The Reagan I Remember

January 31, 2008

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)

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9 Responses to “The Reagan I Remember”

  1. Mark Wise said

    To give some counterpoint…

    The Reagan I remember, did push the Cold War to a close. He did spend an enormous amount in Defense, this caused the Russians to do the same. The Russian economy simply could not keep up and so it fell.

    Reagan also jump started our economy by huge tax breaks. Reamember the phrase “The booming ’80’s”? Thanks to Reagan.

    He also brought a sense of respectability to the presidency that was severely shaken by Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. He got Americans seeing the “shining city on a hill”. He got America to believe in itself again.

    As for the comment on race under Reagan. He never passed nor ever said anything racist. You are assumming that if you are poor, than you are either black or latino. In fact, if you check the statistics, most Welfare people are white. In general, the plight of minorities have gotten better since the beginning of the century. The plight of the Latinos in the 80’s was casued by the huge influx of illegals coming across the border and selling themselves into virtual slave labor here. One of Reagan’s mistakes was to give into the Democrats and give them Amnesty. Now instead of 2-4 million illegals, we have 12-20 million.

    Now he was not perfect, especially later in his presidency, but what he did accomplish is laudable.

  2. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for the comment, Mark.

    Actually, I’m not assuming that all poor people are minorities, but I am acknowledging that poverty levels among minority populations in this country run proportionately much higher among people of color than among whites. And so yes, the devastating impact of Reaganomics on all the poor in this country fell especially hard on African-Americans and Latinos.

    You bring up “The Shining City On A Hill” metaphor. I would refer you to Mario Cuomo’s brilliant keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1984, when he spoke of the two cities, the one the President trumpeted in his campaign ads, and the one Reagan never saw. The city filled with homeless, with poor, with rising crime rates and growing racial tensions. That was Reagan’s legacy. As I said, if you were white and wealthy it was a shining city — the booming 80s, if you will. For others, not so much.

  3. Michele Conti said

    Well, I have to say. I’m a little young to be remembering from personal experience the exploits of Reagan. But from what I’ve read, the description sounds accurate enough to me. It seems to me that anytime anything comes to a close under a particular government or person, that government or person receives all the credit. Its silliness to assume that one mans actions alone could bring something that lasted that long to a close. You can prompt something alone, it’s not necessarily accomplished alone.

    But let’s face it, at least two good things came out of the 80’s. A bunch of kids who are smarter than the average bear despite the amount of drugs that were being done by our parents, and hair metal.

  4. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for the comment, Michele. What you say about the 80s generation kids seems right on the money. They’re smart and, more to the point, they’re committed and motivated. Candidates talk about change, which is great. But change comes from below, not from the top down. It would be great to see a new generation take control of this country’s politics, one that is committed to saving the planet, overcoming old prejudices, and solving problems with compassion rather than violence.

  5. Frank said

    Ok, this might depress you, but I just turned 30 a week ago, and I turned *Three* a few days after Reagan’s first inauguration. The only Reagan I remember was an avuncular, ok, grandfatherly, fellow on the television who insisted that I “Just Say No” to drugs. It worked. (My Parents probably had something to do with it, but the Pres/First Lady helped.)

    Beyond That, I was more interested in Sesame Street than The Shining City on the Hill.

  6. davidbcoe said

    Well, I suppose the Just Say No thing is to their credit. Thanks for the comment. And, yes, you’re WAY too young….

  7. John said

    > To give some counterpoint…

    > The Reagan I remember, did push the Cold War to a close. He did spend an enormous amount in Defense, this caused the Russians to do the same. The Russian economy simply could not keep up and so it fell.

    Sure it did. Look how much headway Reagan was making before Gorbachev came along…

    > Reagan also jump started our economy by huge tax breaks. Reamember the phrase “The booming ’80’s”? Thanks to Reagan.

    So how come Clinton doesn’t get credit from Republicans for a far far far bigger boom in the 90s?

    > He also brought a sense of respectability to the presidency that was severely shaken by Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. He got Americans seeing the “shining city on a hill”. He got America to believe in itself again.

    Ah, he was a man of catchy empty phrases and a warm smile. That I agree with.

    > As for the comment on race under Reagan. He never passed nor ever said anything racist. You are assumming that if you are poor, than you are either black or latino. In fact, if you check the statistics, most Welfare people are white.

    If you’d check your statistics, per capita more are black. Simply saying “more people are white” is a cheesy gimmick suitable to Repubican “analysis.”

    > In general, the plight of minorities have gotten better since the beginning of the century. The plight of the Latinos in the 80’s was casued by the huge influx of illegals coming across the border and selling themselves into virtual slave labor here. One of Reagan’s mistakes was to give into the Democrats and give them Amnesty. Now instead of 2-4 million illegals, we have 12-20 million.

    That I agree with. It’s a mistake Bush is repeating.

    > Now he was not perfect, especially later in his presidency, but what he did accomplish is laudable.

    No, laughable. It’s sad how you twist history.

  8. John said

    > The city filled with homeless, with poor, with rising crime rates and growing racial tensions. That was Reagan’s legacy. As I said, if you were white and wealthy it was a shining city — the booming 80s, if you will. For others, not so much.

    This is something Republicans would rather not be reminded of. They prefer gimmicks, such as saying more whites in total are on welfare, a meaningless “fact,” but a fact, and so, to them, important.

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