Yes, yes, we’re all required to think a lot about Ronald Reagan this weekend (and my god, there’ll be no living with Joe Scarborough next week…) But Christopher Hitchens dares to ponder whether the world would have been better off had the Gipper never become president.
I lived in Washington for most of those eight years, and for most of them would have replied with an unhesitating “yes.” (To this day I refuse to call my local airport “Reagan,” since before the name change it was Washington National, which means, thanks very much, that it was already named for a perfectly good ex-president.) Even now I can easily remember the things that outraged me: his easy manner when lying and his sometimes breathtakingly reactionary views. These extended from the whitewashing of the SS graves at Bitburg to his opinion that Americans fighting for the Spanish Republic had been on the “wrong” side, to his discovery that apartheid South Africa had always been an ally of the United States. Then there was the abject scuttle from Lebanon and the underhanded way in which Reagan tried to blame it on the Democrats. Perhaps worst of all was an apparent fusion of two things: his indulgence of fundamentalist and millennial priestly crooks like Jerry Falwell and his seeming flippancy about nuclear war. He once maintained that intercontinental missiles could be recalled after being launched, made on-air jokes about blasting the Soviet Union, and fatuously intoned “May the Force be with you” after announcing his plan for a Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” The coincidence between his superstitious interest in “End Times” theology and his insouciance about nuclear matters seemed dire in the extreme. And then there was Alexander Haig as secretary of state, and Oliver North as confidant, and the wife with the astrologer …
In a bizarre way, though, his simple-mindedness turns out to have had a touch of genius to it. His grasp of physics was on a level with Hollywood beam-weapon B-movies, and how we all laughed when he told Mikhail Gorbachev that, in the event of a Martian invasion of Earth, the United States and the Soviet Union would combine to sink their differences. But he had an insight that was denied to the adherents of Mutual Assured Destruction, whose theory was rapidly coming up against diminishing returns. …
Read the whole thing here.
Meanwhile, ThinkProgress has 10 things Gipperphiles wouldn’t want you to remember about their favorite president. Here are just the first three:
1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology,” Brinkley said.
2. Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit. During the Reagan years, the debt increased to nearly $3 trillion, “roughly three times as much as the first 80 years of the century had done altogether.” Reagan enacted a major tax cut his first year in office and government revenue dropped off precipitously. Despite the conservative myth that tax cuts somehow increase revenue, the government went deeper into debt and Reagan had to raise taxes just a year after he enacted his tax cut. Despite ten more tax hikes on everything from gasoline to corporate income, Reagan was never able to get the deficit under control.
3. Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. Unemploymentjumped to 10.8 percent after Reagan enacted his much-touted tax cut, and it took years for the rate to get back down to its previous level. Meanwhile,income inequality exploded. Despite the myth that Reagan presided over an era of unmatched economic boom for all Americans, Reagan disproportionately taxed the poor and middle class, but the economic growth of the 1980?s did little help them. “Since 1980, median household income has risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled or quadrupled,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted.
Oh it gets better. Keep reading…
One thing I will note that Reagan got right: okay two: he granted amnesty to illegal immigrants, which in the present climate would have gotten him labeled a Marxist. And he kept the neoconservatives at bay. Had he not, we might have seen Iran Contra and raised it a total war (possibly nuclear) on the then-Soviet Union and the Middle East. For that alone (and Peggy Noonan’s brilliant Challenger speech) I’ll give the guy thanks.