The recent centenary of the birth of Ronald Reagan has had conservative pundits pouring on the hagiography in their usual ahistorical manner, and ignoring the inconvenient fact that decades of Reganomics -- tax cuts for the rich, deficient spending, anti-union tactics, deregulation of the financial industry, and a shredding of the social safety net -- are responsible for the economic mess in which the nation finds itself.
Here, then, a few clearer looks at the legacy of the President whom one wag -- I wish I could remember who -- described as doing for the U.S. what anabolic steroids do for athletes: big muscles, sure, at the cost of withered testicles.
- Five myths about Ronald Reagan's legacy, by Will Bunch. (Bunch's book Tear Down This Myth is recommended.) Bunch points out that Reagan was not that popular during his actual presidency; in the early 90s he was less popular than Carter. Only since the revelation that he had Alzheimer's disease -- and since the revisionist attempts of people like Grover Norquist -- has his popularity climbed. He raised taxes on working folks, increased the size of the federal government, and was neither so hawkish nor as culturally conservative as modern conservatives like to make him out to have been.
- Salon.com's interview with David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's first budget director. Says Stockman, "The Reagan Revolution was a Lincoln Day Dinner speech. It never happened in the real world of fiscal policy. During the 1980's, Big Government got bigger and the Federal tax burden was just shuffled, not reduced. The main fiscal legacy of the Reagan era is that the Federal debt was raised from $1 trillion to $3 trillion....[T]here was no reduction in the total Federal tax burden during the Reagan era. What survived was an anti-tax religious catechism which has left the country with two free lunch parties and no prospect of responsible fiscal governance."
- Brian Morton (whom I've taken to task previously for his support of the War on (Some) Drugs, but that's another topic) points out that "More than anything else, what Reagan gave us is an enduring, entitled class of individuals who believe that work should be taxed, but wealth should not....No other president has had a fully funded post-presidential legacy propaganda machine like Reagan has, to stroke and massage his memory to the point where what he actually did is no longer of consequence. It’s all about what they want him to stand for. Reagan is now the gilded idol of the moneyed class, the totem for systemic inequality, and the one-word clarion call for tax cuts in perpetuity for the freeloader caucus. It took 30 years, but he got what he wanted. Happy birthday, Mr. President."
- Eugene Robinson points out that "The Republican Party tries to claim the Reagan mantle but has moved so far to the right that it now inhabits its own parallel universe. On the planet that today's GOP leaders call home, Reagan would qualify as one of those big-government, tax-and-spend liberals who are trying so hard to destroy the American way of life." He also notes that Reagan's tax-raising ways did not start when he reached the White House -- he gave California what was, at the time, its biggest tax hike ever.