Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Misguided Conservative Obsession with Reagan

One of the more bizarre phenomenons of conservative thinking is to elevate the sad and unfortunate presidency of Ronald Reagan to empyrean heights, this despite Reagan's poor record and his inability to react to crises at the time. Economic conservatives laud Reagan's tax cut philosophy, yet they fail to acknowledge that he left the country heavily in debt; surely this is an indictment, not validation, of such an economic policy. According to a debt watchdog group, "Despite his claim to hate the debt, Reagan instituted unprecedented peacetime deficit spending." Once again, a Democratic president had to clean up the economic mess left behind by a Republican president.

According to records and one Reagan biography, "By the end of his term, 138 Reagan administration officials had been convicted, had been indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations. In terms of number of officials involved, the record of his administration was the worst ever." Reagan's Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Interior and many other major or minor characters in his administration were either indicted or convicted of a crime. In comparative terms, Reagan's corruption makes the current unethical practices (Attorney-gate, Enron-gate, etc.) of the Bush administration seem rather tame.

Though Reagan may be best remembered for taking credit for ending the Cold War, he also should be remembered for his criminal lack of a response to the growing AIDS crises. Allen White writes in The San Francisco Chronicle that "Following discovery of the first cases in 1981, it soon became clear a national health crisis was developing. But President Reagan's response was "halting and ineffective," according to his biographer Lou Cannon. Those infected initially with this mysterious disease -- all gay men -- found themselves targeted with an unprecedented level of mean-spirited hostility." To say that Reagan abdicated his responsibility as Commander in Chief in his non-response to this growing crises may be an understatement.

There are several other reasons that Reagan should be viewed in a more critical light, from Iran-Contra to the growth of poverty in the country during his tenure; but I would encourage conservatives to look closer at Reagan's actual record (only the marginal tax rate went down; spending and other economic indicators went up) rather than romanticize this B-movie actor-cum-president. What I find strikingly similar between the current Bush administration and Reagan is that Bush 43 isn't an aberration in the conservative movement. Bush's failures, according to Reagan hagiographers, aren't conservativism's failures; but the opposite is instead true.


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