Alan Greenspan, Super-Genius

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From an article in GQ about the Fed head:

[Charles Brunie, Oppenheimer Capital founder and longtime friend of Greenspan] recalls an exchange between famed economist Milton Friedman and Greenspan during a friendly dinner, telling Hylton, "I asked the two geniuses, of all the politicians you have known, how would you rank their intellectual ability?' And Milton said, 'Well, on a Bo Derek scale, Bob Taft was a nine and a half, Nixon was a nine, and Reagan's a seven-' and Alan interrupted, 'No, no, Milton. Reagan's not a seven. He's a four!' Milton said, 'Alan, what do you mean by four?' Alan said, 'Well, Gerry Ford's a four.' And Milton said, 'I don't know what that means.' And Alan said, 'Well, if you gave Gerry Ford a series of data, no matter what the series was, he could not develop a concept. And Reagan is the same.'"

Whole thing here.

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  1. Apparently that was his story on Reagan and he was sticking to it, no matter what.

    ” Charles Brunie, Oppenheimer Capital founder and longtime friend of Greenspan, tells Hylton a story from the week of Reagan’s second inauguration: “[I] told Alan that I had asked Reagan, ‘Mr. President, if you’ve promised not to cut Social Security benefits, why don’t you tax them?’ and Reagan’s reply was, ‘Well, they’ve already been taxed on the income tax, and when they invest they get taxed on the dividends, and I don’t think it’s morally right to tax them a third time on the same money.’ But Alan said, ‘Oh, Chuck, that couldn’t have been President Reagan. That was Don Regan.’ I said, ‘Alan, I’ve known Reagan for twenty years! I was standing twelve feet from him. It was Reagan.’ But Alan said, ‘No, no, it couldn’t have been Reagan. He wouldn’t have understood that.'”

  2. chthus,

    So if Reagan were in Bangkok, he wouldn’t be there for the chess tournament. 🙂

  3. Yeah, cause we all know what an idiot Reagan was. All of his successes were due to his being the luckiest idiot in the world. His presidency was incredibly successful due to sheer “dumb” luck.

    On the other hand, I suppose that also gives succor to all the people who think Clinton was the most brilliant guy to ever hold the office. He just had bad luck. His presidency was an incredible loss due to sheer “brilliant” luck.

    Might not agree with everything Reagan did, and I’m sure someone will throw Iran-Contra into this, but he did have a heckuva run…

    Further proof that deep down, some people never outgrow who they were in high school. Go figure there’s a bunch of nerdy economists (who think THEY should be the ones in charge) who make fun of the popular guy – but ONLY behind his back.

    (Oh, wait… they DO run everything… crap!)

  4. “Clinton…just had bad luck.”
    Full employment, low inflation, cheap oil, peace and prosperity — will we ever be so unlucky again?

  5. Go figure there’s a bunch of nerdy economists (who think THEY should be the ones in charge)

    To a large degree, Greenspan is the one in charge. You can make a good case that, in times of peace, the Federal Reserve wields as much power as the White House.

  6. Rand disliked Reagan, so its not surprising that one of her intellectual offpsring wouldn’t hold him in high regard as well (keep in mind I have no great love for Reagan).

  7. Full employment, low inflation, cheap oil, peace and prosperity — will we ever be so unlucky again?

    Just wait for Bill Clinton as First Gentleman. We’ll see how lucky the next President Clinton is.

  8. rob: Clinton is a poor example of high-IQ presidents being unsuccessful. Not because his IQ wasn’t high but because his administration was indeed reasonably successful, at least in terms of the economy. He didn’t find Osama bin Laden but neither did his successor…

    There are much better examples of high-IQ presidents who failed: Wilson, Hoover, Nixon, Carter.

  9. hmmm… I don’t remember “full employment,” although unemployment was pretty low, like 6.something percent… but things sure went to shit about 6 months after Clinton left office

  10. Xboy- The guy practically made attaching “gate” to never-ending scandals a household saying: Travelgate, Monicagate, Whitewater (ok, that already SOUNDS like Watergate)… not to mention the really crappy stuff like Waco, Ruby Ridge, Somalia, Chinese espionage, etc.

    BTW, have you a source for “Full employment, low inflation, cheap oil, peace and prosperity”? Or is that just opinion?

    I will give him some credit for NAFTA, tho. (And I’d definitely rather party with Bill than any of the other living ex-presidents.)

    Eric II – Didn’t I just say that they were in charge? Last line of my post…

  11. Rand disliked Reagan, so its not surprising that one of her intellectual offpsring wouldn’t hold him in high regard as well

    Greenspan might have been a staunch Randroid in his younger days, but that really doesn’t seem to have been the case over the last couple of decades, and probably longer. His willingness to countenance moderate levels of inflation and the perpetuation of Social Security, among other things, serve as testaments to this fact. As does his job itself – remember that Rand was quite attached to the gold standard.

  12. Eric II – Didn’t I just say that they were in charge? Last line of my post…

    D’oh! My attention span weakens a little at this time of night.

  13. nineties guy,

    I can recall unemployment being in the 3% or lower range; we had a red-hot bubble economy in the late 1990s (and a lot of great music to boot!).

  14. David T – Maybe my definition of unsuccessful is skewed because Clinton keeps changing his mind about his biggest regret during his term. He has claimed it was getting US soldiers killed in Somalia for nothing at one point (and he should stick to that, IMO) – but nowadays he’s bummed he didn’t get bin Laden. Of course, no mention of his DoJ run amok under Reno or any of the other bad news.

    Look, I’m not a Clinton-hater, but if I have to choose between Reagan and Clinton to lead I would go with Reagan. Despite claims he was “stoopid.”

    But again, if I’m gonna party with an ex-Pres, Bill’s my guy!

  15. Eric II – No worries. We obviously think along similar lines!

  16. It seems to me that if Reagan didn’t know much, he knew what he knew really well. Indeed, his belief in things like tax cuts seemed a function of his morals as much as his intellect. I suspect that’s what made him so persuasive. Communism wasn’t just intellectually deficient, it was morally wrong.

    I wish there were more libertarians who knew things so well.

  17. Eric II,

    Well, she hated the idea of the very position he holds. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rand’s dislik of Reagan rubbed off on Greenspan.

    rob,

    Ruby Ridge happened under Bush pere (August of 1992 to be exact). Bush was also the individual who got us involved in Somalia. Clinton’s administration wasn’t the first to not deal with Chinese espionage; the Chinese have been good at engratiating themselves with both parties, and they still are. That’s why the current Bush administration winks at exports of U.S. military technology to China.

    Monicagate was the one scandal to have legs; Starr was never able to pin anything on the Clintons regarding Whitewater.

  18. The one scandal to have legs … he he he. 🙂

  19. I have no idea why everyone always pins the indicidents at Ruby Ridge on Clinton, but its a mistake I see all the time.

  20. Gary – You’re right on about Ruby Ridge. My bad.

    Somalia – Bush sent us there, but it was Clinton’s administration (under Les Aspin) who got soldiers killed by giving them the mission they were ordered to undertake but refusing to give them requested armor and the AC-130.

  21. Since the initial warrant serving effort happened in late February 1993, I’ve always wondered when the decision to serve the warrant was made and who made it?

  22. rob,

    Well, I have always laid more blame for Somalia on Bush pere than Clinton for Somalia, since once we went there a certain inertia was involved in our staying. Note that Bush pere was warned from numerous quarters about sending troops there and he did it anyway and in the twilight of his Presidency, after he had been defeated by Clinton. Anyway, his rationale for intervention never made much sense.

  23. The failure of Clinton was that he gave bin Laden eight years of evidence that the U.S. was just a paper tiger.

  24. Hmmm… Bush Sr. had been in uniform and at war as a Navy pilot, making him much less likely to expect those kind of post-Vietnam shenanigans.

    I’m still betting that Bush Sr. never imagined that the Clinton administration would change the mission without adequately equipping the troops.

    Tho his reasons for intervention may have included one last grasp at a “legacy” by a one-termer facing the end of his term of office, I can’t imagine a bigger blunder by a sitting President than what eventually happened in Somalia.

  25. by giving them the mission they were ordered to undertake but refusing to give them requested armor

    You have to go into battle with the armor that you have, not the armor that you would like to have. Didn’t you get the memo?

    Oh, wait, we’re talking about Clinton. Rumsfeld’s excuses don’t apply then. My bad ;->

  26. Douglas Fletcher: And Reagan’s getting out of Lebanon after the Marines were blown up didn’t send bin Laden a message, too?

  27. David T-

    You can’t apply the same standards to a Republican that you apply to a Democrat.

  28. Clinton’s unemployment rate got down to 4% minimum IIRC. No way were we at 3% or lower. I think the whole business of crediting presidents with (or blaming them for) that kind of thing is silly anyway. Every 5-10 years things tank no matter who is in charge. Then things recover. The unemployment situation during W’s first term was better than Clinton’s first term. If you were really reaching to slime Clinton, you could also say that he inherited a rate on the way down and left behind a rate on the way up. You could also credit Alan Greenspan, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, the Republican Congress, the end of the Cold War, or any number of other factors, depending on your POV. I think there was some measure of salutary neglect during the Clinton years, but how much of that was imposed by Washington gridlock and how much was Clinton’s intention? And near the end there, people were playing with Monopoly money, both in the tech bubble and in other big businesses who were fudging the numbers. The best thing Clinton did was to not create any massive new entitlements, even though he may have tried near the beginning.

    Back to the article at hand, what’s up with Greenspan being the evil force coaxing presidents into all those tax increases? His preferred solution is less spending, so why doesn’t he squeeze some balls to get that done, like he supposedly does for tax hikes?

  29. phocion,

    You are right. The lowest unemployment rate appears to have been recorded in 1999 at 4.2%.

  30. DF:
    “The failure of Clinton was that he gave bin Laden eight years of evidence that the U.S. was just a paper tiger.”

    As opposed to the eight years of training that Reagan gave to Osama?

    Oh, and even if Somalia was Clinton’s fault, it wasn’t worse than Beirut.

  31. “And Reagan’s getting out of Lebanon after the Marines were blown up didn’t send bin Laden a message, too?”

    If the suggestion is that we should have remained embroiled in what was then considered a hopeless basket case with no clearly defined American interest and no support from the American people, all for the purpose of making our obscure Afghan allies in the fight against the USSR think that America wasn’t a paper tiger, well, then I guess I just don’t get it.

    There’s another suggestion I see mounted all the time, that bin Laden was a genius who perpetrated 9/11 because he thought America was a paper tiger. I see the suggestion that bin Laden was a genius who perpetrated 9/11 because he wanted to provoke a US invasion of the Middle East just as often. I suppose, at least, part of one of those suggestions is probably true, but in no case would I agree that bin Laden was a genius. 9/11 was the biggest strategic blunder I can think of, and I don’t see what America being perceived as a paper tiger or not would have done to prevent such a fool from doing something so foolish.

  32. Assuming the American people had supported staying in Somalia, and they didn’t, what would have been the point?

    How long do you have to overstay your mandate before you’re not a paper tiger anymore?

  33. There are only three options now: to cut spending, raise taxes, or both. Yes, it has come to that, to the point where he, Alan Greenspan, would rather see higher taxes than a higher deficit. – Hylton

    Brrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ….what’s up with Greenspan being the evil force coaxing presidents into all those tax increases? – phocion

    It is plain to see. Alan G. has gone all Palpatine on our asses. Help us, Wayne Angell, you’re our only hope!

    Spending rises, revenue drops, and the gap yawns wider. – Hylton

    Here’s where the author made me scratch my head. Outside of the very short recession in 2001, have total Federal receipts actually dropped, even when adjusted for inflation, or haven’t spending increases just outstripped what the Treasury takes in?

    Kevin

    http://www.starwars.com/databank/character/palpatine/

  34. “The failure of Clinton was that he gave bin Laden eight years of evidence that the U.S. was just a paper tiger.”

    With 20/20 hindsight, it’s easy to say that Clinton (and Bush pere, and Reagan, and Carter, and Ford) didn’t do as much as they should have to oppose the rise of international jihadism. However, Clinton’s term was marked by a significant boost in anti-terror, anti-bin Laden activity over the course of the eight years, which can’t be said of any other president before him.

    It seems more than a little unfair to slag Bill Clinton for having a pre-9/11 mindset.

  35. “You have to go into battle with the armor that you have, not the armor that you would like to have. Didn’t you get the memo?” – thoreau

    Yeah, I got that memo. But uparmored Humvees aren’t available because there aren’t enough of them. (Because they weren’t intended to be armored vehicles to begin with.) Not having them in the arsenal is a lot different than having armor and AC-130s in the arsenal and refusing to let the troops use them because “it might send the wrong message.”

    “even if Somalia was Clinton’s fault, it wasn’t worse than Beirut” – a

    No argument here.

    Even if Clinton inherited the whole thing in Somalia, his administration specifically put the screws to the guys on the ground by making an elementary military blunder.

    I think joe is right (shudder!) that “it seems more than a little unfair to slag Bill Clinton for having a pre-9/11 mindset.”

    But then, I think it’s unfair to slag Reagan for having a “pre-terrorism mindset.”

    Let’s face it, at the time of the Beirut deployment, the US “still regarded terrorism as something that happened to other nations.”

    At least that’s what Lt. Col. Matthew Dodd says, and I agree with him.
    http://www.sftt.org/dwa/2002/10/23/4.html

  36. Ken Shultz on Reagan and Lebanon:

    “If the suggestion is that we should have remained embroiled in what was then considered a hopeless basket case with no clearly defined American interest and no support from the American people, all for the purpose of making our obscure Afghan allies in the fight against the USSR think that America wasn’t a paper tiger, well, then I guess I just don’t get it.”

    There were anti-American Muslim terrorists before bin Laden–though they confined themselves mostly to US targets in the Middle East and Europe.

    I agree that–especially given US public opinion– it was probably unrealistic to stay in Lebanon after the Marines were killed, despite the fact that leaving did send a message to terrorists that the US could be forced into retreat. But in that case sending the Marines into Lebanon in the first place wasn’t exactly a brilliant move; it wasn’t that hard to see that they would be a terrorist target.

    I’m not a particuar Reagan-demonizer or Clinton-admirer. I’m just annoyed at the double standard in the “Reagan was tough/Clinton was soft on terrorists” mentality.

  37. “I agree that–especially given US public opinion–it was probably unrealistic to stay in Lebanon after the Marines were killed, despite the fact that leaving did send a message to terrorists that the US could be forced into retreat.”

    I think you’re missing a big chunk of my point David. I think the suggestion that the United States should maintain otherwise pointless military deployments in order to project strength to enemy fanatics like bin Laden is preposterous.

    Keeping in mind that Americans did not support either keeping troops in Lebanon or Somalia, …

    …Dragging the dead bodies of American soldiers through the streets also made America look like a paper tiger. How long should we have subjected ourselves to that before buggin’ out? How long does America have to stay in a place like Somalia before it’s no longer considered a paper tiger by religious fanatics?

    …In what way would subjecting ourselves to further casualties in Lebanon, at the time a semi-hopeless situation, have made us look like less of a paper tiger?

    Let me add also that because I believe that some things are more expensive than they are valuable, I have to accept that there are situations in which it’s in the best interest of the United States to retreat.

  38. So Clinton had a low unemployment rate, but I like to see the profits of all the companies that existed to help out that unemployment rate. You know, profits from pets.com, worldcom, anything.com. has it ever occurred to anyone that 90% of the companies that started up to create the 90’s “boom” never made any money at all and then had to lay off all those workers?

  39. “But in that case sending the Marines into Lebanon in the first place wasn’t exactly a brilliant move; it wasn’t that hard to see that they would be a terrorist target.” – David T

    Actually, I think the article by Lt. Col. Dodd puts that statement into perspective. You statement has the brilliant accuract of hindsight, after a couple of major paradigm shifts in the way we think about terrorism.

    As I quoted said – Let’s face it, at the time of the Beirut deployment, the US “still regarded terrorism as something that happened to other nations.” (Dodd)

    Clinton actually took terrorism a little more seriously, though not exactly with the sort of prescience many of us would have preferred from either his or the current administration.

    It took 9/11 to get people (and that curious sub-set called bureaucrats) to actually get serious about terrorism, regardless of which President you prefer.

  40. If you think Reagan was stupid, just go and read the Reason interview of him here: https://reason.com/7507/int_reagan.shtml

    Or, you could read the book that came out consisting of nothing but hundreds of letters Reagan wrote, all in his own words.

    Or, you could go back and re-read his 1964 speech for Goldwater, which he wrote himself.

    Speaking of that speech – Gary Gunnels above says that Ayn Rand didn’t like Reagan, but in her Playboy interview (I think it was) she said that Reagan was her favorite politician, and she based her liking of him in large part on his 1964 speech and other comments in favor of Liberty he made since. I also seem to recall her saying very good things about him right after that speech. If she came to dislike him later, it would only be because she disliked anyone who made compromises, and Presidents are forced to compromise.

  41. The anecdote suggests that Reagan couldn’t generalize from quantitative data. Perhaps he didn’t have much quantitative intelligence at all. I wouldn’t doubt it. Most people don’t. On the other hand, I would be surprised if people who had attained Greenspan’s (or Friedman’s) position/occupation did not have such capabilities.

    But who cares? He was also overly influenced by the religious right, poor at off-the-cuff articulation of his ideas, and probably approaching senility as his second term progressed. In a word: imperfect.

    But what Reagan did have – which has made a significant difference in all of our lives – is a basic, unsubtle, but accurate conception of human nature, and of its impact on political systems and geopolitical conflict. More importantly, he had the courage to act on those convictions and this combination certainly was an important reason that the Soviet Empire collapsed when it did. For these qualities, we should all be grateful. I am.

  42. I do not understand why libertarians always seem so eager to defent Reagan. He didn’t lower taxes; he raised them. He expanded the military, gave arms to death squads, etc. He was a terrible president, and he should only be a hero to the current fascists in charge.

  43. I also find it absurd that calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” (though I agree that it was) and killing Nicaraguans really did much to speed the downfall of the USSR.

  44. “On the other hand, he was the first public figure (at least in my experience and memory) to promote that idea that gov’t action is not the solution, it is the problem.”

    So he was a fraud as well. That’s super.

    As for your other point, what assurance do you have that Reagan’s military build-up had the effect you describe? Would the pre-Reagan military have been a push-over? It seems to me that an attack on American soil by the Soviets would have been hugely expensive anyway, probably unsustainable. The Soviets had enough trouble in Afghanistan, a country with not quite the population or the military prowess of the U.S. It is inconceivable that, after licking their wounds from that debacle, the USSR would have turned around an attacked the U.S.

  45. If any one thing hastened the demise of the Soviet Union, it was the deployment of missles in Western Europe–I can’t seem to comment on a thread about Reagan without bringing that up–and that missle deployment was all Reagan’s. He fought for that program tooth and nail. He even went to Europe and sold the program directly to the French and German people.

    …Reagan’s missle program took away the USSR’s first strike capability–made it so they couldn’t win any nuclear exchange with America, which is to say, it made it so the USSR went out with a wimper rather than a bang.

    In regards to your assertion that Reagan actually raised taxes, I’d like to see your evidence for that. Please.

  46. Dan H.,

    She mocked and openly derided him in during her last speaking appearance in New Orleans.

    She didn’t like folks who didn’t agree with her that’s for sure; she lived in a bit of an echo chamber.

    Ken Shultz,

    Schroeder and Mitterand had something to do with that as well; it was a cooperative effort.

  47. The most important element in the USSR’s collapse was the system itself.

  48. It is fairly common knowledge that taxes increased overall during Reagan’s time as president. Isn’t it? To be honest, I have no link to give or citation to quote to prove that assertion, but I had heard it enough times from enough sources that I expected it was true. I will look into it. The gov’t expanded during his reign, and he incurred a huge deficit, so I suppose it is possible that taxes did not increase. In any case, deficits are not high up on the list of libertarian ideals, either. Couldn’t a deficit just as well be called a tax on the future?

    I suppose the main problem I have with Reagan is that he combatted the Soviet Empire by expanding the American Empire. Is the difference that American Empire is benevolent? I don’t trust the gov’t, and letting it have the power to form a “good” empire also gives it the power to form an evil one. The whole enterprise seems arrogant and horribly illiberal.

  49. “It is fairly common knowledge that taxes increased overall during Reagan’s time as president. Isn’t it?”

    To put it bluntly, common knowledge sucks!

    Reagan’s ’81 tax cuts cut the top marginal tax rate from 70% to 28%. Everyone got a 25% cut across the board. Some people cheat by talking about how taxable revenue increased, but that’s because when Reagan took office, we were in a recession, and when he left, things were much better. It’s true that marginal tax rates went up from there, but they’re still half of what they were when Reagan took office.

    Here’s a link to a good look at the ultimate effects of Reaganomics. We should have such an idiot in the White House today.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-261.html

    “In any case, deficits are not high up on the list of libertarian ideals, either. Couldn’t a deficit just as well be called a tax on the future?”

    One name: David Stockman.

    Stockman went to congress as Reagan’s Director of the OMB and fought tooth and nail for budget cuts in entitlement spending among other things. My version of what happened is that Stockman came back and told the Reagan Administration that they were going to have to choose between three things: tax cuts, increased spending on defense and budget cuts. Reagan wisely chose tax cuts and defense spending, and the rest is history. When Stockman’s baby was sacrificed, he turned on the Administration.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Stockman

    None of this is to say that Reagan didn’t want to cut spending…it’s just that Reagan wanted to take on the Soviets (Thank God), and he didn’t have control of the purse strings (Thank the Constitution).

    …The link I gave to Cato does much to explain the deficits during the Reagan years–not much common knowledge there either.

  50. “The most important element in the USSR’s collapse was the system itself.”

    Absolutely.

    “…had something to do with that as well; it was a cooperative effort.

    Indeed! Thank you for correcting me. I was thinking in terms of Reagan not having to share that distinction with Bush Sr. or Carter or Clinton, but there is no doubt in my mind that Reagan would never have gotten his missile program off the ground without the help of Mitterrand, Kohl and, of course, Thatcher.

    …Indeed, we would not have won the Cold War as we did without our traditional allies.

  51. As for your other point, what assurance do you have that Reagan’s military build-up had the effect you describe? Would the pre-Reagan military have been a push-over?

    It’s not the pre-Reagan military that we need to consider, but the what-if-it-had-been-someone-else-other-than-Reagan military.

    From what I recall during those times, just about all of Reagan’s political opponents would have practically surrendered the Cold War. They wanted to cut military spending so they could spend more on “domestic programs” (read: “various wealth-redistribution schemes”). They didn’t take the Soviet threat seriously because, after all, “the Russians love their children too.” (As did the Germans in the 1930s and ’40s, but so what?)

  52. “I suppose the main problem I have with Reagan is that he combated the Soviet Empire by expanding the American Empire.”

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly.

    Our activities in Central America during the Reagan Administration will always be a great source of embarrassment. Our support of South American dictators during the Reagan Administration isn’t anything to be proud of either. However, I think we should look at those events in the context of the Cold War.

    …and having written that last sentence, I would like to pound the table *thud* and claim not to be an apologist; unfortunately, I can’t think of a good way to do that. If someone here can help me think of a good way to do that, please post it here in this thread. I’d really appreciate it, thank you.

    That’s just a way of saying that if you’re talking about Central and South America, then you’ve hit upon my biggest problem with the Reagan Administration too.

  53. Reagan also supported the Afgans in their war with the Soviets, and got the Saudies to increase oil output when the Soviet oil was coming on line.

    In any case, quite a few high level people in the old USSR credit Ronnie with their defeat. In particular, “Star Wars” is cited as a boggyman that scared the crap out of the Soviets.

  54. It should also be point out that around ’63 or so, Reagan publicaly stated that we could, and should, drive the USSR into the ground by engaging it in a arms race. He fully understood that our economic system was superior (GG is right of course; we couldn’t have run them into the ground economically if our system wasn’t superior).

  55. Don,

    Reagan continued Carter’s policy in supporting the “rebels” in Afghanistan. It was a technological change (or so I have read) that turned the tide though; the introduction of those Stinger missiles.

    Ken Shultz,

    The Reagan administration is often singled out for its support of unsavory regimes in Latin America, yet (and this is no excuse for that behavior) Reagan was in many ways merely continuing a policy that preceded his administration. I suppose the question is was it necessary to support such regimes (by that keep in mind that we were in league with regimes who silencing many innocent people)? I can’t say I’ve ever read anything that convinced of an answer either way; as that is the case my default position is that it wasn’t necessary and it was a failure of moral courage and imagination that led us down this path.

  56. Ken Shultz,

    Sorry about forgetting Mrs. Thatcher. The courage of the majority of Poles should also be mentioned. Their people power movement (starting in 1979) was instrumental in the collapse of the whole mess. Anyway, there is certainly a hell of a lot of credit to be acknowledged.

  57. Cameron – I do not understand why libertarians always seem so eager to attack Reagan. He didn’t raise taxes; he lowered them. He expanded the military, brought down the USSR, etc. He was a great president, and he should only be a villain to the current fascists.

    Do I have any sources for the above statement? Uh, well… No… I just think that what I’ve said is common knowledge.

    Ok, seriously, there’s plenty of people above this one that include plenty of links. I just couldn’t resist turning your post on its ear. I promise to be kinder in future.

  58. Anyway, my point is that we’re all carrying around misinformation about RECENT presidencies. I put Ruby Ridge around Clinton’s neck even tho I SHOULD remember it was during Bush Sr.’s term. I’m going to start double-checking my assumptions – it stings a bit when Gary does it.

  59. “Do I have any sources for the above statement? Uh, well… No… I just think that what I’ve said is common knowledge.”

    Point taken. I had heard it from several sources that I had believed to be credible. The gist of what I’d heard is that although he did lower taxes initially, the were raised later in his term to levels that were higher than before he took office.

  60. “That’s just a way of saying that if you’re talking about Central and South America, then you’ve hit upon my biggest problem with the Reagan Administration too.”

    That is what I was talking about. As for taking it in the context of the Cold War, I just don’t see how such actions were even helpful. It has been my understanding that the left-wing movements in those regions were mostly homegrown and were not imposed by the Soviets like some other “people’s revolutions.”

  61. Since my knowledge of Reagan’s presidency appears to be so malformed, I’ll put my next assertion in the form of a question.

    Weren’t many of Reagan’s foreign policy actions undeclared and illegal? Not that this would make him any worse than many recent presidents.

  62. That is what I was talking about. As for taking it in the context of the Cold War, I just don’t see how such actions were even helpful. It has been my understanding that the left-wing movements in those regions were mostly homegrown and were not imposed by the Soviets like some other “people’s revolutions.”

    The Soviets were supporting various left wing revolutions throughout latin America. Actually, the support came from the USSR, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, etc., in different forms.

    Did Reagan’s wars in latin America help? I tend to think they did. To put it another way, was Cuba a problem for us during the Cold War? Would more Cubas been a good thing? Which is worse today, Cuba or El Salvador?

  63. So, just so we’re clear, if some hippies start a commune where everybody shares everything and the experiment proves unsustainable, does that mean the credit for their failure goes to any conservative who denounced them?

    Man, those conservatives sure taught my uncle a lesson back in the 1970’s! No wonder he’s such a lefty–he’s still angry at the conservatives for bringing about the collapse of his commune.

  64. To Reagan’s credit, his unabashed rhetorical celebration of freedom and democracy, and denunciation of tyranny, helped to instill a positive vision among the dissidents who demonstrated the moral and intellectual bankruptcy in Eastern Europe.

    To his shame, his actions in the “Third World” were a stain on our honor that made his efforts to sell Brand America to the people of the Soviet Empire that much harder.

    To his credit, his ability to turn on an intellectual dime, get friendly with Gorbachev, and piss off his old anti-detente friends cut the legs out from under the Communists’ argument that they were protecting their people from scary militarist America. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that Reagan’s strategy for decades had been to scare the hell out of the Soviet leadership and people with scary militarist America.

  65. Wow… joe thumping thoreau? Effectively even. This thread is the weirdest I’ve ever seen.

    Maybe it’s just proof that it’s amazingly difficult for any of us to separate the person from the policies.

    thoreau – I don’t think your hippie commune example is very effective. When the President speaks, the world listens. When the rest of us trash living in a hive, those living in the hive just burrow deeper into the hive.

    That’s the funny thing about Presidents – sometimes talk is as effective as action. That’s what happens, I suppose, when you’re the most powerful guy on Earth.

  66. So, just so we’re clear, if some hippies start a commune where everybody shares everything and the experiment proves unsustainable, does that mean the credit for their failure goes to any conservative who denounced them?

    The analogy is more like this:

    Suppose some hippies start a commune where everyone shares everything they have – whether they want to or not. And of course, the leaders of the commune have greater responsibilities, therefore greater needs, and so most of the “sharing” goes to them.

    That’s just the beginning. They also annex a bunch of neighboring communities and force them to adopt the same system.

    They also start poking around in communities further afield, giving money or guns to people there who have a hankering to set up a share-all commune system in their own neighborhoods.

    Then, in one of the neighborhoods even further away, a leader named Ronbo says to the leaders of the oppressive commune, “Just so you know, I’m buying a lot of guns, mother-effer. Lots of guns. And I’m also researching a technology that will keep your guns from working. Also, not incidentally, I don’t care much for the way you treat the regular folks in your commune, or in the neighboring communities either. Food for thought.”

    Then, about this time, folks in the oppressed communities start to get restive and act up. And the leaders of the oppressive commune fidget and say, “Hey, maybe we need to make some changes around here, loosen things up, give folks a little slack.” And a little later they add, “You know, I’ve decided I don’t want to be the boss of this commune any more. I’m retiring. You guys do your own thing.”

    I would say that in this analogy, Ronbo gets more than a little credit.

    I will also say, I’m also surprised to hear certain posters here taking the positions they are. And I like it.

  67. Stevo-

    True. But it’s not like prior to Reagan the US policy was appeasement. What with MAD, forces in Western Europe, and the general strategy of “containment” we had made it pretty clear in the 30 years prior to Ronbo that we were prepared to smack them down if they crossed certain lines. Kennedy stared them down and forced them to blink. Hell, Nixon showed that he was willing to make nice with China of all countries (a rival of the USSR, if not outright enemey) just to contain the USSR.

    For that matter, we showed that we were willing to do incredibly stupid things solely out of opposition to the Soviets (e.g. fight in Vietnam, fund Afghan warlords). OK, we backed down in Vietnam (eventually), but we gave that stupid war a pretty damn long try, just to show how stubborn we could be.

    And it’s not like dissidents were unknown in the decades prior to Reagan, or that denunciations of Communism had been rare in the West before Reagan.

    Reagan may have escalated and accelerated things. But he was also benefiting from the fact that the Soviets had spent 60 years previous running their economy into the ground and 35 years previous doing even more economic damage by bankrolling an empire of equally failed economies.

    If Reagan had been President a few decades earlier I somehow doubt that Communism would have collapsed then.

  68. Thoreau, I agree. But Reagan kept the pressure on, and even stepped it up a bit, at a critical time. That’s hardly to be assumed as a given if someone else had been elected president. I remember that Carter, in his campaign speeches, kept talking about how we need to stop spending so much money on our “weapons of war.” I could see the Soviet leadership, if they got desperate, thinking they could roll over Carter. I remember something during the invasion of Afghanistan, that Carter expressed some shock that the USSR would do something like that. He was a bit more naive about the Soviet Union. So the unraveling of the USSR might have been a bit more nasty without Reagan keeping some pressure on.

    Now, nothing is simple, and the president isn’t responsible for everything that happens during his watch. If I’m not mistaken, the military build-up that Reagan pushed actually began during the later part of the Carter administration. And reductions in military spending also began while Reagan was still in office, in 1987. Congress, of course, has quite a bit to say about spending priorities.

    But to the extent that the office of the president is able to make policy and project a certain image of the US, I think Reagan made better use of it than any other likely candidate.

  69. Stevo-

    I guess I can echo that nuanced praise for Reagan’s role in the downfall of the USSR. But some of the praise acts like the USSR would have kept going to keep going forever if Reagan hadn’t stepped in and made drastic changes to policy.

    Important acceleration at a crucial moment? Definitely, and he deserves full kudos.

    Single-handedly defeating the Soviets? Hardly. He stood on the shoulders of giants, as Newton would say.

  70. “He stood on the shoulders of giants, as Newton would say.” – thoreau

    Since I originally got into this to rebut the idea that Reagan was “stoopid” I’m happy to see someone analogizing him into the same company as Newton! Heh… Seriously, tho, NO ONE, probably not even the guy who invented the wheel did it alone. Doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a triumph.

  71. The problem with Reagan from an economic perspective was that he espoused strong beliefs without any desire to resolves the conflicts inherent in holding those believes all at once. The man was a walking cognitive dissonance.

    He drank the monetarist kool-aid put out my Milton Friedman big time, yet did not have the economic IQ to realize that the tough-love monetary approach collided directly the massive stimulus of his supply-side tax-cut. He went into office as a big deficit hawk, yet ended up with a bigger deficit than all those democrats he criticized. All the while he displayed a stunning lack of ability to reflect on the consequences of his actions as opposed to holding on to his ideology.

    This facet of his personality permeated his actions outside of the economy too. This guy was so completely in denial about his involvement in the whole Iran Contra mess as to say to his fellow americans: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

    Why did we believe Reagan? Maybe it’s because he fooled himself before he even tried to fool us.

  72. All those Reagan-boosters out there who want to credit him with the downfall of the evil empire are quite right to remind us that hindsight is 20/20 and there’s no way of telling what might have happened if Reagan have not stepped up the arms race. Maybe the Soviets would have folded anyhow. Maybe not. There’s no way of knowing.

    But there’s a flip side to acknowledging that history is not inevitable. You also have to acknowledge that your man’s actions does not lead inevitably to success without a Gorbachov on the other side who backed down and accepted reform. What if there was a soviet version of Reagan on the other side? Someone who is just as passionate about his idealogy, just as convinced that the other side is evil, just as determined to not back down?

    What would be the consequences? And on whose head would they rest?

  73. thoreau,

    Solidarity in Poland started prior to the Reagan administration, and its pretty clear now that after the original crackdown the Reagan administration wrote them off except as a means to generate verbal criticism of the Soviets. Luckily, despite their isolation, the Poles didn’t write themselves off.

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