Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reagan's Legacy

Some Republicans want to put Reagan's face on Mt. Rushmore. In our bitterly divided America, in which both sides say 20 words attacking the opponent for every one word they say supporting their own side, I wonder if the Republicans really think Reagan deserves this honor or if they just want to rub the liberal nose in conservative shit.

Reagan was a mediocre President who got a few things right. (You could say the same thing about Teddy Roosevelt, whose image is on Mt. Rushmore; he's the farthest one back, as if the artist knew something was wrong including him among Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.)

The best thing about Reagan was his supply-side economics and tax cuts that spurred an economic boom that, with a few dips along the way, we are still enjoying. He is given credit for ending the Soviet Union, but the fundamental reason it failed is the nature of communism. Socialism, or "planned chaos" as Mises called it, can't create wealth and simply cannot compete with the productive dynamo that is capitalism. Reagan was lucky to be in the White House when the Potemkin Village that was the Soviet Bloc began to collapse and people saw it was an empty facade.

Reagan's pragmatism toward Iran and terrorism, with his non-response to the Beirut barracks bombing and his Iran-Contra Scandal, makes him the single man most responsible for our feckless Middle East policy. Conservatives blame Carter and Clinton, but the enemy knew those men were weak. Reagan is worse because he pretended to be strong but was in fact as weak and appeasing as any liberal you could find. Our pretense at strength convinced people such as Osama bin Laden that America is a paper tiger. We still have not proved him wrong.

The size of government more than doubled during the Reagan Presidency. You can blame it on Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress, but the fact is that Reagan didn't have what it takes to stand up to the big spenders. Such weakness is the stuff of mediocrity.

Worst of all, Reagan brought the Religious Right to power, destroying the Goldwater paradigm of a party dedicated to individual rights. With Reagan, the contradictions in the Republican Party grow. 20 years later we have a Republican President who expands the welfare state like a liberal and brings in faith to work with the welfare state -- and calls it "compassionate conservatism." The Republicans are well on their way to becoming, like the Democrats, a force for tyranny rather than for freedom.

Reagan on Mt. Rushmore? It would be an act of injustice.


Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

I agree that Mt Rushmore is out of the question. However, the force of the religious right was brought to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich and his "Contract With America". I also think Regan should get more credit for bringing the Soviet era to an end than you give here. He built up the Navy from a totally ineffective force under Jimmy "No Balls" Carter to a 100+ ship dynamo that the Soviets couldn't match. They spent themselves into self-destruction trying to keep up. I'll grant you that they would have crumbled at some point anyway, but Regan brought it to a close most dramatically with the wall speech.

Regan gave the country a sense of strength that was only used in Grenada and a symbolic bombing of Lybia. He could have done a lot more, and I think he would have had he not been caught with Iran Contra and the bullshit our peacenik brothers and sisters brought to the table. That caused a lot of conservative to abandon ship and back peddle. This loss of support in Congress hamstrung him as well. Because we'll never know for sure, I'd rate him as mediocre plus.

The thought that saddens me the most, though, is that when I scan the political horizon, I see absolutely no one that even comes close to mediocre, let alone mediocre plus.

Myrhaf said...

Reagon does deserve credit for Grenada and for handling the air traffic controllers. I think lot of his value to the right is in sympbolism, his saying things like "It's morning in America." He had the appearance of a strong leader. The weaknesses of his mixed presidency are terrible and undermine his strengths.

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

PS: Great article. I enjoyed it and the one on Democrats below. Keep 'em comin'. :-)

Myrhaf said...

Thanks, Rick! BTW, I've read Democrats say that Reagan's ship build-up began with Carter. I don't know if that's true or not.

AaroN said...

I believe Reagan deserves a bit more credit, but certainly not worthy of being on Mount Rushmore.

How did Teddy score that one anyway?

Billy Beck said...

Ronald Reagan signed the Income Tax Reform Act of 1986. This gave us the Taxpayer Identification Number. Although there are other combinations of numeric characters that can fulfill this legal imposition, it is most often fulfilled with the Social Security number, finally putting formal lie to the decades old assertion that the SSN is not to be used for identification. (People old enough will recall when it used to say so explicitly right on the card.)

Most people are not aware of the implications: this was the first time in American history that it became illegal to produce in this country without government sanction.

I will never forgive Reagan for that. Never.

Betsy Speicher said...

Reagan had mixed premises and mixed results but he did two thing that made a huge difference to me and to the ideas and values I cherish.

In foreign affairs, he won the Cold War with not just a military build-up, but with the power of uncompromising moral certainty ("Evil Empire" "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!").

On the domestic front, he destroyed what Ayn Rand considered the greatest threat to intellectual freedom and her #1 political issue: the Federal Communications Commission and its "Fairness Doctrine." Soon after followed Rush Limbaugh and all the other radio commentators, including Leonard Peikoff, who were finally able to challenge the government-enforced intellectual monopoly of the liberal mainstream media.

Those two accomplishments alone were so great that Reagan's failings pale by comparison.

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

The democrats were recently trying to revive the "Fairness Doctrine" and the FCC hasn't gone away. It is still imposing penalties and regulating speech over public airwaves which is why Howard Stern and others moved to subscription radio.

As to Carter, I remember it taking three ships to get one out to sea because we didn't have spare parts. Crew morale was in the toilet and overall effectiveness of the Fleet was rated poor in the event of a need for rapid deployment.

Jimmy Carter, to me, came as close to treason as one can get as President. He didn't support and defend the Constitution - he tried to gut it and our military leaders just stood by and let it happen. Not one of our top Admirals (or General Officers for that matter) had the guts to challange Carter in the manner of a General MacArthur or a General Patton.

Carter's response to the Iranian hostage situation was cowardly and should have been cause for impeachment, but the Congress was just as cowardly and did nothing.

President Carter became Preacher Carter. His turn the other cheek attitude cost a lot of people their liberty for 444 days. It is my hope that history will continue to carry him as the worst President this nation has ever had.

When you compare him and his failure to the accomplishments of Ronald Regan, Regan does seem immense in stature and accomplishment. Until Beruit, I thought he was a god. Then, I saw him as just another politician willing to deal with the devil to get around the good for nothing Congress.

EdMcGon said...

Personally, I think Alan Greenspan should be on Mt. Rushmore. Without him, we would not be talking about the economic booms of the Reagan and Clinton years.

Billy Beck said...

Betsy -- I'll say this for him:

It was Ann Coulter who, in one of her books (I forget exactly which one), embarrassed me by pointing out something that had never occurred to me but should have: Reagan was the only president ever to put a face-front moral challenge to the Soviets.

Betsy Speicher said...

Yes indeed. Reagan WAS the only president ever to put a face-front moral challenge to the Soviets -- and look what happened.

Now all we need is someone to do the same thing with Iran and here's the guy who just might do it:

Myrhaf said...

Reagans' "evil empire" and Bush's "Axis of evil" statements are two of the best things both Presidents did and probably the thing liberals hate most about each President.

Reagan was not a bad President like Carter or Nixon, just a mediocre one that does not deserve to be carved into Mt. Rushmore.

Mike Zemack said...

Reagan, I believe, had two great achievements that puts him among our most consequential presidents.

First, his foreign policy strategy, I believe, was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Empire. During the 1970s, the Soviets were gaining strength and influence due to the appeasement policies of the West. This included the moral sanctions implicit in America’s policies of D├ętente and peaceful co-existence. It was generally accepted in the West that the Soviet Union was solid both militarily and economically, and that the only way to avoid a catastrophic war between East and West was to accept and get along with them. This translated into massive economic “aid”, subsidized “trade”, and the sale on credit of advanced technologies. This enabled the Soviet Union to achieve, by the late 1970s, virtual nuclear parity with the U.S.

While you are right that “ the fundamental reason it failed is the nature of communism.”, this by no means gives reason to believe that it was inevitable that the Soviet Empire was on the verge of collapse. The demoralization of the forces of freedom behind the Iron Curtain due to the acceptance as legitimate of their rulers by the world’s foremost bastion of freedom, America, coupled with the material and moral support of the West in general could have easily enabled the Soviet Empire to survive for many decades, very possibly with dire consequences for us.

Reagan’s great achievement was in recognizing the fact of Communism’s utter bankruptcy. This may seem
obvious in retrospect, but it must be remembered that Reagan bucked a virtually unanimous consensus of hostility toward his policies and convictions. Alan Greenspan, in his recent book, stated that Reagan was one of only two people that he knew of that believed that the Soviet Union was a house of cards ready to collapse if Western support were withdrawn. The other was Ayn Rand.

When Reagan declared the Soviet Union an “evil empire”, thus removing America’s moral sanction, the dissident forces behind the iron curtain were electrified and emboldened. At the same time, Reagan set out to remove the economic lifeline of Western support while simultaneously pressuring them with America’s military re-armament and “Star Wars.” The dye was cast. A close friend and co-agent of his endeavor, Margaret Thatcher, said in here Eulogy for President Reagan “So the president resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of those pressures and its own failures.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Reagan was instrumental in triggering the Soviet collapse.

His second major achievement is one that you briefly acknowledge… his economic policies. But more importantly, Reagan unapologetically went to bat for the productive in America. In his Inaugural Address in 1981, he said such things as “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”…and “We hear much of special interest groups. Well, our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we're sick -- professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers. They are, in short, ``We the people,'' this breed called Americans.”…and “It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.”…and “We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are not heroes, they just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter, and they're on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity.”

Nowhere in that speech do you here the usual phony political handringing about the “poor” and the “downtrodden” who never had a chance. As you point out, he then backed up his ritoric by rolling back regulation and slashing income tax rates from 70% to 28%. We have had only two mild and brief recessions since and we are still enjoying the benefits of those tax cuts, as rates are still well below those that Reagan inherited.
But Reagan’s most important domestic achievement may be that he halted for a time the Socialist advance in America. For this, Objectivists can be a little thankful for the time he bought us. Since the rise of Reagan, Objectivism has gained a small but significant and growing foothold in academia and the culture. With the “Reagan Revolution” beginning to give way to a reinvigorated Statist Left, we are at least in a better position now to offer a strong alternative, especially since the Republican Party has become, at least for the moment, pretty much useless (or worse).

There is much to criticize President Reagan for. His advocacy for returning prayer to the public schools, for example, as well as his Social Security “fix” and the failure to make much of a dent in federal spending. Although he did recognize the long-term threat posed by Islamic Fundamentalism, he let his military advisers talk him out of an attack on terror camps in Syria after the Beirut bombings (which he wanted to do).

But the re-acceleration of the statist trend in America today as well as the sorry crop of GOP candidates so far makes Reagan look awfully good right now. Flaws, contradictions and inconsistencies aside, America could, in my opinion, do a lot worse than to get another Ronald Reagan as our next President.