The Examiner’s anti-Reagan article from 2011 is full of cherry-picked factoids, half-truths, and a few statements that are simply false or unsupported by evidence. This unsigned article is mainly a top ten list of reasons the author regards Reagan as “the worst president of our lifetime”. I will now go through this list, mostly in order, and pick it apart.
The article claims several times that Reagan cut taxes for the rich, and raised taxes on the middle class. The article mostly fails to prove that taxes were raised on the middle class until near the end. The article mentions that Reagan agreed to a Social Security tax increase, and then explains effectively why this mostly impacts the middle class. However, that tax increase was a mere 0.2%. This was part of a larger deal to save Social Security, as revenue was not keeping up with the amount of benefits paid. Furthermore, the claim that Reagan “cut taxes for the wealthy” is at best a half-truth. On the surface, it would appear that he did. When Reagan took office, the highest marginal tax rate was 70%, and through a series of tax reforms, that rate was brought down to 28%. However, the author clearly has no understanding of tax reform. 70% may have been the official tax rate, but few actually paid it. For one thing, the tax code was riddled with more loopholes than it is today. Furthermore, the uber-wealthy tend to earn their money through investment, rather than ordinary paychecks like the average American. In other words, they make their millions on Wall Street. When Reagan took office, many of the uber-wealthy were paying as little as 5%. They were able to start at the “Dividends rate” of 15%, a far cry from 70%, and then they were able to write off all kinds of expenses and whatever else the tax code allowed. When the marginal rate was brought down to 28%, the “Dividends rate” was brought UP to 28%. That meant that the uber-wealthy could no longer escape taxes by calling it “investment income”. Take that Wall Street!
The article lists unemployment as another reason that Reagan was “the worst president of our lifetime”. Well for one thing, 11% is terrible, but far from the worst we’ve ever seen. Besides, after Reagan’s first round of tax reform, unemployment substantially dropped to record lows. Why only pick 1 year in Reagan’s presidency when unemployment was at its worse, and completely ignore the other 7 years, most of which were after that recession? Oh right, he wants to convince us that Reagan was “the worst president of our time”. If most of the facts don’t suit that agenda, just ignore them and pick the few facts that do.
More importantly, Presidents don’t cause recessions. They don’t have the power. The weak economy Reagan inherited was the result of decades of bad policy-making going back at least to the Johnson era. We got in the habit of subsidizing idleness and punishing work. Before the 1986 tax reform, Reagan complained that a bus driver paid more taxes than a Wall Street investor. The Wall Street investor makes millions to do nothing more than move numbers around. They buy, they sell, but they never create. The bus driver, on the other hand, provides a crucial public service that most of us take for granted. On the other end of the spectrum, that bus drive may have been better off unemployed and on welfare, in the aftermath of Johnson’s “Great Society”. None of this was Reagan’s fault. However, Reagan had to deal with the high unemployment and frightening inflation that resulted at least in part from these terrible policies.
Reagan’s debt level is undeniable, and the article certainly jumps on that opportunity. Despite my overall respect for Reagan, I will certainly admit that he was no fiscal conservative. However, we must consider context. At the time, we were facing the most dangerous opponent we’ve ever faced, the dreaded Soviet Union! They were a threat to freedom all over the world, and had to be stopped by any means necessary. Many great leaders, desperate to stop the Soviets made mistakes that we now realize in hindsight. Reagan poured money into the military industrial complex to fund massive weaponry and eventually the “Star Wars” project, which would have used SDI to disable nuclear missiles if they were launched at us or our allies (or anyone for that matter). Did he over spend? Probably. Could he have known at the time that the Soviet Union was about to crumble? Doubtful. The Soviets put on a strong face, and kept information from the world. We didn’t know how much of a mess they were in, and so Reagan took every precaution. This is also why he supported some questionable groups, such as the Mujahidin, later to become Al Qaeda. They were the enemy’s enemy. Even if we knew with certainty what they would become, it still was the right move at the time. I think any sensible person can agree that the Soviet Union was a far greater threat then, than Al Qaeda is now.
The article also brings up the Iran-Contra scandal. I’m simply going to point out that Reagan was never proven to have purposefully transferred weapons to the Contras, though he knew there was a significant risk, yet the article speaks of Reagan’s guilt as though it were without question. This is simply irresponsible reporting. Even if it is very likely that Reagan knew, that wouldn’t stand up in court, and that shouldn’t stand up in any respectable news source, even an op-ed.
On the undocumented workers, it is worth mentioning simply because it shows the hypocrisy of today’s Republicans. Reagan gets a free pass on this policy that would have them screaming “bloody murder” if Obama ever attempted. I hardly see how it belongs on a top ten list of reasons that Reagan was “the worst president of our lifetime”. Was this a terrible policy? Maybe. Is it unique to Reagan? Definitely not! Most presidents have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. Obama has done so indirectly via an executive order, which put a temporary stop to deportations of certain undocumented residents (only those who were brought to America as children and have grown up here). If unions and others complain that illegal immigrants depress wages and “take ‘er jobs!”, they should consider that if these people are given the legal right to stay here, they are no longer so easy to exploit. Employers can no longer threaten deportation to their underpaid immigrant workers, plus these workers now are protected by US labor laws.
Speaking of unions, I will conclude with his argument on unions. Reagan was a consistent supporter of the right of workers to unionize. He was also a consistent supporter of the right of management to negotiate with them, clearly. The article accuses Reagan of being a “union buster” simply because he fired over 11,000 PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) workers when they went on strike. In this situation, Reagan was on the management side of the negotiation table, and he knew that there were plenty of available air traffic controllers out there who would be happy to have those jobs instead of those on strike. It’s just business. They exercised their right not to work, by going on strike, so Reagan exercised his right to hire someone else. Reagan was a tough negotiator, but that hardly makes him a “union buster”.
The reality is that Reagan’s successes far outweighed his failures, as he acted in cooperation with Congress, the Chairman Paul Volker, and some of Carter’s better policies already in place. Inflation was brought down from a dangerous 11% to under 3%, unemployment was between 3-4% throughout his second term, and the Soviet Union soon came tumbling down…as did the wall.
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