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Ronald Reagan Department of Shams

Michael J. Ring

Last week President Clinton signed legislation renaming Washington National Airport after our 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan. On the surface this widely reported news story seems like a non-event: after all, public buildings and infrastructures are named after former politicians everyday. But there are several observations that make this event so different from your ordinary, run-of-the-mill political patronage.

For one thing, it was amazing how quickly the Republican Congress pushed this bill through. They were successful in rushing this legislation to completion in time for Reagan's 87th birthday. Such speedy and expeditious leadership can only solidify one's faith in this Congress.

Don't you feel better about Congress knowing that it doesn't waste time on such trivial issues as finance reform, tobacco settlements, and judicial vacancies and can recognize truly imperative legislation? Aren't you glad to have the leadership and wisdom of Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott to filter and kill those unimportant bills and insure the Congress devotes its full time and attention to the nation's important matters, such as this bill?

There's no doubt about it, this bill is silly. A second and far more important observation, however, is that to put Ronald Reagan's name on an airport is a gross injustice to the thousands of air traffic controllers (ATCs) upon whom we depend to keep our skies safe. The stress placed on ATCs every day of the year makes the worst problem set look like a pleasant walk in the park. They must rely on antiquated equipment to keep the burgeoning passenger and freight traffic in our skies untangled and flowing. Imagine the air traffic controllers wanting better compensation, an end to mandatory overtime, and a shorter workweek!

Reagan fired them, believing that a strike endangered the safety of the nation. I wonder what the relatives of those killed in several major crashes attributed to ATC errors in the past two decades would have to say about endangering safety.

The numbers offer further proof that this action is a slap in the face to hardworking ATCs across the nation. In 1981 there were 17,000 ATCs across the nation; today there are only 14,000. Yet, air traffic over the United States has increased 36% in the past two decades. About one billion travelers rely on our ATCs for safety in the U.S. skies every single year, but, thanks to cuts in staffing, outsourcing, and aging equipment, controllers are more overworked and underrespected than ever. Not only does Washington National's new name insult the ATCs, it insults the traveling public which has every right to a safe flight.

But on the other hand, fellow progressives, let's face it: Ronald Reagan deserves to have some things named after him. After all he was President for eight years, and his legacy will be with us for generations. In fact, I think it's fair to say we are all greatly indebted to Ronald Reagan's guidance and leadership. So I therefore propose the following alternative structures and organizations that are truly worthy of the name of our 40th President.

THE RONALD REAGAN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR BUILDING, WASHINGTON D.C. Ronald Reagan worked hard during his presidency to make sure that Americans recognize and appreciate the Department of Labor. In fact, no president since World War II has so clearly demonstrated the need of this government office.

The voodoo economics embraced by the Gipper gave the nation an illusion of prosperity. In reality, however, the richest of the rich were pocketing billions from Reagan's regressive tax policy while the working class struggled along. During the 1980s the already wide gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew even more cavernous. The money that Reagan said would "trickle down" to the working class never did; instead it fueled dangerously speculative buying on Wall Street and in the real estate industry.

After a decade of supply-side policies, the economy imploded in the worst recession to rock America since the days of the Great Depression. Unemployment exceeded ten percent in many industrial states. Millions of people were laid off. The exodus of manufacturing to Latin America and the Far East accelerated during the Reagan years. In short, Ronald Reagan proves the need for the existence of generous unemployment benefits, job retraining, and other programs administered by Labor. Thus renaming Labor headquarters after him is a good reflection of his true legacy.

THE RONALD REAGAN CATTLE FIELD, BRAZIL. What a fitting tribute for the man who once said, "A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?" During his reign of terror Reagan gutted this nation's environmental laws and standards. Reagan's Interior Secretary James Watt and EPA Director Ann Buford had about as much love for the environment as Bill Gates does for Netscape. Watt believed our public land should be pillaged by big business; Buford opposed new standards on toxic waste and air pollution. After the progress made by environmentalists during the 1970s, this troglodyte and his cronies set back the Green movement several decades, and we will have to pay the consequences.

In 1979 candidate Reagan stated that "80% of air pollution comes not from chimneys and auto exhaust pipes, but from plants and trees." If the current rate of deforestation continues there may be a day when there is only one tree to look at in all of Brazil. And then we'll all have the opportunity to put Reagan's words of wisdom to the test.

THE RONALD REAGAN EXPRESSWAY, BOSTON. It took our nation 39 Presidents and 204 years to amass a $ 1 trillion debt. In just eight years Ronald Reagan quadrupled that debt with wasteful spending, especially in the defense sector, and reactionary fiscal policy. What better way to honor his legacy than bestow his name upon a project whose hallmark is wasted spending and mushrooming debt?

In the 1980s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts embarked upon a massive public works project to rebuild the Central Artery underground. The initial price tag was to be in the ballpark of $2.5 billion. What happened?

A Republican administration entered the State House, and the usual suspects all followed: pork barrel politics, political cronyism, and wasted taxpayer dollars. Major contracts went to the firm Bechtel Parsons, which in turn paid 29 state employees on the project. $230,000 was spent on a fireboat, a purchase completely unrelated to highway construction. Then even more money was thrown at the fireboat when it was discovered the boat, when coming in proximity to a fire, could catch on fire itself.

Expensive police details will rack up millions in costs, and expensive land takings and freebees for all the utilities round out the deal. The latest cost estimates exceed $12 billion. The Gipper would be proud.

In his eight years Ronald Reagan caused many profound changes in the fabric of this nation. And in every city and state across this nation I'm sure you can find a toxic Superfund site, a recently closed factory, and a struggling working class. These are the true legacies of the Reagan years. It's time we give him the credit he deserves.