In the modern GOP, Ronald Reagan is akin to a god. Invoking the name of Reagan is assumed to add some sort of legitimacy to whatever point you are speaking about. A quick conversation with any self-proclaimed conservative would leave you to believe Ronald Reagan was the epitome of what every President should be. But is the former Governor and President someone that we should be looking up to, or have our memories of the man himself been distorted with time?
I will be analyzing what I see as major aspects of “The Good” and “The Bad” of the 40th President. These examples are then connected to the broader idolization and hyper-partisanship in our society today.
- Reagan’s part in ending the Cold War
I would never argue that Reagan was the sole force behind the ending of the Cold War. However, his policies towards the Soviet Union definitely didn’t cause any harm. The constant pressure from a massive (perhaps too massive) military and programs like Star Wars, most certainly concerned the Soviets.
For the most part, Reagan’s non-action in not starting a
violent conflict helped lead the Soviet Union to its ultimate demise through self-inflicted means. Discussions between the two countries along with internal pressure caused Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to implement reforms like glasnost and perestroika which added more political transparency and partially westernized the Soviet economy. The huge geopolitical shift of liberalization under Gorbachev occurred under Reagan’s watch, giving his policies at least some credit.
- Reagan’s Originalist Supreme Court Justices
Reagan did not miss a step in nominating Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia or Anthony Kennedy as Supreme Court Justices. Reagan and the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed these Justices, who in turn served on the court for decades.
Their interpretation of the Constitution was strict and reflected the will of the founders who ratified the document in 1788. The upholding of these original views are vital to maintaining the nation set up by these great men and Reagan deserves credit for helping that cause. Some of the important cases Reagan Justices were involved with include District of Columbia v. Heller, Citizens United v. FEC, and Bush v. Gore. These cases covered a wide variety of policy matters, including gun rights, freedom of speech and the presidency of the United States as a whole.
- Reaganomics (Somewhat)
Ronald Reagan’s economic policies are a mixed bag. I credit him with three things: the morality of giving people their own money back through tax cuts, inflation control and deregulation. These three policies strongly resonated with the American people, who were suffering under ludicrously high taxes and predecessor Jimmy Carter’s stagflation, consequences of decades of progressive policies.
His policies notably improved several different economic health indicators. Growth during the Reagan economy was shaky at times, but averaged around 3.5%. Reagan added a staggering 16.5 Million jobs to the economy during his 8 year term, making him the 3rd-best job creating president in American history.
- Reaganomics (Also somewhat)
Every good story comes with some caveats…
As I mentioned earlier, I agreed with Reagan’s tax cuts on a moral basis, but not on an economic one. A massive pillar of Reaganomics was the promise that cutting taxes would in turn stimulate the economy so much that people could once again afford to pay their bills. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Reagan’s supply side economic theory is inherently flawed. In order to balance the budget, spending needed to be cut. Much like today, this was not done. As a result, Reagan ultimately added $1.86 trillion to the national debt before he left office, nearly doubling the amount that Carter added.
Reagan’s debt spike set a dangerous precedent which has become completely unwieldy in current American politics. Much like Reagan, no president, with the exception of Bill Clinton’s stumble into the dot-com bubble, has taken the necessary steps to balance the budget, whether it be drastic spending cuts or tax increases.
- Support of Gun Control
Ronald Reagan does not have a particularly strong record of defending the second amendment. As Governor (in the form of the Mulford Act) and later in his life (in the form of the Brady Bill), Ronald Reagan supported gun control bills which degraded citizen’s second amendment rights.
The Mulford Act repealed a California law which allowed citizens to carry loaded weapons as long as they were in plain sight, and the Brady Bill was a federal law that required all handgun purchasers to undergo a background check as well as a 5-day waiting period before purchase.
In a country where the current administration, along with the NRA, fight tooth and nail against any gun restrictions, I personally find it baffling that there is still such strong conservative support for Reagan.
- Drug War/Sentencing
While Reagan may not have been the first president to talk about the war on drugs, he definitely was the one to declare it. A series of anti-drug ads, along with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign were the more mild side of this campaign, but there are far more serious consequences.
Zero-tolerance policies and mandatory minimums coupled together to create the ultimate mass-incarceration weapon. The amount of non-violent convictions skyrocketed, causing early signs of prison overpopulation and further stirring racial tensions in the country.
Reagan was a complicated figure in American politics, undoubtedly due in part with his having to work with a Democrat-led House of Representatives, but also due to his fundamentally “non-conservative” views on certain issues.
I didn’t write this article with the intention of discrediting Ronald Reagan’s legacy. Reagan’s name is simply a pawn in a larger strand of political problem: the ever-growing partisan divide.
I believe in the modern day of our two party system we have turned away from objective understanding towards unabashed party support. Party leaders spend the majority of their time telling political fallacies to constituents in a hopes that they buy into their ideological purview. The underlying problem is this: The reason why you don’t hear about the anti-conservative traits of Ronald Reagan, is because Republicans want to use him as a tool to push their agenda. This is similarly done by the democrats in regards to their “godly politicians” like FDR. This is part of the reason why politics is fundamentally broken in the United States. The duopoly would rather bend facts, ignore history or flat out lie to you rather than admit their politicians aren’t as pure as they claim they are.
My wish for this president’s day is that we remember Reagan for all he did, including the good and bad. Until we can all agree that idolization of public figures is foolish and that party lines are not as strict as those in power make it out to be, progress will remain halted, divisions will continue to rise, and anger will continue to grow.