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Time To Explode The Reagan Myths

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One of very few critiques I have ever read or seen ever let alone this week about Saint Ronnie the Patron Saint of the conservative republican party.


"What would Limbaugh have said back in 1982-83 when the unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent for 10 consecutive months?"


He did more to help make people and keep people poor in this country than any other President.




Today marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth and it seems like an opportune time to destroy some of the Reagan myths.


The 40th president has become an icon for conservative Republicans who polish his legacy, year by year. But it’s certainly worth noting that Reagan would have faced furious opposition from conservative commentators if today’s toxic political atmosphere was in place in the 1980s. In fact, the same talk radio and cable TV bloviators who routinely invoke his name probably would have savaged Reagan back in the day.


Reagan, of course, is best remembered for tax cuts and a defense buildup and a booming economy. But those who revere his memory conveniently forget the full Reagan record.


Shortly into his presidency, Reagan endorsed a bipartisan commission to shore up Social Security and implemented their recommendations, including a tax increase. A few years later, he backed a Democratic plan to reform the income tax system, giving a big boost to two up-and-coming Democrats — Sen. Bill Bradley and Rep. Richard Gephardt — and signed the bill, despite its elimination of numerous tax breaks. Those changes meant that many low-income Americans no longer paid income taxes.


Those two tax bills alone would have caused today’s purist, right-wing crowd to label Reagan a GOP traitor, a liberal — or worse.


Reagan presided over the worst recession — at that time — since World War II. In his attempt to wring the Jimmy Carter inflation out of the economy, unemployment soared. Rush Limbaugh delights in dwelling on the poor economy under President Obama. What would Limbaugh have said back in 1982-83 when the unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent for 10 consecutive months?


Consider this: When Reagan campaigned for re-election here in Macomb County in July 1984, touting his sunny “Morning in America” theme, the Michigan unemployment rate was still 11.3 percent. That’s higher than the current rate, after eight years of Jennifer Granholm and two years of Obama.


In 1986, Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to the nation’s millions of illegal immigrants. I suspect Laura Ingraham would be calling for impeachment if she were commentating back then.


In addition, the unrelenting right-wing ranters would surely have used Reagan’s background against him.


Several months ago, in a radio interview, Reagan’s son, Michael, offered some surprising views on how his father would fare in the current political climate. Michael Reagan, a prominent conservative writer, said his dad probably could not win the Republican nomination today because of three actions he approved while governor of California: a huge tax increase, an abortion-on-demand bill, and no-fault divorce legislation.


Sean Hannity, who seemingly invokes Reagan’s name 20 times a day, would relentlessly scourge any GOP candidate with that track record.


The fact that Reagan was a former union leader and a former Democrat — casting his ballot for Franklin Roosevelt four times — would surely have sparked comments from Glenn Beck suggesting that Reagan is a closet socialist.


Unlike today’s hard core, divisive conservatives, Reagan exuded good humor and optimism and he avoided vilification of his opponents. He engaged in bipartisanship and compromise — even pragmatism.


After a suicide bomber hit the American embassy in Lebanon in 1983, Reagan decided the chaos there was not our fight, and he eventually pulled our troops out. Imagine what Bill O’Reilly would have said about that — fleeing in the face of terrorism.


I’m pretty confident that tea party favorites like Rep. Michele Bachmann would have railed against Reagan’s record budget deficits and would have sharply noted that, despite his reputation, Reagan presided over a tripling of the national debt during his eight years in office.


There are many other events and aspects that could be cited to counter the Reagan mythology. The fact that Reagan rarely attended church. His strained relationship with his children. The foolish Iran-Contra scheme that led to scandal. And his 1982 approval rating of 35 percent.


The point is not to disparage the life of a deceased president. Clearly, Reagan posted many achievements and delivered numerous inspiring speeches along the way. I will forever be grateful for his leading role in ending the Cold War and causing the Soviet empire to collapse.


But his life and his presidency were much more nuanced than the mythical figure presented by right-wingers who seem to live by the credo: “What would Reagan do?”


I certainly doubt that Reagan would approve of this idolatry. After all, he spelled out his legacy simply: “What I would really like to do is go down in history as the president who made Americans believe in themselves again.”



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