Debunking the Reagan Myth

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by jterrell, Jan 21, 2008.

  1. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    Published: January 21, 2008

    Historical narratives matter. That’s why conservatives are still writing books denouncing F.D.R. and the New Deal; they understand that the way Americans perceive bygone eras, even eras from the seemingly distant past, affects politics today.

    And it’s also why the furor over Barack Obama’s praise for Ronald Reagan is not, as some think, overblown. The fact is that how we talk about the Reagan era still matters immensely for American politics.

    Bill Clinton knew that in 1991, when he began his presidential campaign. “The Reagan-Bush years,” he declared, “have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”

    Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

    Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?

    For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

    When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.

    Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the U.S. economy — but not on Reagan’s watch.

    For example, I’m not sure what “dynamism” means, but if it means productivity growth, there wasn’t any resurgence in the Reagan years. Eventually productivity did take off — but even the Bush administration’s own Council of Economic Advisers dates the beginning of that takeoff to 1995.

    Similarly, if a sense of entrepreneurship means having confidence in the talents of American business leaders, that didn’t happen in the 1980s, when all the business books seemed to have samurai warriors on their covers. Like productivity, American business prestige didn’t stage a comeback until the mid-1990s, when the U.S. began to reassert its technological and economic leadership.

    I understand why conservatives want to rewrite history and pretend that these good things happened while a Republican was in office — or claim, implausibly, that the 1981 Reagan tax cut somehow deserves credit for positive economic developments that didn’t happen until 14 or more years had passed. (Does Richard Nixon get credit for “Morning in America”?)

    But why would a self-proclaimed progressive say anything that lends credibility to this rewriting of history — particularly right now, when Reaganomics has just failed all over again?

    Like Ronald Reagan, President Bush began his term in office with big tax cuts for the rich and promises that the benefits would trickle down to the middle class. Like Reagan, he also began his term with an economic slump, then claimed that the recovery from that slump proved the success of his policies.

    And like Reaganomics — but more quickly — Bushonomics has ended in grief. The public mood today is as grim as it was in 1992. Wages are lagging behind inflation. Employment growth in the Bush years has been pathetic compared with job creation in the Clinton era. Even if we don’t have a formal recession — and the odds now are that we will — the optimism of the 1990s has evaporated.

    This is, in short, a time when progressives ought to be driving home the idea that the right’s ideas don’t work, and never have.

    It’s not just a matter of what happens in the next election. Mr. Clinton won his elections, but — as Mr. Obama correctly pointed out — he didn’t change America’s trajectory the way Reagan did. Why?

    Well, I’d say that the great failure of the Clinton administration — more important even than its failure to achieve health care reform, though the two failures were closely related — was the fact that it didn’t change the narrative, a fact demonstrated by the way Republicans are still claiming to be the next Ronald Reagan.

    Now progressives have been granted a second chance to argue that Reaganism is fundamentally wrong: once again, the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. But they won’t be able to make that argument if their political leaders, whatever they meant to convey, seem to be saying that Reagan had it right.
  2. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    A President to be proud of.
  3. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament...

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    Funny thing...

    Perhaps the worst president in our history preceded Mr. Reagan... (although FDR is in the running)

    Mr. Reagan took office and once again made us feel good about ourselves, proud to be Americans...

    Mr. Carter wrecked our economy and in the single dumbest strategic move in the history of our presidency, gave the Panama Canal away (which is largely run by China now).

    Libs have spent years attempting to tear Mr. Reagan down, but if the truth be told, if Mr. Reagan were alive and eligible to run for the presidency he would win by a landslide (again) against any candidate alive.

    Now we are subjected to revisionist history in regards to Mr. Carter. Now he is a great statesman :rolleyes:. A trusted source of level-headedness :rolleyes: and fairness :rolleyes:.

    It kills the libs that Mr. Reagan is still so highly regarded...
  4. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Winter is Coming Staff Member

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    Ronny was the best we have had in a long time, but at the same time the man had his warts and there were some "scandals" during his time as well.

    The problem I have with some of the republicans running today is they keep hearkening back to Ronny while at the same time chanting the ever popular "change" and "look to the future" mantra.
  5. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    Carter was a trainwreck. No doubt there but you do not see Dems running on a Carter-like platform.

    He sucked.

    But gung-ho and mostly goofy conservatives who fail to pay attention tout Reagen as some kind of god-send which is comical. He did end the Cold War but he paid a huge financial cost to do so. At the end we had this huge military expenditure for nothing at all. To sit around waiting on a Soviet in complete shambles to attack us. So we started selling arms. Great move there!!!!!

    He suffered physically and mentally while in the White House(even if the degree to which he suffered are debateable) and there were decisions to which he did not recall making.

    He reigned over the largest crime increase in the history of the country. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. We had the introduction of crack and crack babies. The poor got off their butts but did do so to steal, rob, sell drugs or however to make ends meet. There was no plan to deal with them so they handled things for themselves.

    Reagenomics was an absolute failure which is exactly how Bill Clinton got into office. Now Bushonomics is just as bad. Trickle down has never worked and never will. Unless of course you live in India or China. Our trickle down is great for them.

    If Reagan ran again with his false perceptions attached he may very well win but it is all a bunch of hooey. The guy had the worst economic plan of anyone outside Carter.
  6. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    Keep Reagan's Record in Balance

    By Jim Hoagland
    Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page A19

    The good that Ronald Reagan did is not being buried with his bones tomorrow, as Shakespeare's Mark Antony predicted of Caesar. Reagan's good is being disinterred and magnified. It is being raised to new and unrealistic heights that will live on, and hang heavily over his successors, in public expectations.

    This is not to begrudge the 40th president the thunderous applause that has come from politicians, journalists, historians and citizens to mark Reagan's final bow. Ill should rarely be spoken of the dead. But it is puzzling how these assessments of Reagan's accomplishments have improved so dramatically and uniformly in the 16 years since he left office.

    Perhaps this is how contemporary history is made or, in the electronic era, mismade and distorted. Reagan's growing reputation as the great victor in the Cold War who made Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall depends on looking at Reagan and his times through the light cast by subsequent events.

    The craving by Americans for uncluttered heroism -- for what is seen in retrospect as the order and clarity of the Cold War -- also powers this yearning for a near-mythical transformation of Reagan's death into a moment to sweep aside the dread and anguish of the wars in Iraq and against al Qaeda.

    Yes, winners always write the history. But it is dangerously easy today to make the leap from that news footage of Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to concluding that he came to office with a master plan to make victory in the Cold War inevitable. As one television executive said to me not long ago, "Today history is what we say it is."

    To one who covered many of the key international events of that day, Reagan seemed in fact to come late to a realistic view of the Soviet Union and the world, and -- like most presidents -- to have improvised furiously and not always successfully in foreign affairs.

    It is also easy in today's elegiac mood to forget how unpopular Reagan was abroad for most of his presidency, even among his peers. France's Francois Mitterrand once sputtered in rage at me when I asked about his ideological conflicts with Reagan over Soviet policies. Kremlin officials expressed private delight at Reagan's election because they would be able to "roll him."

    That is no skin off Reagan's record. He was more right about the evil and the fate of Soviet imperialism than Mitterrand, Gorbachev and most other leaders of the day. He was far from the amiable dunce portrayed by his knee-jerk critics.

    But the opposition that Reagan stirred should not be airbrushed out of the final photograph of his times. Nor can we ignore the fact that the analysis and policies that brought some breakthroughs with Moscow originated more with George Shultz at the State Department than at Reagan's White House.

    The Wall collapsed a year after Reagan's successor had been chosen and had started to alter policies toward Moscow. That collapse was due more to the struggle in the 1980s of the citizens of Poland, Hungary, East Germany and other satellite nations than to new actions by Washington. Nor should we minimize the contribution that a half-century of common dedication by U.S. and West European citizens and their military forces made to the final collapse of the Soviet empire.

    There were important costs that came with Reagan's undeniable successes. His confrontational style used in getting much-needed Pershing 2 missiles deployed in Europe helped prematurely end the career of West Germany's highly competent chancellor, Helmut Schmidt.

    U.S. support extended to guerrillas to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan has blown back in the form of al Qaeda and extreme instability in Central Asia. U.S. help to Saddam Hussein in Iraq also boomeranged. Iran-contra was not as great an aberration at the Reagan White House as it is often painted today.

    The commentariat has made many of the right points about Reagan's uplifting personality and all the good and the fascinating that will live after him. Even if he was not a great president, he lived a great life from which we can all learn.

    But if we airbrush and prettify history for the small screen and the front page, and ultimately for the books to come, we will not learn the most important lessons about mistakes that can be avoided. Let Reagan be Reagan, warts and all, for all time now.
  7. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    The budget deficit rose from $74 billion in 1980 to $155 billion in 1988, while the trade deficit rose from $15 billion to $129 billion during the same period.


    And we make the same mistakes today because we somehow look to this model as being a good one:(
  8. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    Ronald Reagan's Legacy

    by Mark Weisbrot

    Ronald Reagan was a man who fought for what he believed in, and he changed the world more than probably any American in the twentieth century. He changed not only the conservative movement, the Republican party, his country and the world -- but also his opponents, known as liberals. As a result of his achievements, the typical liberal Member of Congress today sits to the right of Richard Nixon on a number of economic issues, including tax policy.

    The Great Communicator, as he was called, was capable of charming millions of Americans with his soothing, grandfatherly demeanor. In 1984 there were polls indicating that most of those who voted to re-elect him disagreed with him on the issues. In short, the "Reagan revolution" would probably never have happened without his unrivalled leadership skills.

    His death has unleashed a torrent of commentary on the significance of this revolution, and so it is important to set the record straight. His economic policies were mostly a failure. Partly this was because he had promised something arithmetically impossible: to increase military spending, cut taxes, and balance the budget. He kept the first two promises, delivering the largest peacetime military build-up in American history, and cutting taxes massively, mostly for upper-income households.

    But budget deficits soared to record heights. The national debt doubled, as a percentage of the economy, before Mr. Reagan's successors were able to bring it under control. This "military Keynesianism" did pull the economy out of the 1982 recession, but the 1980s still chalked up the slowest growth of any decade in the post-World War II era. And income was redistributed to the wealthy as never before: during the 1980s, most of the country's income gains went to the top 1 or 2 percent of households.

    Mr. Reagan also helped redistribute American income and wealth with a bold assault on American labor. In 1981 he summarily fired 12,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike for better working conditions. This ushered in a new and dark era of labor relations, with employers now free to "permanently replace" striking workers. The median real wage failed to grow during the decade of the 1980s.

    The Reagan revolution caused even more economic damage internationally, for example by changing policy at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Thus began the era of "structural adjustment" -- a set of economic policies that has become so discredited worldwide that the IMF and World Bank no longer use the term. The 1980s became "the lost decade" for Latin America, the region most affected by Washington's foreign economic policy. Income per person actually shrank for the decade, a rare historical event, and the region has yet to come close to its pre-1980s growth rates.

    Mr. Reagan is often credited with having caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, but this is doubtful. He did use the Cold War as a pretext for other interventions, including funding and support for horrific violence against the civilian population of Central America. In 1999 the United Nations determined that the massacres of tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly indigenous people, constituted "genocide." These massacres -- often involving grotesque torture -- reached their peak under the rule of Mr. Reagan's ally, the Guatemalan General Rios Montt. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans were also murdered during Mr. Reagan's presidency by death squads affiliated with the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military.

    But it was Mr. Reagan's efforts to overthrow the government -- democratically elected in 1984 -- of poor, underdeveloped Nicaragua that almost brought down his presidency. Congress cut off aid to Mr. Reagan's proxy army, the Contras, as a result of pressure from Americans -- led by religious groups -- who were disgusted by the Contras' tactics of murdering unarmed teachers and health care workers.

    The Reagan administration continued to run the war from the basement of the White House, and paid for part of it with the proceeds of illegal arms sales to Iran. Hence the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Mr. Reagan escaped prosecution because his subordinates claimed that he had no knowledge of their crimes.

    The Reagan revolution continues today: the "war on terror" has replaced the Cold War as pretext for intervention abroad, including the disastrous war in Iraq. Tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending have revived the era of giant budget deficits. As the Great Communicator used to say, "There they go again."

    Mark Weisbrot is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC (
  9. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    In 1980, the USA was the number 1 Creditor nation in the world. In 1984 the USA was the number 1 Debtor nation in the world. Hummm....

    IIRC, the Reagan administration had more officials indicted than any other presidential administration.

    The lunatic fringe brought in by the Reagan crew (Wolfowitz, Feith, etal) were among the movers and shakers in the present administration.

    Reagan told us beautiful lies that made us feel real good. We regained our manhood as a nation by beating up such worthies as -- Grenada......Panama. Hmnnn.

    Don't look closely at the Contra guns/cocaine connections. Or the pictures of Bush, Sr, and Kissenger and the like hanging out with their cocaine kingpin buddies down in Panama. Or the surprsing number of American trained central american goons who showed up in death squads there.

    Again, he told us what we wanted to hear so badly, and as such he is remembered fondly. He was a B grade actor in his greatest role -- playing the president.
  10. PosterChild

    PosterChild New Member

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    This is classic iconoclastic rewriting of history by a self-confessed liberal. Reagan is a prized target because of his accomplishments and his esteemed status not just among conservatives but is also revered across party lines and ideologies. Few politicians reach such status. JFK comes to mind. Krugman's other purpose here though is to attack Obama, whom he apparently dislikes. (I suppose just in case that train isn't completely off the rails.) Economists can and have argued endlessly about the legacy of Reaganomics...naturally Krugman is going to selectively present data that support his perspective and ends. If you love this guy so much, check out his latest book: The Conscience Of A Liberal. You can't make this stuff up.

    So in order to present an alternative view on this thread, let's look at another conclusion on Reagan's fiscal policy of the 80's from the Cato Inst.

    "The 1980s were years of economic progress, not decline. Real GDP grew by about one-third in the 1980s. The economic gains were widely distributed among income groups, with every income quintile, from the richest fifth to the poorest fifth, gaining ground in the Reagan years.

    The Reagan tax cuts were not a primary cause

    of the eruption of the deficit in the 1980s. The main two causes were an unexpectedly sharp reduction in inflation in the early 1980s that led to large real increases in federal spending, and a nearly $1 trillion military build-up during the last phase of the cold war.

    Most significantly, the economy of the 1980s outperformed that of the 1990s in virtually every measurable category. Economic growth was higher, job creation was faster, incomes rose much faster, and productivity climbed at a healthier pace."

    If you like copious details and charts, I mean lots and lots of charts, go here for the extensive full report:
  11. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    History is not some absolute truth that is goldplated forever in its pristine form.

    So loaded claims of revisionism uttered with arch horror don't really carry much weight.

    Counterclaims and conclusions backed by evidence are much weightier indeed.

  12. PosterChild

    PosterChild New Member

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    Read the Cato report or continue lapping up historical rewrites that fit your idealogy. Makes no difference to me.
  13. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    The Cato institute believes every tax is a bad tax.
    Of course they deflect the effects of the tax cuts but they also lay blame still back on Reagen...(The main two causes were an unexpectedly sharp reduction in inflation in the early 1980s that led to large real increases in federal spending, and a nearly $1 trillion military build-up during the last phase of the cold war.)

    You do not need charts or economic degrees to understand the trade deficit ballooned and the national debt skyrocketed. Those are easily verifiable numbers.

    I lived through the Reagen years so I know the complete snow job we get regarding his policies.

    Anyone calling themselves a conservative who thinks raising trade deficits and our national debt to that extent is good policy needs a new term.
  14. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    All the posts after yours frantically trying to bash him proves your point.

    Liberals cannot stand Reagan and will argue all day against him .... Wait till Sassy notices this thread ..... he hated all the accolades Reagan got when he died.
  15. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    Anyone who owned a small or medium sized family business (or who was employed by them) in the 80's and early 90's would disagree with you.
  16. jterrell

    jterrell Penguinite

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    That's not true.
    My Dad owned a small business in the late 80's.

    That business ended up working mostly in upscale communities because no one else had any money to spend. He was taxed less but made less overall money pre-taxes. De-regulation meant disaster for many. We had the savings Loan scandal and a nasty market crash in 1987.

    Reagen was a friend to those in the highest income brackets and to those who owned businesses in general but he forced upon us all the top down pyramid where all money goes to the richest from the poorest.

    Supply-side economics has been shown a failure; a failure at every turn and we are seeing the effects of following it so long now with massive national debt and retardedly large trade deficits. That is the legacy of Ronald Reagen. It really is a shame that legacy can't be turned off like his old movies.
  17. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament...

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    The bottom line of this whole argument is this...

    Mr. Obama made reference to Mr. Reagan bringing a message of change and positivity....

    The Clinton Campaign realizes that Mr. Reagan is still an icon, even among many democrats. Probably kicking themselves for not thinking of it first, the only alternative is to tear Mr. Reagan down via the Clintonistas thereby making Mr. Obama look bad...

    It's classic Clinton politics. They worship at the altar of "The Politics of Personal Destruction"...
  18. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    Sorry ..... not buying that Reagan's policies is what doomed your dads business. I know of and first hand saw so many here in East Texas in the Nacogdoches area that were saved by Reagan's policies, (Langley Manufacturing, Foretravel, Cooper Power, Clipper, Brookshires, Beards) and were systematically destroyed by your hero Clinton's regime (Clipper, Dan Nelsons, Roberta electric, Powertrain, ect ect)

    The hand out part of our culture will never look fondly on the Reagan years ....
  19. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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  20. CanadianCowboysFan

    CanadianCowboysFan Lightning Rod

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    I don't know how much Reagan actually understood, but the actor in him always knew what to say and face it, people liked him personally, maybe not his politics but Reagan the person.

    It was more voodoo economics than anything, but people loved the fact you were able to free those medical students in Grenada, didn't lose a war under his term of office and his willingness to spend the Soviets into the ground helped break up the communist block.

    Bad legacy of his term though has to be the rise of islamic fundamentalism which he helped along by supporting the terrorists mujahadeem. His support of right wing dictatorships like the ones in Central America, Phillipines, and the contras, along with his refusal to admit his involvement in the Iran Contra scandal do hurt his foreign policy legacy.

    Overall though, the US did well during the 1980s and were better off in January 1989 than January 1980.

    Granted he was fortunate there were no oil crunches like the 1970s and no stagflation.

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