Rewriting Ronald Reagan


There's an interesting, contrarian essay in The Washington Monthly about Ronald Reagan's legacy. Joshua Green surveys the recent spate of adulatory books about Reagan that have been written by conservatives. He argues:

A sober review of Reagan's presidency doesn't yield the seamlessly conservative record being peddled today. Federal government expanded on his watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.

He concludes, "The fact is that Reagan, whether out of wisdom or because he was forced, made significant compromises with the left. Had he not saved Social Security, relented on his tax cut, and negotiated with the Soviets, he'd have been a less popular, and lesser, president. An honest portrait of Reagan's presidency would not diminish his memory, but enlarge it."

Which leaves you wondering: So why did liberals and the left hate the guy so much?


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  1. Easy answer Nick. If the truth was known about how well his tax cuts worked, the liberals would be extinct. Consequently, they lie to save their “phoney-baloney jobs……harumph!”

  2. Actually, the easy answer is that there is not much more than trivial differences between Republicans and Democrats once they hit Washington DC. Their ideals may be different on paper, but when it comes down to making policy decisions and casting votes on legislation, they are much more alike than they are different. A lot of things Reagan did look Liberal, a lot of things Clinton did look Conservative. Heck, Bush decided to extend unemployment benefits, a Liberal move if ever there was one. The only answer is to have some alternatives – Libertarian, for one.

  3. If the question is why did liberals hate the guy so much, why would the easy answer be because there’s not much difference between Republicans and Democrats? Shouldn’t that have made liberals like him?

    i’m not trying to be one of those smart-asses that pops up on comment boards, I’m just not following the rationale in post #2.

  4. They hated him because liberals like their executives brainy and complex… like Carter and Clinton. The appearance of intelligence is more important than the effectiveness of policy. For support, see the left’s reaction to George W.

  5. I guess I should add to my comment #2 by saying that I agree that the question of “why do Liberals hate Reagan so much” is a bit confounding. I don’t understand it either. I also don’t understand why Conservatives hate Clinton so much. Dems and Repubs in Washington DC are not that much different in terms of their policy decisions.

  6. The Piscopo Reagan or the Hartman Reagan?

  7. The political parties exist in order to promote the existence of political parties. When there are genuine differences in policies, the result is dialogue. When the differences are trivial, the parties must foment hatred otherwise they would not have any reason to exist. Thus the D’s hate GWB and Reagan, and the R’s hate Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

  8. Duh, OF COURSE there’s not THAT much difference between the two major parties. That’s mostly due to our non-parliamentary political system. They’re not that much different because they’re both trying to attract the median voter– and both trying to not piss off too many voting blocs.

    It’s completely false to say that there are no differences between the parties– any examination of voting records shows that there is a clear difference. There’s clear correlations, and clearly the Democrats are more on one side of any issue and the Republicans more on the other.

    But the political beliefs of the median Congressman don’t change that much just because of whose in power, and neither does the opinion of the median voter. That puts big constraints on what changes can occur.

    Face it, plenty of the things that Libertarians like (and that I like) are not that popular. They wouldn’t get majority support, especially not after being attacked. Even those things that are popular suffer from the drawback of being lukewarmly popular with many people, but strongly opposed by a devoted few. Very few people base their vote on opposing agricultural subsides– but lots of farmers will vote purely on that basis, for example.

  9. Reagan was also hated because his rhetoric made it clear that his beliefs were largely libertarian and conservative. Reading things like Reagan in His Own Hand makes that clear. So what if he compromised? Liberals still knew what he professed to believe. They thought themselves still justified in believing him an evil libertarian conservative who hated government and Communism, just one forced occasionally to compromise by the will of the electorate and Congress.

  10. Nick, Reagan may have compromised on arms-control talks, but please recall he was instrumental in ending the Cold War.

    SDI was the back-breaker for the Soviets.

  11. SDI’s importance is tremendously overvalued. The one thing Reagan did to end the Cold War was his liberal decision to compromise on arms control.

  12. “Which leaves you wondering: So why did liberals and the left hate the guy so much?”

    because of his nominations to the various courts, maybe?

  13. J, SDI was overvalued in what way? As a defense system? As a psyops system? As a diplomatic counter in international negotiations?

    Or as the proverbial last straw the broke the Soviet back?

    I am interested to hear your view. Especially since you seem to think that arms control caused the fall of the Soviet Empire… 🙂

    Tom: perhaps the “left” and “liberals” hate him so much was that he presided over one of the most significant protracted conflicts for Western Civilization of the past five hundred years, including the Napoleonic Wars, those of Louis XIV, or the Reformation.

    Just to rub salt into the wound he was an _actor_, for God’s sake! Heh…

  14. T&W: The Hartman Reagan.

    I think the reason that individuals give such exagerated declarations of hate towards pols not that much different then them is because it makes themselves feel good about their own beliefs, sort of an exercise in ethical onanism.

  15. And political branding…

  16. I think at least a bit of it has to do specifically with the fact that he could put moderate or somewhat liberal initiatives into action, and then if and when they paid dividends, have the glory come back to him, and by virtue of his iconicity, the conservative movement as a whole.

    The famous “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” is nothing if not a call to identify policy success and failure with the reigning party, rather than the substance of any particular initiative or program. He rode in on that call, cruised through 8 years on it, and used it to get Bush the Elder into office on a nearly contentless platform. Of course, when the recession reversed the equation and he didn’t have anything else to point to, it bit him in the ass, but Bush was no Ronald Reagan.

    What it comes down to was that to a significant extent, Reagan could co-opt the Dems wherever he thought it wise, and use his media skills, rhetoric, and public image as a brass-balls conservative to draw attention away from the actual nature of what he was doing so he didn’t have to fully acknowledge the origins of these ideas or go through the ideological infighting necessary to work them into the formal platform.

  17. The Reagan administration’s obsession with anti-communism led them to sell arms to Iran to finance a covert war with Nicaragua. Gary Webb’s book, Dark Alliance, makes a strong case that Ollie North’s dealings included shipping cocaine into the US to finance this war. These deals stink even more if you are willing to consider the possibility that (future CIA director) William Casey had secretly (and treasonously) negotiated favorable terms with Iran in exchange for holding the US embassy hostages throughout the 1980 presidential campaign. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence supporting this allegation but no proof.

    Carter’s handling of the hostage crisis was a drag on his re-election campaign. Iran had cut off negotiations on releasing the hostages in late October, 1980 and resumed in January ’81. Iran agreed to release the US hostages 52 minutes after Reagan took the oath of office in 1981.

    To quote Gary Sick, “Almost immediately thereafter, according to Israeli and American former officials, arms began to flow to Iran in substantial quantities.

    …detailed lists of each shipment were provided to senior officials in the Reagan Administration…

    …Former officials and participants in the Reagan-Bush campaign team denied any personal knowledge or involvement in such a deal, although none of them categorically denies that contacts with Iran before the 1980 election may have taken place.”

    Lots more info here:

    Reagan’s extreme anti-communism was reflected in his anti-union stance, domestically. He fought a law that would require 30-day notice to workers of factories being shut down, even while he actively worked to relocate jobs to other countries.

    The personal memory I associate with Reagan: workers from factories shut down in northeast Ohio getting 5 pound blocks of (pasteurized, processed) cheese (food product) and cans of honey from decommissioned civil defense stockpiles to supplement their unemployment checks. Not a pretty sight.

  18. If SDI was undoable, why did the Soviet Union not just set back and laugh while we pissed all our money away. They thought it was doable, perhaps because they entrusted the defense of Moscow to nuke tipped missiles, and knew that all we had to do was get rid of the stupid rejection of nukes and we had SDI 25 years ago.

  19. John K.:

    The Honey and Cheese started under the Carter administration.

    Gary Sick was LONG ago discredited by just about everyone.

  20. Thanks for the heads up on who started the cheese and honey program. It never made sense that Ronnie would come up with some communist, “share-the-wealth” scheme like that.

    The short answer to the question posed: libs and lefties hate Reagan because he was a puppet to corporate interests. My own observation bears that out.

    If you have any links refuting Gary Sick, please provide them.

  21. JK-How many pols can you list who aren’t a puppet of some interest. Please.

    Here are 4 websites discussing Gary Sick and his conflicts of interest.

    There may be some bias here, but no more than anywhere else.

  22. Umm, there’s nothing in any of those URLs refuting Sick’s “October Surprise” thesis. It’s typical right wing bashing of someone they don’t like.

  23. I do not intend to bicker over the function of elected officials in our country. They serve the people who vote for them, those who pay their bills, and those who place them into office with unprincipled judicial decisions. Liberals and lefties appear to prefer their politicians to be puppets with human beings (rather than corporate “persons”) pulling their strings.

    Excuse me is right about the links, there’s no “there,” there.

    The first and the fourth links make some charges about Sick being a CIA operative and denying people’s right to free speech with little if any supporting information. The link lumps the October Surprise in with a bunch of other conspiracies. The link is the best, referencing the Senate decision to not pursue the investigation.

    The congressional record of this decision is interesting. Fifty-one Senators voted for the investigation with 43 nays and 6 not voting. Apparently, more than a simple majority was required.

    Democratic Leader Mitchell made some pointed remarks prior to the vote, To paraphrase: “It is an established fact that Iran released the hostages moments after Reagan took office and that Iran began receiving shipments of weapons soon after. GHW Bush said there was no connection and that the issue should be laid to rest. If there is nothing to hide then there is no reason to not put the issue to rest with an investigation.”

    Those opposing the investigation thought it was outrageous and expensive ($600K).

  24. Reagan understood there was only a few things he could do during his time as President. He decided to put the death nail in the Soviets and through his economic policies created the longest peace time economic expansion up to that point. Look at the damn DOW Jones Industrial average. The damn thing is sideways until Reagan got in. Then you will notice a steady increase (overall) – conincidence? The facts speak for themselves. History will show what the man accomplished regardless of liberal slander and attempted rewrites of history!

  25. On this page i have read that:
    1. Reagan sold out and “compromised on arms-control talks”
    2. That he spent too much on military trying to scare the Soviets.
    3. That He was a puppet to corporate hot shots and special ints.

    Strange how all these things seem to contradict…

  26. Why do liberals hate reagan? lets see,hmmm….

    1. income inequality increased greatly during his eight years as president
    2. he started the “drug war” which has been a constant drain on this country and been totally ineffective
    3. he cut social spending drastically during his 8 yrs
    4. he implemented policies that stopped democratic movements in south and central america (on the grounds that they were too communist, too close to castro etc)
    5. he dramatically increased defense spending, which quadrupled the defecit
    6. he implemented trickle down economics, and basically made it fashionable for people to care more about short term corporate profits then for people
    7. he apppointed a slew of right-wing judges
    8. he was more of a product then a person – this “hero” never served his country in batttle (instead he made “army films” and he was a “cowboy” only when the camera was running.

    As for the DOW jones, presidents have much less effect on the ecconomy, then say the chairman of the Fed Reserve. Reagan was lucky enough to be president during a boom period, just like clinton was. and both bushies along with carter were unlucky enough to be pres during downturns. Oh, and those high stock rates? they were in part due to an unfettered market that also produced ivan bosky, billions of dollars in insider trading, the savings and loan failures etc and laid the ground work for the enrons and worldcoms of today and how the stock market works now – people dont invest in companies, they trade paper back and forth in what amounts to not much more then a gigantic ponzi scheme.
    thanks mr. reagan

  27. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 08:03:06
    Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what’s right.

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