Better Not "Red" and Dead: Reagan Becomes A Republican

"Elizabeth Dilling was a bright Chicago girl...her little book The Red Network . . had a considerable sale. Little has been heard of her since her trial with other Rightists on charges of pro-Axis seditious conspiracy during World War II}{\plain \f1 , but her spirit goes marching on in Red Channels....a }{\plain \f1 compilation of names and affiliations through which any sponsor can tell whether any commentator, writer, or entertainer has anything on his record which may stir 'controversy'. . . The overthrow of the Franco dictatorship, the fight against anti-Semitism }{\plain \f1 and Jim Crow laws...[and] to have been against the sale of scrap iron and oil to Japan, }{\plain \f1 }{\plain \i\f1 figures as data on 'subversion'. Ditto for work for the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League [emphasis added] (Stone 88-91)."

We need to make note of the implications for this last sentence. The fact that the Far Right said anyone who wouldn't help the Japanese going into the Second World War was a "communist" probably isn't too surprising. However, the relationship between George Bush and Ronald Reagan might be partially explained by this last sentence. Even more, it probably explains why Reagan became a Republican.

Throughout the 1950's, Reagan had been a Democrat. As a Hollywood Democrat, he had also been involved in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League's activities--activities which were at worst liberal, and at best, the height of patriotism. The organization supported America's war effort and sought to patrol against Nazi influence in the film media.

This, of course, didn't sit well at all with the Far Right in the 1940s and '50s. It attempted to blacklist these patriotic Americans. Ronald Reagan was one of their targets. I quote from Barson:

"When the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was established in 1938, Congress empowered it to investigate any behavior that could be construed to as unpatriotic. The vagueness of this assignment was much to the liking of Chairman Martin Dies of Texas, whom Harold Ickes described as 'the outstanding zany of our generation.' Dies was deeply disappointed when his search for Reds under every bed had to be temporarily sidetracked on account of the Nazi problem. His essay, 'More Snakes Than I Can Kill,' which appeared in Liberty Magazine in 1940, and his book The Trojan Horse in America (ghostwritten by J.B. Matthews, author of Odyssey of A Fellow Traveller are classics of the genre--or would be, if anyone remembered them. But Dies was replaced in 1945, and thus narrowly missed heading HUAC once the war's end permitted a quick and enthusiastic return to the ferreting out of crypto-Commies.

By 1947, says Barson, the garland of headlines generated by HUAC's investigation into Hollywood's infiltration by Reds convinced that august body, now headed by New Jersey congressman J. Parnell Thomas, that there was gold in the Hollywood hills--and there they panned, and panned and panned. Gary Cooper being cute--and loyal--during his 1947 testimony; reports of screenwriter Richard Collins naming names, and a contrite Larry Parks confessing (but too late, his career was finished), the infamous Red Channels, the 1950 index to 151 blacklistable actors compiled by the ex-FBI agents who also brought you Counterattack, for the benefit of television and radio show sponsors (producers: ignore at your peril!). Thus were the tainted members of the broadcast and film communities thrown to the voracious wolves of HUAC.

"When Humphrey Bogart joined a contingent of fifty Hollywood directors, writers and actors bound for Washington, DC, on a chartered plane to express their displeasure with the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, he must have felt well-nigh invincible. At the peak of his popularity with the movie-going public, Bogard had starred in as many patriotic films during WWII as any actor in the land, including Sahara, Action in the North Atlantic, To Have and Have Not, and, of course, Casablanca. What better icon of All-Americanism could the 300-member Committee for the First Amendment have chosen to lead the charge against HUAC's high-handed inquisition, spearheaded by the noxious J. Parnell Thomas? And so, on October 24, 1947, a bow-tied Bogie and a motley crew of film luminaries that included Lauren Bacall, Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, John Huston, Ronald Reagan (emphasis added--mcs), and Danny Kaye flew East to protect the rights of Alvah Bessie, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Larson, Lester Cole, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, and Sam Ornitz--the 'Hollywood Ten.'

"After stops and press conferences in Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago, Bogart's gang of fifty landed in Washington and held a press conference outside HUAC's very doors. But the effort was in vain. Not only would the uncooperative Hollwood Ten be cited for contempt of Congress and sent to prison (where, ironically, they were shortly joined by J. Parnell Thomas himself, who had been padding his payroll), but Bogart's own heroic image was tarnished by his high-profile defense of those impertinent subversives. Some hasty spin-control was called for, and Bogard rose--or descended--to the occasion with a press release describing himself as 'a foolish and impetuous American' who detested Communism 'just as any other decent American does.' An expanded version of the statement appeared in the March 1948 issue of Photoplay magazine, concluding with Bogart's assesssment of himself as a 'dope.'

"Years later, Bogart would deny that he had ever made a retraction of his stance against HUAC. But Paul Henreid, Bogart's costart in Casablanca, labeled the statement 'a form of betrayal,' and renounced his friendship with Bogart. The 'non-retraction' must have worked, though, because Bogart went on to win the 1952 Academy Award for Best Actor, while the Hollywood Ten had to work undercover for the next decade, when they could find work at all."

This, in their definitions, conveniently included the Democratic Party. Activities by Joe McCarthy and his assistants Richard Nixon and Bobby Kennedy, both during the HUAC hearings and in other settings, helped set the stage for Reagan's party shift. One example of such activity is described by Michael Barson:

". . .[T]he frequent tv appearances of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Already a veteran of many radio interviews during the late forties, by 1950 McCarthy was a frequent commentator on shows like Meet the Press and Chronoscope . On one Meet the Press appearance early in 1950, McCarthy was asked what his reasons were for so energetically chasing Communists. 'It's just one of those tasks that someone has to do,' the self-sacrficing saint replied. He did yeoman duty for the Republican cause just before the 1952 Presidential election, when he accused Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson on tv of being a Commie stooge and an old crony of Alger Hiss--the 'arch-traitor of our times'--to boot. So much for Adlai's campaign."

Reagan was reinforced in this, of course, by the fact that the Democrats had turned to another Irishman, John F. Kennedy, as their Presidential star. The combination of these pressures probably resulted in the Reagan change to the Republican Party. By 1962, when Nixon was defeated for Governor of California, Reagan, under these intense pressures, had changed parties. In 1964, Reagan announced his endorsement of Barry Goldwater, the Far Right wing-associated GOP Presidential candidate. Clearly, it was the Far Right wing that Reagan felt had the hold on him.

That hold, patently unjust, may even have been illusory. Nevertheless, in politics it is not so much whether a given charge turns out to be true in the long run. It is whether it is "true" in the sense of being given space and time in the media or having this potential n the short run. This is the real "truth" in politics for any charge. (See "Conclusions: Guilty or Innocent--Or Can It Be That Simple?")

One other very salient point needs to be made in relation to this: George Bush's father, Prescott Bush, was possibly one of those threatening to make the charge that Reagan was a Communist. Prescott Bush was a member of several Far Right political organizations. No doubt, he was also a regular subscriber and contributor to "Red Channels". He'd have definitely seen the political potential of an Irishman in the Republican Party. Prescott saw Reagan's political potential as primarily affecting the future of his son George.

So it was toward George that Ronald Reagan was directed. It was with George's support of Goldwater in 1964 that Reagan's real Republican political activism began. Reagan, being a political realist, must have realized that his activities in behalf of the Anti\_Nazi League in Hollywood during World War 2 were going to be broadcast on Red Channels. This is especially significant when one realizes that Reagan may have had information revealing that Prescott Bush, George's father, may, (as a USO head during World War II), have utilized USO cameras to film his son's pick-up by a sub off Chi Chi Jima island in September, 1944. This would have made Reagan an especially important target for Prescott Bush in the larger GOP blacklist campaign to destroy potentially powerful political opponents.

Reagan must have realized that the way to prevent this from happening was to ascribe to the political views of the people who were threatening to bring the charge that he was a Communist. Reagan's having been blacklisted for his support of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall against McCarthy's ridiculous charges had put him under financial duress and stress. In fact, the whole group of actors and actresses participating in that support found themselves under the career and financial pressures produced by the blacklists, in various ways. On top of this, by the late '50s, Reagan's membership and activity in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, already a favorite target of Red Channels, was "found out."

For Reagan, the blacklist had added to an interest in changing careers from acting to politics.

Only as a strenuous "patriotic" style politician could Reagan hope to "save" his tarnished image. The time frame worked out such that Reagan, under that political pressure, thus felt impelled to endorse the GOP. Not just the "regular" GOP, but its Far Right fringe the people with the holdon him.

Reagan's political career would be shaped, from then on, by the activities of George Bush and his father. By the 1980's, the decision had been reached to use Reagan as a Vice-Presidential candidate. George would be the President in this scenario, however.

But political reality set in. It became apparent that George couldn't defeat Reagan in the Republican primaries, because Democrats were supporting Reagan. People who normally wouldn't have supported a right-wing candidate, including "Hollywood Liberals" felt a bond with Reagan. It's likely that several people knew he'd been pressured to join the GOP via blackmail on 1950s McCarthy "Red Channels" pseudo-charges. The word on this seems to have gotten out more widely than anything in print, so that Reagan was receiving an unexpected boost against Bush.

For example, Irish-Americans, who, although feeling that they'd "made it" with the JFK victory of 1960, (and being Democrats during that time), nevertheless saw a source of political security} in Reagan's candidacy. He represented to them not so much the conservative positions he advocated, but rather the chance to solidify the gains they'd made up until that time. With another Irishman in the White House, only the second one in history, after JFK, they felt their political rights and position could become more nailed down. And, indeed, in 1984, Reagan became the

Irishman ever to be re-elected President.

Had the latter group of Democrats, probably not privy to the "word" about Reagan's blackmail, been the only Democrats to support Reagan, Bush might have been barely able to defeat him in the GOP primaries. After all, a measure of support for Reagan from Irish-Americans had been anticipated by the Bush campaign.

However, the factor that had been unexpected, and that turned the tide for Reagan, had been support from liberal Democrats. Those who "understood his situation" had felt that, with Reagan as President (instead of merely as Vice-President) he could become "freed up" from the blackmail of the Far Right. Ronald Reagan could then be "his own man" again--which would be, in this view, the 1950's liberal Democrat he had been before the blacklist had hit him.

As a result, Reagan won the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980. However, in the aftermath of the subsequent 1980 election victory against Carter, Bush became desperate. How was the major scandal about Bush's World War 2 record to be kept hidden? This above all had to be protected.

Even aside from this, however, there was the very real potential for havoc in having this somewhat unpredictable Irishman at the helm. Reagan, speaking "off the cuff" often seemed a different man to the one making the prepared GOP conservative's speechs. This was too dangerous to be allowed to continue uabated. After the shooting, Bush arranged new Secret Service procedures for Reagan to follow, which included keeping his distance from crowds. This eliminated any further off-the-cuff speaking and its potential for the "real Reagan" to leak out.

There was also that odd emphasis Reagan had placed on some key words during a round-table debate with Bush and other GOP candidates during the GOP primaries. In what seemed an unnerving reference to "inside knowledge" about Watergate, Reagan looked directly at Bush at one point during that debate and said, "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Bush." (A microphone had been found planted at the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel by Nixon campaign operatives in 1972; Bush had been in Nixon's Administration at the time.

All of those pressures together probably led to the assassination attempt, which allowed Bush to set his coup in motion. In the days after the GOP primaries, Bush made arrangements to ensure that former campaign supporters and devotees were all placed in key positions in Reagan's Cabinet--making it, at critical junctures (from the standpoint of guarding "family secrets") a Bush, rather than a Reagan, Cabinet.

From January until March 22, 1981, Bush and his inner circle of National Security specialists drew up the new "rules" for Vice-Presidents that were to become established. Those rules included, as Tarpley and Chaitkin note in }{\plain \f2 }{\plain \i\f1 The Unauthorized Biography of George Bush "unprecedented powers for a vice-president." (350-83). Submitted to the new Cabinet on March 22, 1981, they were approved on March 25, 1981, with only Alexander Haig abstaining or resisting. Five days later, Hinckley "decommissioned" Reagan for several months in what appears to have been a Bush-inspired assassination "attempt" designed to get Reagan out of the way for awhile to ensure Bush's new powers could kick in (Tarpley and Chaitkin 379-83).

At the National Security level, Bush became an Acting President as Vice-President, even without any swearing-in ceremony. Bush took over the Administration (Tarpley and Chaitkin 350-83). Then, despite his media-maintained and long-publicly perceived, outwardly "moderate" image, he engaged in such radical right activities as "Iraq-gate," in which he used BCCI to support the only living wing of the Nazi party left in the world, and establishing a surveillance program of virtually the entire American Jewish community. (See Alan Friedman's book Spider's Web and Loftus and Aarons 419-24 for more details onthis.)

This allowed Bush to essentially take over the reins of government while Reagan was in the hospital, Tarpley and Chaitkin tell us. Bush was able to do this so effectively that, after Reagan had been "out" (hospitalized) for awhile, Bush's hand\_picked supporters were actually running the inner sanctum at the White House: the NSA and the Cabinet. (Tarpley and Chaitkin 379-87 With those two institutions under control, Bush also didn't have to worry as much about any secret documents being leaked by Gelli, Robert Maxwell or the Ba'ath Party. The control of this end of things gave Bush the dominant input about defense budgets, and, through them, the entire budget. He then didn't have to worry about Reagan "pulling a fast one" and submitting some of the surprise liberal programs he seems to have perceived him to have been about. Reagan, during the '80 campaign at impassioned close-up sessions with small groups of concerned voters, had hinted that, among other things, he'd re-open closed manufacturing plants via a loan and grant program similar to that given Chrysler in the '70's, give tax relief to low-income Americans, focus on the hiring of inner-city blacks, rein in the Ku Klux Klan, and expand the nation's health care system for elderly Americans.

In the event, when Reagan made some effort to put this latter into effect, it was defeated by the machinations of the big business--especially Big Insurance--interests that had funded his candidacy. That group may even have approved Bush's "decommissioning" of Reagan for awhile in 1981, to ensure that Bush was indeed running the show and that things didn't get "out of control," as, indeed they threatened to again a few years later during the Clinton Administration. In the case of the latter, we may recall, similar gargantuan actions were taken by Big Insurance to prevent any "shake up" in America's health care system.

Works cited:

Barson, Michael. "Better Dead Than Red." New York: Hyperion, 1992. (Note to reader: no page numbers appear in this book.)

Bowen, Brig. Gen. Russell S. The Immaculate Deception: The Bush Crime Family Exposed.Carson City, NV: America West, 1991.

Edwards, Anne. Early Reagan (New York: Morrow, 1987). (Page numbers listed below are from her book alone.) I've continued research in this area, and, while it's clear Reagan wasn't exactly a flaming liberal Democrat from fairly early on, and that he worked closely at times with the FBI, he also did things or joined organizations and activities that set him up for possible blackmail and other manipulation by ruthless types. Some details she mentioned that aren't contained in the main sources I used in the original chapter include:

1. That Reagan and Jane Wyman were approached by "FBI agents" as early as September 1941 about his membership in controversial organizations--and that he agreed, as a result of those meetings, to act as an "informant" for the FBI (304).

2. That Reagan's membership in the Hollywood Anti-Fascism League via his membership in the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) was, indeed, highly controversial, vulnerable to attack from the Right, and highly political in nature. SAG early on a had a pro-Left group and took extremely strong anti-Nazi positions long before the US went to war. In Edwards' words, after Reagan was elected President of SAG (322), he was "presiding over a hotbed of political activism from both the Left and the Right."

That Reagan began to work for Republican Presidential candidates, most especially Richard Nixon, as early as the closing days of Helen Gahagan Douglas's campaign against the former in 1950. This was 12 years before Reagan has acknowledged his actual activity in behalf of the GOP (417).This, even though Reagan had pledged his support to Douglas personally in April, 1950 (417). (Edwards also quotes sources in the section surrounding this page to the effect that the "dirty tricks" the Nixon campaign engaged in against the Douglas campaign that year were not to be "fully revealed" until the Watergate era.)

4. Could this have been affected by what happened on April 10, 1947? That day, only a month after his election to the presidency of the SAG, Reagan was approached by "FBI agents" again:

"Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act...make clear that. Reagan and Wyman met with FBI agents...Reagan claimed that three men appeared unannounced at his home one evening and identified themselves as FBI agents. One asked, 'We thought someone the Communists hated as much as they hate you might be willing to help us?' 'He [Reagan] protested that he didn't want to 'go in for Red-baiting' [emphasis added]. They then rattled off a list of names, dates, places and conversations that he had been privy to and others that, as he said, 'opened my eyes to a good many things.'. . .(305)."

That last phrase is especially interesting, given Reagan's sometime gift for understatement and wit. To me, now, it takes on a somewhat different tone. Isn't Reagan saying something here, to the effect that, "Boy, if}{\plain \i\f2 I didn't}{\plain \f2 go along with these guys on this informant thing now, wasn't this going to make me look bad?"

Friedman, Alan. Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq New York: Bantam, 1993

Litchfield, Michael and the "National Insecurity Council." It's A Conspiracy! Berkeley, CA: Earthworks, 1993

Stone, I.F. The Truman Era New York: Vintage, 1973

Tarpley, Webster Griffin, and Anton Chaitkin. The Unauthorized Biography of George Bush. New York: Executive Intelligence Review/Ben Franklin, 1991.

Go back to The George Bush-Undercurrents Website