The only Vile Prog that doesn’t despise Ronald Reagan is Barack Obama, and he wants to emulate him. I originally voted for The Gipper back in 1980, but he also has a lot to do with me becoming a liberal Democrat.
But truth does not have an ideology.
That’s why I feel the need to correct a common myth about old Ronnie:
Wasn’t it then governor Reagan that opened the doors of California’s nut houses after watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?
Au contraire mon frère.
THE policy that led to the release of most of the nation’s mentally ill patients from the hospital to the community is now widely regarded as a major failure. Sweeping critiques of the policy, notably the recent report of the American Psychiatric Association, have spread the blame everywhere, faulting politicians, civil libertarian lawyers and psychiatrists.
A detailed picture has emerged from a series of interviews and a review of public records, research reports and institutional recommendations. The picture is one of cost-conscious policy makers, who were quick to buy optimistic projections that were, in some instances, buttressed by misinformation and by a willingness to suspend skepticism.
Many of the psychiatrists involved as practitioners and policy makers in the 1950’s and 1960’s said in the interviews that heavy responsibility lay on a sometimes neglected aspect of the problem: the overreliance on drugs to do the work of society.
The records show that the politicians were dogged by the image and financial problems posed by the state hospitals and that the scientific and medical establishment sold Congress and the state legislatures a quick fix for a complicated problem that was bought sight unseen.
In California, for example, the number of patients in state mental hospitals reached a peak of 37,500 in 1959 when Edmund G. Brown was Governor, fell to 22,000 when Ronald Reagan attained that office in 1967, and continued to decline under his administration and that of his successor, Edmund G. Brown Jr. The senior Mr. Brown now expresses regret about the way the policy started and ultimately evolved. ”They’ve gone far, too far, in letting people out,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Robert H. Felix, who was then director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a major figure in the shift to community centers, says now on reflection: ”Many of those patients who left the state hospitals never should have done so. We psychiatrists saw too much of the old snake pit, saw too many people who shouldn’t have been there and we overreacted. The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept, but psychiatrists are human, too, and we tried our damnedest.”
Dr. John A. Talbott, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said, ”The psychiatrists involved in the policy making at that time certainly oversold community treatment, and our credibility today is probably damaged because of it.” He said the policies ”were based partly on wishful thinking, partly on the enormousness of the problem and the lack of a silver bullet to resolve it, then as now.”
The original policy changes were backed by scores of national professional and philanthropic organizations and several hundred people prominent in medicine, academia and politics. The belief then was widespread that the same scientific researchers who had conjured up antibiotics and vaccines during the outburst of medical discovery in the 50’s and 60’s had also developed penicillins to cure psychoses and thus revolutionize the treatment of the mentally ill.
And these leaders were prodded into action by a series of scientific studies in the 1950’s purporting to show that mental illness was far more prevalent than had previously been believed.
Finally, there was a growing economic and political liability faced by state legislators. Enormous amounts of tax revenues were being used to support the state mental hospitals, and the institutions themselves were increasingly thought of as ”snake pits” or facilities that few people wanted.
One of the most influential groups in bringing about the new national policy was the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health, an independent body set up by Congress in 1955. One of its two surviving members, Dr. M. Brewster Smith, a University of California psychologist who served as vice president, said the commission took the direction it did because of ”the sort of overselling that happens in almost every interchange between science and government.”
”Extravagant claims were made for the benefits of shifting from state hospitals to community clinics,” Dr. Smith said. ”The professional community made mistakes and was overly optimistic, but the political community wanted to save money.”
That article appeared in the New York times in October 1984. As you can see, the emptying out of California’s mental hospitals started under Democratic Governor Pat Brown and he was responsible for cutting the number of institutionalized mental patients nearly in half.
Reagan was governor of California from January 1967 until January 1975. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was released in November 1975. He had been out of office for 11 months when the movie came out.
Reagan did, however, sign the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act into law in 1967. That was a bipartisan bill that set the precedent for modern mental health commitment procedures in the United States. It was not anything that Reagan had proposed. Not to mention that in 1967 the Democrats ruled the statehouse in Sacramento under the leadership of the legendary Assembly Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh. Reagan could veto legislation but he needed Democratic support to pass it.
But . . but . . but . . what about when he was president? Maybe that’s when he did it!
By the time Reagan became president in 1981 the closing of the nation’s mental hospitals was pretty much complete. Besides, Reagan didn’t cut government spending, he increased it.
Ronnie Raygun did a lot of things, but putting the mentally ill on the streets wasn’t one of them. But it’s a nice story and it fits the Vile Prog narrative so it hangs around as an urban myth. It’s not true, but it has truthiness.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. – John 8:32