This editorial originally appeared in the December 12, 1986 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
On becoming president January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan took the oath of office. He said before the people, “I do so solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. “ It is now self-evident that Reagan is -- and has been for some time -- a pathetic figure incapable of acquitting himself of the former responsibility. And it is equally obvious that he has no ability whatsoever to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” It would seem, in light of recent events, that he has little interest in or respect for that remarkable document.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether Ronald Reagan authorized or knew anything about the scandalous scheme of Marine Lieutenant Oliver North and his superior, Vice-Admiral John Poindexter, the president’s national-security adviser, to secretly and illegally funnel millions of dollars to the contras fighting ot overthrow a duly elected government in Nicaragua by secretly and illegally selling arms to the warring nation of Iran. But if North and Poindexteder weren’t operating on direct orders from Reagan, they certainly were striving-albeit in a demented way-to achieve a major policy goal, the overthrow of the Sandinistas, that Reagan has repeatedly articulated over the course of his presidency. Moreover, in mining Managua harbor, an act found to be illegal by the World Court, and in threatening tin 1984 to flour the will of Congress, by proving aid to the contras through a client state if necessary, Reagan made it eminently clear that he was unconcerned about the means used to achieve his end.
But to well on the still sketchy details of the effort to implement Reagan’s foreign-policy goals in Teheran and Managua is the miss the global implications of a foreign policy and presidency that have been exposed as cynical, inept, and out of control. So long as the Reagan team, whatever its composition, is in place, so long as the spectacle of a commander-in-chief who has no clothes is the dominant image from Washington, it’s impossible to imagine the United States proving leadership to the free world.
It is equally impossible to imagine anything but an interminable series of congressional investigations, trials, and further revelations as the dirty linen of this administration, overlooked and rationalized away while the nation took what seemed like a six-year Valium trip, is finally hung out to try.
No longer can there be any other judgment of this president but that either he was complicit in illegal acts that threaten international stability and erode our standing in the council of nations, or that he is a figurehead president-a flack for the Svengalis of his court, which is an equally dangerous and unacceptable option.
Speaking on Nightline last Tuesday, hours after the North-Poindexter scheme was revealed, Henry Kissinger counseled the administration: “What must happen eventually must happen immediately.” Eventually, Ronald Reagan will leave office and emasculated president, or worse. For the good of the country he loves, he should resign immediately so Vice-President Bush has an opportunity to clear the air and restore public confidence in the office of the president-unless and until he is implicated in the scandal, at which time the responsibilities of the presidency would, to our relief, fall on the shoulders of House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill.