Not the Reagan I remember either
February 1, 2008 2 Comments
As part of the Red Dawn generation, I grew up in Reagan’s America. I have no memory of a president before him.
While I remember him as something of a grandfatherly figure whose smiling picture we all saw every day at school, I don’t really remember much of his policies, just the overwhelming sense of fear that Mutual Assured Destruction and nuclear war was all but inevitably on its way from the “Evil Empire.”
I have also looked back at the 80s and frankly, I am appalled at some of the things Reagan did: making ketchup a vegetable for school lunch purposes, ignoring AIDS and of course the whole Iran-Contra trading arms to our terrorist enemies to secretly get money to support some other terrorists in Central America.
But let’s not forget that Reagan, the great conservative overlord and god-figure to the tax cut set, also tripled the national debt, failed to balance a budget and gave us the “Trickle Down Theory” or “Reaganomics,” the idea that the if the rich get richer, they will share some of that with the rest of us.
Which, by the way, didn’t happen. Instead, the US middle class was weakened and the country went from the world’s top creditor nation to the top debtor nation.
Despite all of that, Reagan remains one of the most popular presidents ever, especially among Republicans. The Republican debate this week was conducted at the Reagan Library, in fact, and three of the four remaining candidates fell all over each other to out-Reagan the others (Romney won with 19 mentions, though McCain noted on multiple occasions that he was proud to be a “foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution”). Only Ron Paul was able to control himself and not completely fawn over the Gipper and pander to his fans.
But as Michael Kinsley writes today in a Washington Post column, Reagan supporters often gloss over his failures and focus on his smile and actually distort what they think he did:
“There is no evidence that Reagan was bothered by the rough and tumble of political campaigns. Mischaracterization of an opponent didn’t even qualify as a “dirty trick” to Reagan, due to his fantastic ability to believe anything helpful. Compare Romney’s whining about how McCain didn’t give him enough time to respond to the Iraq timetable accusation with Reagan’s masterful “There you go again” against Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Would Reagan “walk out of” Iraq? Far from clear. He scurried out of Lebanon fast enough after things got hot there in 1984. During the Reagan years the United States was actually pro-Iraq in its war against Iran, although we also sold weapons to Iran in order to raise money for a terrorist war we were secretly financing in Nicaragua, while denouncing terrorism. It’s hard to find any “unshakeable set of principles” in this mess.”
It’s a hell of a legacy to fight over when you really think about it.