Thursday, May 07, 2009

Atlas shrugged and adopted Michael Reagan.

This blog created a bit of concern when it reported how the Atlas Foundation was helping fund antigay causes around the world. We suggested that the fact that Atlas now is heavily dependent on funds from the right-wing Templeton Foundation was part of the reason. We noted that John Templeton Jr. and his wife contributed $1 million to the antigay Yes on 8 campaign in California.

In defense of Atlas it can be noted that they gave funds to organizations that also promoted free markets. But, in at least one case, the organization they funded never campaigned for free markets and continuously pushed a Christianist social agenda, not a free market one.

Now Atlas has moved further into the fringes and away from libertarian values. Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan, has been cashing in on his adopted father’s name by proclaiming himself the heir to Reagan’s ideas. Ron Reagan was no antigay bigot. Michael Reagan is. I don’t just mean that he’s an advocate of inequality of rights. I mean that he is an open, proud bigot who proclaims he is a bigot.

Atlas has now brought Michael Reagan on board as their “Templeton Leadership Fellow.” Reagan’s job “is to help bring much publicity to institutes connected to Atlas — particularly those that win prizes within the Templeton Freed Awards Program. Atlas says they “will subsidize this opportunity by converting Mr. Reagan’s speaking honorarium.” I assume that is being covered by Templeton money. It is hard to determine how much Reagan charges for the opportunity to hear him whine but according to the conservative, but misnamed, Young Americans for Freedom, the cost is $10,000 to $15,000 per speech.

As part of their new love affair with the Religious Right, Atlas brought Reagan to their annual conference a couple of weeks ago. At the conference, sources indicate, they held a special session promoting Reagan’s newest book. Reagan signed copies for those who wanted them. There were no other book signings held, and no other books were being promoted by Atlas at this conference. There were other books on display from various organizations but this was the only title, which Atlas specifically singled out to honor with a special signing session.

Atlas claims they are a “big tent” organization. That supposedly means they have libertarians and conservatives in the same tent, but no social liberals are allowed. It is a tent that has only libertarians in the middle and then a right-wing, but no left-wing. The tent is not “big” at all. With some overlap between libertarians and conservatives on economics—though not as much as Atlas and conservatives believe—one might expect some alliances in the “big tent.” But a pro-freedom agenda includes social freedom. While Atlas “networks’ with socially conservative think tanks, who avoid free markets, it never allies itself with socially liberal think tanks that do the same. In other words this “big tent” consciously tries to exclude social freedom from the agenda—of course, if it didn’t I suspect the Templeton fund would take their money elsewhere.

Michael Reagan’s book (I refuse to call him “Reagan” alone lest I tarnish the name of his father) is a bigoted, anti-freedom tirade. Twice Adopted is published by the Southern Baptist publishing house and doesn’t promote free markets anywhere. There are basically three agendas that are pushed in the book. 1. Michael Reagan wants the state to force couples to stay married by restricting the right to divorce. 2. Michael Reagan wants to have state censorship of sexual material in the name of morality. 3. Michael Reagan hates gays and thinks we all should as well.

These issues are heavily discussed by Reagan but you would be hard-pressed to find anything about smaller, limited government and individual rights. You won’t find any of the views espoused by adopted father (Note: Michael was adopted by Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman. When the couple divorced, Wyman had custody of Michael, not Reagan.) What you will find are some rather bizarre, bigoted viewpoints that really exemplify the worst of fundamentalist Christianity – Michael Reagan left Catholicism to become a fundamentalist Protestant.

The book itself is a bizarre journey into the mind of Michael Reagan. In a nutshell he is pissed off that his adoptive parents divorced and that he was never a full member of his father’s new family. He would visit his father’s home but he didn’t live there, something indicated by the complaint that he always had to sleep on the couch when visiting since he never had his own bedroom—something he saw as an “insult” and indication he was “a second-class member of the family.” So, much of the book seems to be his lament about being separated from his famous adoptive father, while at the same time, trying to cash in on “being the eldest son” of the former president.

Michael Reagan says: “Abortion kills love. The ‘right’ to abortion on demand is nothing less than a society-wide failure to love and cherish children. We have placed our sex drive and our selfishness above love for children.” He refers to Planned Parenthood, a cause endorsed by Barry Goldwater, as having “unchristlike attitudes.”

School shootings, in Michael Reagan’s mind is the result of “fatherless boys who pick up a gun and take out their rage on innocent people.” I know of no study that indicates this is the case but I do know that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine, came from families with both parents living in the house. He also blames movies, television, video games, music and the Internet for such violence. In other words, it is the typical litany of scapegoating that the Religious Right has used to push censorship for decades.

Michael Reagan attacks divorce and defines the matter as when “two adults take everything that matters to a child… and they smash it all up.” To say he has unresolved issues is putting it mild. Though divorced himself Michael Reagan says: “you should remain married no matter what—unless your mate is involved in behavior that is dangerous or detrimental to your and your children.” In other words, unless the one partner is actually physically harming the other the couple must stay together regardless of the other circumstances. The solution is more big government. He wants the state “to make it a little less easy to divorce.”

If one partner opposes the idea of divorce, according to Michael Reagan, he or she should have “legal power to fight for the marriage” and be able “to apply the brakes to those spouses who are too willing and too eager to destroy their homes…” In his system of law any couple with children couldn’t divorce unless both partners request it. In addition they must be required to remain married for one full year before the divorce is granted.

While ostensibly a cheerleader for marriage, Michael Reagan is not an advocate of marriage for everyone. He is proudly bigoted against gay people. He writes: “I can honestly say on my show, ‘I admit it; I am homophobic. If I wasn’t homophobic before, I am today. I have a great fear of a homosexual community teaching my grandchildren that it’s OK to be gay even if you don’t think you’re born that way.’”

If that isn’t bad enough try to follow his logic on the alleged dangers of granting gay people equal rights. He says equal rights will mean “social pressure” on children to become gay. Yes, unless our society hates gay people then children will be pushed into becoming gay against their will. This is cloud-coocooland material.

Now if homosexual marriage becomes accepted as the moral and legal equivalent of traditional heterosexual marriage, then a time will come in the future when our children and grandchildren will no longer have to be born homosexual to engage in homosexual behavior. Because homosexuality and heterosexuality are equivalent, sexual practice will become a matter of choice not orientation. Guys can marry guys, girls can marry girls, or anyone can marry the opposite sex if they choose—these choices will all be on equal footing.

There will come a time, not too far down the road—and the beginnings of this trend can already be seen—when the gay community will make young people feel guilty about stepping into marriage with the opposite sex until they have tried it with the same sex once….

If our society goes down the road that I see ahead of us, then a lot of kids will be enticed into having a homosexual experience on a dare. They will be told, “How can you know if you’re straight or gay if you never tried gay sex?” And why shouldn’t they try gay sex? There is no stigma to it. Gay sex and gay marriage are the exact equivalent of straight sex and straight marriage. There will only be one response that carries a stigma, and that is the response called “homophobia.” If kids don’t at least try a homosexual experience once, they’ll be labeled “homophobic.”

What happens to your kids and grandkids after they try a homosexual experience on a dare? They will experience guilt and pain in the aftermath, just as I did. They second they have had a sexual relationship with the same sex, in their own minds and in the view of society, they will be labeled homosexual. They’ll never rid themselves of it. They will live the guilt and the pain that I have lived with all my life.

Wow! This is seriously demented material as well as contradictory. If society says being gay is the same as being straight then why will it impose guilt and shame on people who have gay sex?

Most importantly, the entire premise of this rant is a lie. Most people, outside of fundamentalist Christianity, know that sexual orientation is not a choice. People realize that you don’t have to have had sex to already know if you are gay or straight. Virtually all people know their sexual orientation prior to having sex for the first time. The desire precedes the act, not the other way around. Certainly the gay community has been saying that for years. So it makes to sense to pretend that they will then turn around and make the exact opposite claim.

The idea that one can simple choose one’s sexual orientation is a Christianist fallacy. Michael Reagan is projecting his own false premises on the rest of society. He assumes that non-bigoted people actually do believe that sexual orientation is a choice and that the only reason straight people are straight is because they are bigots. This is total bullshit.

There is no indication that sexual orientation is a choice. Sexual behavior is a choice. How you behave in your relationships is a choice. But sexual orientation itself is not a matter of individual will power or decision-making. The scenario painted by Michael Reagan is absurd on the face of it.

Much of the rest of the book is a diatribe against erotic material where Reagan admits to having searched out prostitutes on numerous occasions and claims that as a young teenage boy he took nude photos of women at special clubs that allegedly existed for that purpose. He says: “Pornography victimizes every life it touches.” He says men, women, and children are victimized. Every discredited argument of the Christian Right is trotted out.

What is missing is anything calling for smaller government, less state intrusion or free markets. So exactly why is this man now a spokesman for Atlas? Why was this the only book that Atlas decided to feature at the annual conference? Does it have something to do with Michael Reagan being a “Templeton Leadership Fellow” who will be promoting think tanks that win Templeton Freedom Awards? When I raised the question of the influence of Templeton money on libertarianism none of this had yet happened. It’s worse than I thought. Real libertarians, especially those who contribute to causes, might wish to consider whether Atlas really deserves funds anymore. There are plenty of decent, libertarian think tanks around and funneling funds to them directly makes a lot more sense than giving the money to Atlas. In my last posting on this trend I was still of the opinion that Atlas was worthy of support. After the Michael Reagan incident—both giving him a position at Atlas and promoting his book—I no longer believe it wise to donate to Atlas.

It is my understanding that numerous people closely connected with Atlas, including board members, were unhappy with the promotion of the book and the foundation's links with Michael Reagan. Staff members of Atlas were alleged to have been shocked by the contents of the book. And, as is typical with most libertarian groups, Atlas has several individuals who work for them, or with them, who are gay themselves. One has to wonder why Atlas is willing to risk alienating so many libertarians, including people they work with.

In my opinion conservatives look at libertarians the way an abusive husband looks at his wife. They figure libertarians have no where else to go and will take whatever they dish out. Certainly some libertarians act like an abused wife and may give conservatives reason to take that view. As this libertarian sees things, I have one message for these conservatives. But I'll let Gloria Gaynor say it on my behalf.