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The Reagan I Remember

I am so sick of listening to the Republican Presidential candidates trying to lay claim to the "Reagan Legacy," and if I hear John McCain say one more time that he was "a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution" I'm going to puke.  It's time for a reality check, folks.  Ronald Reagan might well have ushered in a new political era, one in which conservatism, specifically religious conservatism, proved transcendant, (and one which is, to all appearances, finally, mercifully drawing to a close) but to call him a Great President is to strain credulity to the breaking point.

The Ronald Reagan I remember embraced trickle-down economics, a financial theory that was discredited half a century before by the onset of the Great Depression.  He cut taxes for the wealthy, increased military spending to ridiculous levels, and thus presided over soaring budget deficits, incurring a debt of over a trillion dollars that to this day continues to be a drag on our national economy.

The Ronald Reagan I remember propped up repressive but pro-Western governments in Latin America and Africa.  He funded a civil war in Nicaragua, giving arms and money to the brutal Contra rebels in violation of United States law, and he raised the funds by selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages, despite his claim that he would never, under any circumstances, negotiate with those who took hostages.

The Ronald Reagan I remember pushed for cuts in Social Security that were so draconian that members of his own party in Congress refused to go along.  He relaxed environmental controls on American businesses, setting back by decades national efforts to clean up our water and air.  During his presidency the gap between rich and poor widened to historic levels, more people fell into poverty and homelessness than at any time since the 1930s, increasing numbers of American workers found themselves working full-time but still earning too little to rise above the poverty line, the financial circumstances of African-American and Latinos worsened.  It was morning in America if you happened to be wealthy and white, but otherwise, good luck to you.

Of course, Reagan's supporters always point out that he presided over the end of the Cold War.  Actually, they usually claim that he "won" the Cold War, as if the downfall of the Soviet Union was his doing alone; as if the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, were all some sort of Cold War Preseason that didn't count; as if during the period from 1947 to 1987 diplomats in the State Department, leaders of both parties in Congress, and our allies in Western Europe were just sitting there twiddling their thumbs waiting for the Gipper to come along and save them.  Give me a break.

Actually, when you think about it, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have a great deal in common:  huge deficits, regressive tax policies, utter disregard for the environment, attempts to inject religion into our government and politics, unscrupulous Attorneys General (Edwin Meese was Reagan's Alberto Gonzales), cavalier attitudes toward Constitutional limits on Executive power.  The only difference was that Reagan managed to do it all with charm and elegance and grace, while Bush comes off as bumbling and incompetent.  But in other ways they're really quite similar; it's just the times that have changed.  And thank goodness for that.

Today's music:  Jerry Douglas (Restless on the Farm)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 31st, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
Heh. I, too, have been scratching my head lately at the characterizations of Reagan as The Great American President. I was born in 1977 so my grasp of politics at the time was limited to an overwhelming impatience with the endless Oliver North trials and pre-empted cartoon shows. :D But during high school and college econ classes, political science courses, and international journalism studies I began to see a clearer picture of what his administration had done to our country and our foreign policy. And it certainly wasn't the wealth and roses that some people want to remember.

I really enjoyed your post and I couldn't agree more.
Jan. 31st, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comment. I dual post my blog here and at Wordpress (http://davidbcoe.wordpress.com) and the first comment on WP was less sympathetic.... I imagine I'll be getting more of those.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Australia, Ghost Gum
David B. Coe

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