Reagan: Fact, fiction and myth
“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” John F. Kennedy, 1963.
Ronald Reagan was born on Feb. 6, 1911. He would have turned 103 this year. From the moment of his inauguration in 1981, he was hailed as the ideal conservative president, a model for others to follow. In real life, if Reagan was running for office today, conservatives would reject him without a second thought. They don’t remember the real man and his actions; they have created a mythological figure, like Santa Claus, who fits whatever image they want filled.
I have written frequently about how modern-day Republicans live in their own little reality-free bubble. I don’t expect many Republicans to read what I write and have an “Ah ha!” moment, but for anyone interested in facts about Reagan, here are a few.
Taxes. Reagan passed a major tax cut in 1981, cutting the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent (a rate Republicans today would consider “socialist”). He cut taxes for corporations. Lower income levels received smaller cuts. Then Reagan began raising taxes. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history up to then. Reagan raised taxes 11 times total. By the time Reagan left office, working-class Americans were paying a higher percentage in taxes than when Reagan took office.
Debt and debt limit. In spite of these tax increases, Reagan tripled the national debt, from $934 billion to $2.7 trillion in eight years. If Obama followed this pattern, our national debt would soon be over $30 trillion. Why did the debt grow so large under Reagan? He increased federal spending by 57 percent. He borrowed money at historic levels and started us on the modern Republican path – “borrow and spend.” He raised the debt ceiling 17 times. Reaganomics was a miserable failure; the facts are clear.
Federal government. Reagan increased the number of federal employees, and added a new Cabinet level agency, Veterans Affairs. He also oversaw a huge military build up. Reagan had promised to reduce the size of the federal government. He increased it.
Guns. In 1967, then Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited carrying loaded weapons in public in California. He said, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” This position is contrary to the official NRA, and therefore Republican, position. This alone would ensure Reagan’s failure as a candidate today.
Chemical weapons. Recently, Syria was caught using chemical weapons. President Obama basically said that if they didn’t stop, the U.S. would take military action. Syria stopped, and their chemical weapons are being destroyed under UN supervision. Republicans were outraged, wanting a military solution. Many claimed Reagan would have spoken out against chemical weapons and taken action.
In reality, in 1988, when Saddam Hussein killed nearly 100,000 Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq using poison gas, Reagan stayed silent. He continued sending military aid to Saddam, including key components of mustard gas and other chemical weapons. Reagan not only knew Saddam was committing genocide, he was aiding and abetting.
Scandals. The Reagan administration was one of the most corrupt in U.S. history, with 137 officials charged with crimes, not just accused, and 31 officials convicted. Included in the numerous Reagan scandals were the Department of Housing and Urban Development grant rigging, the Savings and Loan scandal, the Inslaw affair (which included software piracy by the Department of Justice), and of course, the Iran-Contra affair.
Concerning Iran-Contra, Congress had passed a law saying the U.S. could not sell weapons to any terrorist countries, including Iran. Reagan wanted to support the Contra thugs in Nicaragua. Congress had forbidden this through the Boland Amendment, so Reagan just broke the law. He sold weapons to Iran (while also selling weapons to Iraq) and used the money to support the Contras. In doing this, Reagan basically asserted that the president is above the law, something Nixon had articulated previously. Reagan should have been impeached for this, but he wasn’t. He was trashing the Constitution, because why not?
To sum up, President Reagan raised taxes, borrowed at record rates, enlarged the federal government, opposed citizens carrying loaded weapons, helped Saddam Hussein kill his own people, and put himself above the law. Those conservatives who believe him to be one of the finest presidents ever may want to rethink their position.
Jeanette Strong’s column appears every other Wednesday.