Considering my recently acquired privilege as an 18 year old to vote, I should be more versed in political matters. However, the political aficionado in our family happens to be my younger brother Tom. I have featured his writing once before, and he was hoping for another opportunity to put his writing on the platform. In the wake of the presidential election, he was inspired to write a piece about another controversial candidate in our nation's history: Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan is a widely lauded man. He is such a savior to the Republican Party that they proposed putting his head on Mt. Rushmore. Even some Democrats try to be like him, with president Barack Obama once said he wanted to be “the Reagan of the Left”. This is poppycock. Ronald Reagan’s presidency, although an improvement from the stagflation of the late 70s, was really nothing special and destructive at times.
Below, I've highlighted just some of the areas in which I believe Ronald Reagan did not succeed as president.
The Economy: Part 1.
Although though many deficit hawks point to Reagan as an example, his record on the national debt was absolutely atrocious. National debt increased from nearly 994 billion to 2.9 trillion when Mr. Reagan left office. In fact, despite Republican calls for a balanced budget, not once was a surplus recorded during the Reagan presidency, nor that of his successor and vice president George HW Bush. He broke his campaign promise while running against Mr. Carter of a balanced budget in the next 4 years. What of wasteful spending however? Didn’t Reagan curb that? Well, if you consider education, benefits to the poor, and social security to be “wasteful spending”, then yes, Mr. Reagan did do that. At the same time he increased military spending to a ridiculous 5.5-6.3% of GDP, crushed unions, and slashed corporate tax, all leading to shortfalls, often assuaged by borrowing from the social security trust fund. This is the “voodoo economics” that George HW was smart enough to understand about.
The Economy: Part 2.
Reaganomics promised that by reducing the tax rates on wealthy Americans, the wealth would “trickle down” to society. The farcical claim that the free market would be effective at making an egalitarian society turned out to be dead wrong. Since Reagan implemented his neoliberal policies, wage growth for the working class has become anemic. Median household income since 1979 has risen at an average of just 0.1% per year, whereas the share of wealth going to the top one percent has skyrocketed. The top one percent’s share of wealth is higher than any time since the 1920s, and has doubled since 1980. Poverty also didn’t change, it was actually .5 percent higher than it was in 1980, when Mr. Reagan took over. In addition, Reagan’s 1983 tax plan, said to be one of the largest peacetime tax raises, was primarily targeted at the middle class, who had to pay the bill for Reagan’s previously erroneous policies in 1981 and 1982. Most of these continued, however. Also, unemployment averaged at 7.5% throughout Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Compared with 6 other presidents, unemployment was only higher under Gerald Ford.
Mr. Reagan always loved to bash the Soviets for their so called “undemocratic system” and “evil empire”. Yet Reagan seemed to be just fine with authoritarians far worse than Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev. Reagan refused to impose sanctions on apartheid era South Africa, fearing that the government would collapse, giving the leftist African National Congress power- an organization deemed as “terrorist” by Reagan’s good friend Margaret Thatcher. Reagan gave military aid and economic support to Central American juntas like El Salvador and Guatemala, who went through neighbourhoods massacring indigenous populations and torturing trade union leaders. In Nicaragua, Reagan used money from illegal weapons sales to Iran to fund the Contras, a group of rightist thugs who challenged the democratically elected Sandinista government by raping, pillaging, and setting fire to anything they could. Reagan also illegally invaded Grenada, strengthened the embargo that cost Cuba billions, and collaborated with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to fund the terroristic Mujahideen in Afghanistan. As for “ending the Cold War”, this is largely a myth. Eastern bloc states would have remained in Soviet orbit if not for the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, whose tweaks to the system, including more press freedom and private enterprise, quickly crashed a Marxist-Leninist state already on its way towards demise.
Social and Environmental Policy.
Reagan was opposed to virtually all environmental regulations. He doubted the toxicity of acid rain, claimed trees caused pollution, and ripped off the solar panels President Carter installed on top of the white house. He was opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights act, which outlawed discrimination in employment based on religion, sex, race, or national origin, opposed to fair housing laws as governor, lamented the voting rights act, called confederate Jefferson Davis a “hero of mine”, yet insisted he wasn’t a racist. Reagan also went even harder than Nixon on the war on drugs that helped lead to mass incarceration, while doing nothing to stop drug use. In regards to AIDS, even as thousands died, it took Reagan years to fully realize that it was a big problem, and it needed to be prevented. Perhaps his anti-homosexual tendencies had something to do with it. Lastly, despite claims that Reagan had a “great, honest cabinet”, this is far from the truth. At least 138 Reagan administration officials, including several cabinet members, were investigated for, indicted for, or convicted of crimes.
In conclusion, President Ronald Reagan wasn’t the devil. He was a highly charismatic man who deep down, was probably a great guy. But at the end of the day, his record is far from perfect, and the fact that he is even considered as one of the greatest US presidents is absolutely ridiculous.