For the record, I think anniversaries of birthdays and deaths and other celebrations of milestones are a waste of time and energy. I’m not talking about actual birthdays, but rather anniversaries of birthdays of people who have died. I don’t begrudge people who do celebrate them and take them so very serious, I just prefer to live primarily in the present and look forward to the future. Today would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, had he lived that long. In seeing some of the press on this, it has reminded me of my feelings about him and how they have changed over the years. When I cast my very first vote for a presidential candidate, it was for Jimmy Carter and also against Ronald Reagan. In my late teens, I saw Reagan as a dangerous and scary president who was a puppet of his handlers, not really in control, especially in the later years of his presidency when he was already starting to lose it.
His candidacy and presidency really marked a major change in the way a lot of our politics and governing takes place, the legacy of his 8 years has had a profound effect on our country in both positive and negative ways. I would argue the negatives far outweigh the positives, but I’m not going to deny the good things he did. The biggest negative I see is the promoting of the idea of blatant, unabashed selfishness, greed, I got mine, you get yours, trickle down, if you treat the rich nice, maybe they will reward you for it…bullshit. And of course the techniques they used to drive home this idea were repetition and saturation. The media were compliant and ate it up with a spoon and then fed it back to their viewers and readers. There was some push back initially, but as the repetition and pounding started to work, polls started to move and of course spineless democrats get wimpy and stop pushing back. That’s how conventional wisdom is born. And of course in recent years, the media has been overtaken by conservative corporate entities and of course Fox News came on the scene in 1996 and it’s all been down hill since then.
I do look back on the Reagan presidency with some respect, though. He did compromise with the democrats, he did consult with them on foreign policy, he did act like an adult most of the time and seemed to respect others even if he didn’t agree with them. This part of his legacy doesn’t seem to be one that current Republican politicians model or respect. But it was a different time back then…30 damn years ago, man I’m old…and so are you. :) There were still long standing traditions within the House and Senate, a respect for the institution and it’s history. Sure, some of it was antiquated, but in some ways I long for that “antiquation.” Freshman congresspeople knew their place, stayed in the background and learned the way things worked. The media ignored them for the most part. Today, the media elevates even the fringest of candidates like Christine O’Donnell, who now has a sweet PAC that can pay her rent, food and travel expense for her now. I hope she sends flowers to the press for the sweet gig they created for her. The swarm mentality of the cable news networks and others, lends itself to elevating people and of course, crushing them too. Shirley Sherrod, anyone?
I remember a lot of the great things Reagan did when it comes to nuclear arms treaties and diplomacy in general. He wasn’t afraid to talk to his enemies, he wasn’t afraid to compromise and he also wasn’t afraid of doing something his supporters didn’t necessarily support…I’m thinking taxes.
Having said all that about Reagan, there are many misperceptions that have been manufactured and perpetuated by subsequent politicians and his legacy in many people’s minds just doesn’t square with the facts. Will Bunch has a piece at the Washington Post pointing out some of these, go read it if you are inclined. Here are a few highlights…
Five myths about Ronald Reagan’s legacy
1. Reagan was one of our most popular presidents.
But Reagan’s average approval rating during the eight years that he was in office was nothing spectacular – 52.8 percent, according to Gallup. That places the 40th president not just behind Kennedy, Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower, but also Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush, neither of whom are talked up as candidates for Mount Rushmore.
In 1982, as the national unemployment rate spiked above 10 percent, Reagan’s approval rating fell to 35 percent. At the height of the Iran-Contra scandal, nearly one-third of Americans wanted him to resign.
In the early 1990s, shortly after Reagan left office, several polls found even the much-maligned Jimmy Carter to be more popular.
I can’t help but think about President Obama’s poll numbers in comparison and how hyperbole and reality often diverge in many people’s minds. Not just on Fox News either, we progressives have our own small thinkers…firebaggers I’m looking directly at you.
2. Reagan was a tax-cutter.
Certainly, Reagan’s boldest move as president was his 1981 tax cut, a sweeping measure that slashed the marginal rate on the wealthiest Americans from 70 percent to 50 percent. The legislation also included smaller cuts in lower tax brackets, as well as big breaks for corporations and the oil industry. But the following year, as the economy was mired in recession and the federal deficit was spiraling out of control, even groups such as the Business Roundtable lobbied Reagan to raise taxes. And he did: The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was, at the time, the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history.
Did the supply-siders learn their lesson from that experience, not so much. You can tune in any Republican on television talking about anything budget related and they will proudly proclaim that if you cut rich people’s taxes, all will be good in the world. It’s like herpes within the Republican Party, it won’t go away and they keep spreading it around to each other. But of course the Republicans want to cut funding to try to find a cure for it. :)
Go read Will Bunch’s whole article and share it with others. Maybe it will help to rewrite history again, something closer to reality.
H/T to Booman
The reason this site is called Extreme Liberal is largely due to the redefining of the word liberal, which began in the Reagan era and continues to this day. I have always and will always call myself a liberal, whether people like it or not. :)