I will leave it to others to play up Ronnie's more impressive achievements. But because I think we'll only be getting one side of the story, I want to offer up the dark side of this president's record - a side that I think has a direct impact on virtually every U.S. citizen and the world today. In short, I think Reagan's poor decisions and myopic, short sited politics gave our nation a giant and powerful shove into the problems we experience today.
Even as a teenager in the 1980s it was so very, very clear to me that this man's approach to government, his political and economic ideas were wrong and would be bad for the country. I couldn't believe that others didn't see it as wrong for the 1980s and wrong for the long term.
In that vein, below is a list of things you won't be hearing too much (if anything) during the Reagan love-fest this weekend. Think about the things our nation and the world struggle with today as you read about what Reagan and his administration did...
Creating Our Current Troubles in the Middle East
This more than anything, the Reagan policy toward the Middle East was a massive screw up. All of the actions here were extremely short sighted and invited major "blow back" on the United States that we have seen come into reality over the past 10 years. Lets count the ways Ronald Reagan did us all wrong in the Middle East:
- Reagan traded arms for hostages. While talking tough about never dealing with terrorists and toeing a hard line against them, his administration secretly supplied weapons to the government of Iran in order secure the release of certain hostages. And then, his administration lied about it and got caught. When asked directly about this, Reagan said he did not know nor remember any such thing. Setting aside speculation about his mental state (he did shortly after the end of his presidency develop increasingly sever Alzheimer's Disease), either Ronald Reagan knew about trading arms for hostages and sanctioned it or he did not know about it and surely should have - as any responsible president should. The big upshots here are: 1) Reagan was either incompetent or dishonest on his watch, and 2) Iran knew it could ignore or set aside tough talk from the U.S. and do what it wanted...and it has, including attempting to develop a nuclear program.
- Support for Saddam Hussein. Yes, Ronald Reagan and his administration backed one Saddam Husein in Iraq's war with Iran. And it wasn't just verbal support. Remember the famous picture of then Reagan envoy to Iraq Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein during an official visit in 1983? Yes, we were backing Saddam because he was fighting Iran - simple as that. And we expressed that support with money and arms that also helped keep him in power through the 1980s and into the 1990s and 2000s when we had to deal with him in other ways. Thanks Ronnie.
- Support for Afghan rebels (aka the Taliban), then abandoning them. In addition to Iran and Iraq, Reagan's White House supported the Taliban (then typically called the Mujahideen) as they fought against the invading Soviet Union in the 1980s. If any of you have seen the movie "Charlie Wilson's War" you know the story. But I can understand arming the Afghans to fight off the Soviets so we didn't have to. OK. But, the crime here is that once the Soviets retreated out of Afghanistan, our support dried up right away. Thanks for doing our dirty work for us, goodbye. And guess what happened after that? Yep, absent a continued investment of time and effort by the U.S. in Afghanistan to stabilize and help that nation, the Taliban took over and turned Afghanistan into a radical Muslim state that, oh I don't know, hosted and supported Osama bin Laden. We all know how that turned out. So, Regan helped build the state that sheltered bin Laden as he planned the 9/11 attacks.
Leading the country to economic downfall
Ronald Reagan championed a political and economic theory that is often summarized as "trickle down." That is, if you cut taxes for the rich and for companies and massively deregulate the economy in as many sectors as you can, then jobs will be created and everybody in society will benefit. You may also have heard it called "Reaganomics." The problem with that theory is that IT DOES NOT WORK. It never has. Each time it has been tried, we get a predictable and negative result - the Great Depression (1930s) or huge budget deficits, high unemployment and recessions (1980s and 2000s). Reagan pushed through as much legislation as he could to enact tenets of this economic theory. I assert that his success in doing so has led to our current economic downfall. Lets look at what he did...
- Tax cuts for the wealthy - Reagan believed in cutting taxes for the rich with the thought that they'd use their new found windfall to invest in new businesses and create jobs...except they didn't. They just went and bought yachts or vacation homes or more stock. The top marginal tax rate for U.S. citizens went from 70% to 28% under Reagan's plans. While some reform would have been good at the time, this tax change gave the rich a lot more money to spend on themselves or invest elsewhere (not in U.S. companies or creating jobs). Over time, the tax code started by Reagan has helped pool a massive amount of wealth into a smaller and smaller group of people. This has propelled the shrinking of the middle class and the problems that go along with that.
- Deregulation - Reagan did his best to deregulate the economy - housing, automobiles, oil/energy, banking, financial markets, airlines, the environment, etc. You name it, they tried and were often successful. The theory was that all this deregulation would usher in a new era of innovation, jobs and wealth. Well, it did usher in wealth...but only for a few, already rich people and for corporations. Some bad long term results of this short term deregulation mania have been...
- Corporations outsourcing manufacturing jobs overseas. His "morning in America" slogan just meant it was a brand new day in which U.S. companies could wake up, crawl out of bed and lay off millions of Americans and ship their jobs overseas where there was cheap labor - all to jack up stock prices and executive bonuses. That started under Reagan and is still going on.
- Corruption in the banking and financial systems. There was the big savings and load debacle back in the 1980s and I think we're all aware of what deregulated banking, real estate and financial markets brought us more recently.
- Extended and perpetuated our dependence on oil. Oil companies could make SO MUCH MONEY in oil that there was no incentive to invest in alternatives for the future. So they didn't.
- Created a huge national deficit - under Ronald Reagan's watch, the United States government ran up the largest budget deficit in its entire history. This record was only surpassed by the George W. Bush administration in the 2000s. There were many reasons for the deficit, but cutting taxes, making it easy for companies to pay low or no taxes and boosting government spending - especially on defense, making it the biggest sector of government spending - were key components of the problem. As you see today's conservatives invoke Reagan as they rail against big deficits, remember...Reaganomics created the (then) largest budget deficit in U.S. history.
The Reagan administration ignored the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s and failed to fund research to seek a cure. Imagine if he had said that AIDS was a threat to all Americans and aggressively used the power of his office to push drug companies and government agencies to find a cure or a drug to slow the disease down. Perhaps we would have found the set of drugs and treatments we now have a whole lot earlier - saving the lives of thousands (if not more) people. But no, Reagan was a product of his generation - a bigot towards gays. And since this was initially labeled a "gay disease," it was ignored by him.
There's more that could be covered for sure, but I think between setting us on the road to economic ruin, effectively bungling our policy in the Middle East, and ignoring one of the worst medical emergencies of the past 50 years...the record is CLEAR: Ronald Reagan was FAR from a great president. His short sighted and poor decisions have directly led to our most pressing problems today - domestically and internationally.
I will leave you with this one other thing. Ronald Reagan was an actor. Literally. He was a Hollywood actor who decided to become political - initially in the Democratic Party and then the Republican Party later - who was acting the role. Whatever warm and fuzzy persona, whatever sunny "shining city on a hill" message he projected as President was countered by the all to real, all to damaging results of his political, economic and foreign policies. So he was a pretty good actor because he had us all fooled.
See if any of the above is covered in the media's presentation of Reagan's 100th birthday. I doubt it.