who never belonged anywhere near any position of government, it was Ed Meese.  He's adorable!  And that piggy face is so darn cute, too.  The great loyalty of Reagan to a person as disgusting as Ed Meese says an awful lot about his style of governing.

I'm sure you could probably gather almost as much daily dirt on the Clinton administration (and plenty are working on accumulating such dirt, including talk show host Michael Reagan), but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.  And anyway, though Clinton is far crookeder than Reagan, the results he's gotten have been far better for us.  (In fact, it's funny how many times in recent administrations the honest presidents, like Ford and Carter, have done less good than some of the crooked ones...  Nixon, for instance, may well have done less long term harm than Reagan.)  Rampant dishonesty tends to do damage only in a localized area around the dishonest person, but inflexible ideology combined with telling people what they want to hear can do lasting harm to entire peoples.  Give me someone who lies and steals any day over someone who is convinced that his rules for how the world is supposed to work can't possibly be wrong, and that those who believe otherwise have to be pushed aside, and has the knack of getting people to follow him.  Another difference is that with Reagan, his supporters keep seeing all these signs of ineptitude and steadfastly not believing what they saw.  With Clinton, people see his misdeeds and acknowledge them, but see them as a lesser evil than Republican policies would be.  So there's not much fun in exposing things about him that people already know.  With Reagan, the desire to keep heads firmly in the sand is still tremendously popular, and anything that helps pry some of those crania out into the open air may be a valuable safety measure for future elections, especially since it seems that the supply of Bushes is not going to run out for a long time yet.

Was Ronald Reagan the worst president of modern times?  It may be true that one has to go back to Calvin Coolidge, the architect of the Great Depression, to find a bigger fuckup in the white house... but for sheer awful lameness as President, the worst is not necessarily Reagan, or even Nixon -- it just might be George Herbert Walker Bush.  He combined a lot of Reagan's bad points with very few of his good ones.  He was more mentally engaged but less mentally stable.  He helped his friends to rake off astronomical amounts of money... many presidencies, perhaps including Clinton's, have helped their cronies line their pockets, but only friends of Bush could boast that their political connections yielded crooked profits in the billions.  But this record may not stand for long... so far, Little Bush is showinig every sign of becoming an even lamer president than his father was.  If he doesn't start shaping up, he could be the worst of the century.

Of course, the responsibility for the first Bush administration coming to office, with all its embarrassments of the USA in the eyes of the world, and its egregiously excessive military murder record, has to be laid at Ronald Reagan's door.  Not because Reagan didn't know better, but because he let himself be talked into it anyway.  And the Restoration of George II, of course, also followed from this... it could not have happened without both Reagan's selection of Bush as veep, and his unprecedentedly ideological Supreme Court picks.  (Some of the justices appointed by other Republican presidents are now considered the "liberals" on the court.  That shows how far to the right Reagan managed to push it.)

Anyway, here is what a typical example of the The Reagan Years program's output looks like:

Events of November 4 in THE REAGAN YEARS:

1980: Ronald Reagan is elected.  Before voting, he is asked if he expects to
      win.  "You know me," he says, "I'm too superstitious to answer anything
      like that."  Nancy nudges him and mutters, "Cautiously optimistic."
      Reagan smiles and says, "Yes, I'm cautiously optimistic." Before
      answering questions, he says "I can't answer till I get on my mark,"
      meaning a tape X on the ground showing where he's supposed to stand.

1984: Reagan asserts that he has been accessible to the media, despite the
      fact that he has held no press conferences since July, because the
      number of questions he answered while getting on and off Air Force One
      in the last few months would add up to six news conferences.

1986: Iranian Parliament speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani reveals that National
      Security Adviser "Bud" McFarlane recently visited Iran to cut a deal
      trading military equipment for help in reducing terrorism.  McFarlane
      brought along a bible signed by Reagan, and a cake in the shape of a
      key.  He will later deny any responsibility for the cake, saying it was
      Oliver North's idea.

1988: Brett Kimberlin, a prison inmate in Oklahoma, is placed in solitary
      confinement after attempting to call a press conference to claim that
      he used to sell marijuana to Dan Quayle.

On days when not much happened, it gives a randomly selected quote from the time.  A typical output in that case looks something like this:
"[Reagan] should have been more abreast of issues that were of interest to the
press.  Instead, when there was a lapse of much time between press interviews
or news conferences, he would be totally out of the swim on what was in the
press and what had happened two weeks ago, and it would be like reinventing
the wheel to get him prepared."
                         -- press secretary Larry Speakes

Events of August 24 in THE REAGAN YEARS:

1985: Reagan claims that segregation in hotels and restaurants and so on
      "has all been eliminated" in South Africa.  President P.W. Botha had
      just rejected major reforms nine days earlier.

On days when a whole lot happened, enough so it might not all fit on screen at once, the program has an option to only show half of the material.  The day's stuff is divided in two parts, and one or the other is picked at random.  A typical output on such a day, using the option, might look like this:
JUST SOME of the events of December 16 in THE REAGAN YEARS:

1982: Anne Gorsuch, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is cited for
      contempt of Congress after refusing, with Reagan's support, to turn
      over subpoenaed documents.

1986: Reagan meets with leading Republicans in Congress to discuss his
      forthcoming State of the Union address.  One of them asks him to
      support federal health insurance for catastrophic illness.  Reagan
      responds with an anecdote about a welfare family supposedly being
      housed in a fancy hotel.

1988: President-elect Bush names former Senator John Tower as Secretary of
      Defense.  Given the number of rumors, stories, and investigations going
      on about Tower's apparent alcoholism, adultery (which he later admits),
      and private deals with defense contractors, the nomination is instantly
      contreversial.  Bush also mentions a press report saying that he "went
      ballistic" the previous day.  He says he was actually only "semi-
      ballistic".  Tower is rejected by the Senate on March 10, after bitter
      debate.  When nominating Dick Cheney for the job later, Bush says that
      there were "a lot of aftermaths in what happened" with Tower.

If you run the program again and the coin toss goes the other way, the output would be:
JUST SOME of the events of December 16 in THE REAGAN YEARS:

1983: After columnist Lars-Erik Nelson researches the stories of all
      Congressional Medal of Honor winners and finds none that matches the
      anecdote Reagan told to an audience of medal winners, Larry Speakes
      says, "If you tell the same story five times, it's true."

1987: Alexander Haig describes the difference between himself and George
      Bush: "When I disagreed with him [Reagan] he heard it from me.  I
      didn't sit there at his side to say `yeah' to every cockamamie idea
      that came before the President and then claim I didn't know about it
      afterwards unless it was a winner."

1987: Michael Deaver is convicted of perjury.  Two White House aides are
      reported to have "roared with laughter" upon hearing the news.

If the option is not used, all of the events are output, interleaved in the proper chronological order.  In some cases where the excess size is not very much, one or two of the events appear in both halves.  This output-splitting option is mostly intended only for command-line versions of the program; a GUI version will handle lengthy output by providing a vertical scroll bar.

The package consists mostly of plain text files: twelve called "Reagan.1" through "Reagan.12" which each contain the incidents for one month of the year, and one called "Timeless" for the quotes.  The package also includes the program to display the information, in several forms:

ryears.c Portable C source code for a command-line program that writes the day's history information to standard output.
RYEARS.EXE The MS-DOS program made from ryears.c
TheReaganYears The AmigaDOS program made from ryears.c
Reagan-Years.rexx An equivalent program in REXX, written for the Amiga dialect.  Possibly not very portable, but might be a useful starting point for invoking The Reagan Years inside some specialized context.
Reagan-Years.zrx A different REXX: just for the hell of it, this is the Enterprise Rexx dialect used by the Windows version of the fine terminal program ZOC.  This one has no "-2" option.
RYearsW.exe A Windows 95/98/NT program that presents the day's information in a GUI dialog box.  Put it in your startup folder!  The day's events can be copied to the clipboard.
& ryearsw.rc
The source for RYearsW.exe -- could be used to produce a Win 3.1 version.

The REXX version may be useful if you want to adapt the program to some special output situation, like making a banner announcement on a BBS or something.  If somebody volunteers to make a Mac version, that would be much appurshiated.  The download archive currently doesn't include some newer implementations such as the Java or PHP versions; they're available on request.

 Click Here to download the archive!

Usage of all the program versions is the same: they expect a command line argument that gives the directory path where the 13 textfiles are.  If none is given it looks in the current directory.  The command line can also include the option "-2" (on DOS/Windows systems, "/2" also works) which tells it to split long days' outputs in half as described above.

The package also includes a file called "biblio" which lists the sources I used in compiling all this, and of course a "readme", mostly redundant with the stuff on this page.  I still consider this whole thing to be an unfinished work in progress...  For instance, I have yet to read Reagan's early autobiography, Where's The Rest Of Me?, and I haven't yet read Joan Quigley's "What Does Joan Say?" about the experience of being Presidential Astrologer.  Every time I read another memoir or biography, I end up going back and changing existing entries in the chronology to include another side of the story.

The package may be freely redistributed as long as the set of included files is kept complete and unmodified.

the finger
Uncle Ron wants YOU to tell me about any
good bit of documented Reagan history that
you know of which isn't included in the files!

Now in compiling The Reagan Years, besides reading most of the White House memoirs, I also read plenty of more personal stuff about the Reagans, including books by three of their four kids.  By now I almost feel that I know Ronald Reagan about as well as anyone can who hasn't met him, with a good appreciation of his strengths (which his aides are quite right in saying were always underestimated) as well as his shortcomings, and though the story of the Reagan Presidency is something that (now that it's safely over) I view with amusement, the family's personal side is... not funny.  In reading the stories of these four offspring of parents who, in the words of Nancy's top White House staffer Peter McCoy, "never should have had children", I was moved to write a song about them. If you want to read the lyrics, follow this link.  The contents of the song are based mostly on Maureen's, Michael's, and Patti's memoirs, with a few bits from other biographers.

One of the big questions about the Reagan years, of course, is: whose story is the truth?  Well, I have some possible answers for you.  In reviewing the history of this controversial administration from many different viewpoints, I have derived some degree of consensus opinion about which characters' word can be taken as honest, and which can be assumed to be full of shit.  This is not definitive, of course, but things tend to point pretty consistently toward these rough ratings of relative reliability:

Fairly Reliable Doubtful Untrustworthy
David Stockman
Donald Regan
George Shultz
Alexander Haig?
Patti Davis
Caspar Weinberger
Larry Speakes
Michael Deaver
James Baker
Ronald Reagan
Oliver North, and
everyone involved in Iran/Contra
Edwin Meese
Nancy Reagan
George Bush

"They aren't like you and me."
-- former U.S. Senate staffer
    Roy Kienitz, on politicians