Reagan’s Ghost

In the recent presidential candidate debates—and for that matter anywhere two or more Republicans are gathered, it seems to be in his name—the Reagan legacy is very prominent. I have two problems with this: 1) presidential candidates who are always talking about Reagan simply remind their listeners that they are NOT Reagan; and 2) in my estimation, Reagan wasn’t that great. I know, I know, he has a whole airport named after him, but I think Republicans have a selective memory of the tenure of the Great Communicator. Let’s review:

Early on, Reagan fired 11,359 air-traffic controllers who were on strike. This effectively began the end of the labor movement in the U.S. Although Big Labor has done its share of damage to the nation, I think it was an essential check on the greed of Big Business. I think Reagan did more to kill unions than anyone else.

Reagan reduced taxes. This is one of his miracles required for Conservative sainthood. This reduction in taxes indeed stimulated the economy (although the income inequality it produced has never looked back; in other words, there was no “trickle down”). At the same time he increased military spending. These irresponsible steps together caused a budget deficit that required borrowing; our national debt grew from $700 billion to $3 trillion during his administration, and this changed the U.S. from the largest international lender to the largest international debtor.

His economic policy presided over the second-largest one-day drop in U.S. stock market history. In 1987 (6+ years into his term—you can’t blame it on Jimmy Carter), the market plunged 22% in one day.

Internationally, he pulled out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks there were bombed—not exactly the tough anti-terrorist cowboy image conservatives have fallen in love with. But to make up for it, three days later he attacked Grenada, a nation of 80,000 who had recently elected a leftist government.

He authorized the illegal sale of weapons to an avowed enemy, Iran, in order to fund help for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, another place where leftists ran the government. During his presidency, at least 30,000 Nicaraguans died in the clash between the government and the contras.

His most famous line came at the foot of the Berlin Wall in June, 1987. As the USSR staggered along on its last lame leg, he demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That’s like yelling to the noonday sky, “Apollo, set that sun!” It was an inevitable occurrence that Socialism fail, just as it has been doing in China.

The irony here is that he paid more attention to the dying foe (communism) than he did to the rising foe (violent Islamism). We are now reaping the product of this misguided focus.

So, conservatives, be careful what you wish for in extolling the name of Reagan in search of a 2008 presidential candidate—you just might get what you ask for.

3 Comments

Mike W. says:

Even guys like George Will:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/09/AR2007020901931.html

are careful as they invoke the name of Reagan, pointing out the profound selectivity of the memory of conservatives. And Reagan (as you well pointed out) was not a fiscal conservative. His ramped up defense spending did speed the economic decline of the USSR by accelerating the arms race beyond the Soviet’s capabilities. Neither was he a conservator of critical aspects of society like education (which was gutted during his administration).

But his record in Latin America and the Middle East are by far the largest blemishes on his record. The Iran-Contra affair set up the Iranians to be killing our soldiers in Iraq with some of the weapons we sold them to fund brutal paramilitary forces in Central America. We are indeed reaping the seeds sown in the 1980’s (and 90’s; well, since the end of WWI).

Centrist says:

I find it ironic that in the demagoguery piece sent by Uncle Carl (http://www.terrorismawareness.org/know-about-jihad/) meant to scare us into battle with Islam, the first 16 incidents of violent jihad cited were during the Reagan administration, starting with the U.S. embassy hostages in Iran and ending with the bombing of the flight over Lockerbee, Scotland.

Centrist says:

From “Ghost Wars,” a book about the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll:
“[Former Director of the CIA Bill] Casey mumbled. . . . Attempting to translate during meetings with Crown Prince Fahd [of Saudi Arabia], [Ahmed] Badeeb could only shrug. Even President Reagan couldn’t understand him. During an early breifing Casey delivered to the national security cabinet, Reagan slipped Vice President Bush a note: ‘Did you understand a word he said?’ Reagan later told William F. Buckley, ‘My problem with Bill was that I didn’t understand him at meetings. Now you can ask a person to repeat himself once. You can ask him twice. But you can’t ask him a third time. You start to sound rude. So I’d just nod my head, but I didn’t know what he was actually saying.’ Such was the dialogue for six years between the president and his intelligence chief in a nuclear-armed nation running secret wars on four continents.”

Is a president in the mold of Reagan really what we need right now? Do we really need someone who will hire an intelligence chief he can’t even understand and abdicate the responsibility of national security so as not to “sound rude”? Maybe if Reagan had hired more wisely or had the guts to let him go, the U.S. would have seen the Islamist movement coming sooner.

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