The 41st anniversary of HUSTLER as a controversial pornographic magazine is a fit occasion to evoke the memory of Edwin Meese III. As President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Meese failed spectacularly in his effort to shut down the publication and others like it. But that setback wouldn’t dampen his usefulness to reactionary causes.
From the war on porn through the war on Obamacare—and most recently the war on terror—Meese, now 83, has emerged as the Republican hack who best knows how to muddy the political waters. Back in the Reagan years, when HUSTLER was a precocious 11-year-old magazine leading the battle to appeal to our prurient interests, I covered the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography hearings for the Los Angeles Times. As Larry Flynt would often brag, “HUSTLER is the best magazine you can read with one hand.” That does raise the risk of repetitive-stress injury. But as Bill Clinton’s Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders once pointed out, masturbation represents a sexual alternative that can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and save lives.
Meese lost his war against porn, and as a result we didn’t turn back the clock to the days when brilliant writers—including James Joyce, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin and D.H. Lawrence—were banned in this country. But Meese was far more successful in another crusade, helping mask the Reagan Administration’s violation of the law in the Iran-Contra scandal. That’s good to remember right now because Congressional Republicans are blasting President Obama for his willingness to negotiate with Iran on that country’s nuclear program.
Reagan had no qualms about illegally selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to surreptitiously fund the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua. That dubious achievement was complemented by Meese, leading the charge of the Reagan regime to ignore the growing AIDS epidemic and to block a ban on plastic guns that could fool metal detectors.