Ten Reasons Ronald Reagan Ain’t All That

Shouldn't That Be a Right Turn?

Ronald Reagan was never a hero of mine – he was the President right as I became interested in politics, and his genial, fact-free hatred of everything liberal still irks me. Even worse is how the conservatives worship him as a god, conveniently omitting mention of all of deeds that don’t conform to the Reagan myth.

Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, and all week, conservatives have been trying to outdo each others’ remembrances of the great conservative icon. Senate Republicans spent much of Thursday singing Reagan’s praise from the Senate floor, while conservative publications have been running non-stop commemorations. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich are hoping to make a few bucks off the Gipper’s centennial.

But Reagan was not the man conservatives claim he was. This image of Reagan as a conservative superhero is myth, created to untie the various factions of the right behind a common leader. In reality, Reagan was no conservative ideologue or flawless commander-in-chief. Reagan regularly strayed from conservative dogma — he raised taxes eleven times as president while tripling the deficit — and he often ended up on the wrong side of history, like when he vetoed an Anti-Apartheid bill.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the top 10 things conservatives rarely mention when talking about President Reagan:

Conservatives seem to be in such denial about the less flattering aspects of Reagan; it sometimes appears as if they genuinely don’t know the truth of his legacy. Yesterday, when liberal activist Mike Stark challenged hate radio host Rush Limbaugh on why Reagan remains a conservative hero despite raising taxes so many times, Limbaugh flew into a tirade and demanded, “Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes?

(click here to continue reading ThinkProgress » 10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan.)

Especially humorous is Ronnie’s record re raising taxes:

1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology,” Brinkley said.

Some counter-programming:


The Ronald Reagan who won the cold war, cut taxes, shrank the government, saved the economy, and was the most beloved president since FDR is a myth, Bunch says. The cold war fizzled out primarily because of Soviet economic collapse. Reagan cut taxes just once, in 1991, and thereafter raised them yearly. He vastly expanded the government and burdened the economy with enormous deficits. Moreover, his approval ratings were just average, reflecting his divisiveness as a political figure. Bunch also shows that however tough-talking, Reagan was a negotiator who achieved nuclear arms reductions by talking with Soviet leader Gorbachev and got into the Iran-Contra mess because he wouldn’t send combat troops abroad. In practice, especially of foreign policy, he was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. The truculent jingoist of the myth was concocted after Alzheimer’s silenced the man and the would-be juggernaut launched by the GOP’s 1994 election triumph crashed and burned before a Democratic president who shrank government and the deficit, balanced the budget, and even racked up surpluses. Bunch names the leading, venal mythmakers and shames the myth exploiters, too. Anyone interested in America’s immediate future should read this book.

And a bit of historical perspective from Peter Dreier:

During his two terms in the White House (1981–89), Reagan presided over a widening gap between the rich and everyone else, declining wages and living standards for working families, an assault on labor unions as a vehicle to lift Americans into the middle class, a dramatic increase in poverty and homelessness, and the consolidation and deregulation of the financial industry that led to the current mortgage meltdown, foreclosure epidemic and lingering recession.

These trends were not caused by inevitable social and economic forces. They resulted from Reagan’s policy and political choices based on an underlying “you’re on your own” ideology.

Reagan is often lauded as “the great communicator,” but what he often communicated were lies and distortions. For example, during his stump speeches, while dutifully promising to roll back welfare, Reagan often told the story of a so-called “welfare queen” in Chicago who drove a Cadillac and had ripped off $150,000 from the government using eighty aliases, thirty addresses, a dozen Social Security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Journalists searched for this “welfare cheat” in the hopes of interviewing her and discovered that she didn’t exist. But this phony imagery of “welfare cheats” persisted and helped lay the groundwork for cuts to programs that help the poor, including children.

Reagan’s most famous statement—“Government is not a solution to our problem. Government is the problem”—has become the unofficial slogan for the recent resurgence of right-wing extremism. The rants of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the lunacy of Tea Party, the policy ideas promulgated by propaganda outfits like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation masquerading as think tanks and the takeover of the Republican Party by its most conservative wing were all incubated during the Reagan years. Indeed, they all claim to be carrying out the Reagan Revolution.

What did that revolution bring us?

Many Americans credit Reagan with reducing the size of government. In reality, he increased government spending, cut taxes and turned the United States from a creditor to a debtor nation. During his presidency, Reagan escalated the military budget while slashing funds for domestic programs that assisted working-class Americans and protected consumers and the environment. Not surprisingly, both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush followed in Reagan’s footsteps.

(click here to continue reading Reagan’s Real Legacy | The Nation.)

Rockefeller and Reagan

Greg Mitchell interviewed Eugene Jarecki about the upcoming HBO film about Reagan, which truth be told, I probably don’t have the intestinal fortitude to sit through.

An orgy of Ronald Reagan worship, including at the Super Bowl, will roll out today to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.  For those who can stand to wait another day for a more evenhanded, though often critical, assessment, HBO will be airing Eugene Jarecki’s documentary, fresh from Sundance, titled Reagan, on Monday night at nine. Jarecki (left) is best known as the director of the acclaimed docs, Why We Fight and The Trials of Henry Kissinger (and, more recently Freakonomics).  Reagan is  an extremely well-made film, featuring some expected and some surprising talking heads, plus occasional spurts of fun provided by a Daily Show clip, Phil Hartman’s famous SNL skit portraying two faces of Reagan (public bumbler, private strongman),  and even a Simpsons moment.

Reagan’s two sons take center stage.  That would be the rightwing radio talk show ranter Michael Reagan (who was adopted) and the much more liberal Ron Reagan.   Others interviewed include familiar Reaganites such as George Schultz, James Baker and Grover Norquist, and what Jarecki calls ‘honest brokers” including Tom Frank, Andrew Bacevich, Will Bunch, Frances Fitzgerald, James Mann and Simon Johnson.

At Sundance, Jarecki admitted he had “an axe to grind,” but not so much to expose Reagan as a bad guy but to dispel various “myths” that absurdly enlarge — or diminish – him.  He also revealed that he had received a fair amount of criticism from some who feel the film is too kind to Reagan.  Indeed, its first half paints a largely favorable picture of the man’s early life and rise to the governor’s mansion in California, but the second half, on his presidency and fallout from it, proves largely critical.   What that means is that viewers who like the first half are more likely to stick around and learn something in the latter sections.

“The Reagan sales pitch has been going on a long time,” Jarecki told me in an interview this week.  “If people see the real Reagan they may learn a lot.  What’s amazing is how much we are told about Reagan today is only half true,” if that.

(click here to continue reading “Reagan” Comes to HBO: An Interview With Director Eugene Jarecki | The Nation.)

1 thought on “Ten Reasons Ronald Reagan Ain’t All That

  1. Marie says:

    I knew him when he was a commie loving, union leading, liberal. Well, not personally.

    I would like to see the HBO movie. Unfortunately, I don’t get HBO. But, one of the NPR shows interviewed Jarecki this weekend. Two big take-aways from the interview: One, even though he publicly did not narc on any of his Hollywood Communist friends, he sure did behind the scenes. And, two, he switched to the conservative side when he became the paid spokesman for General Electric. Well, yeah.

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