Home > mutual respect, philosophy > Reagan reconsidered: An illegal alien-coddling, tax-raising capitalist icon

Reagan reconsidered: An illegal alien-coddling, tax-raising capitalist icon

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

When Ronald Reagan died, nary an ill word was spoken. Perhaps that silence tells us the country was at least somewhat civil in its national dialogue in those days.

For his 100th birthday, the Reagan legacy is getting a thorough re-examination. And that’s a good thing, considering the new generation of politicians falsely claiming his mantle.

As various “myth” pieces tell us (see CBS, EsquireThe Washington Post), Reagan raised taxes, expanded government (even outside the Defense Department), gave amnesty to illegal aliens and did absolutely nothing on the “social conservative” front unless you count ignoring AIDS. That leads to a terrific question waiting to be asked of Reagan wannabes in an upcoming election: “You say you admire Reagan. Does this mean you’ll pass liberal abortion laws, grant amnesty to illegal aliens, raise taxes and still increase the deficit?”

Yes, Reagan had a Democratic Congress through much of his presidency, but these were the days of the Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats who had not yet cut their vestigial ties to the Old South’s political machine and become Republicans. Reagan in many senses was dealing with a three-party Congress.

Slate has re-run two Michael Kinsley pieces, one shifting much of the Cold War-ending credit from Reagan to Gorbachev. Indeed, it takes a bit more political courage to tear down a wall than it does to ask for it on behalf of a country unified in its desire to see it taken down.

The second tells us, though not explicitly, why right-wing elites revere Reagan. Yes, he was as much of a tax-and-spend-and-borrow president as anyone else, certainly moreso than Clinton. But he kept taxes down on the wealthy.

So what did Reagan do well?

Communication, of course. The Christian Science Monitor tells us he’s ranked poorly on administrative skills but highly on public persuasion.

And he was far more complex than either his revisionist acolytes or his fervent critics would have us believe. That’s the message of an upcoming HBO documentary and a book by his liberal son Ron, who had a lively interview with Stephen Colbert about Reagan mythology.

It’s another complex man, Christopher Hitchens, who points out many Reagan flaws and says with conviction that he should’ve been impeached over Iran-contra. And yet, says Hitchens, would you rather have had Walter Mondale presiding as the Cold War was coming to an end?

Reagan certainly made us feel better about ourselves, encouraging an economic expansion with the force of his sunny personality as much as his policies. On the flip side, his foreign policy kept us in awkward alliances with Very Bad People in the name of tightening the screws on the loose Communist empire, and you could argue that we’re still paying the price for those alliances in the Middle East and perhaps Central America.

All presidents, like all humans, are flawed. We should try to remember the good in people where we can, and Reagan was certainly amiable to his fellow American. Dishonesty over his legacy serves no one, least of all him, and so the thoughtful reconsideration of his presidency that we’re seeing today gives us some hope that we’re haven’t completely fallen into the abyss of propaganda.

Though it is, of course, great to dig back through the SNL archives and imagine a totally different Reagan.

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Categories: mutual respect, philosophy
  1. Lex
    February 9, 2011 at 1:36 am

    There’s also his pattern of statist (as opposed to conservative) judicial appointments, and not just on the Supreme Court.

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