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WHY ALL THE FUSS ABOUT RONALD REAGAN?

August 10, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
THE HALL CHRONICLES:

Perhaps it’s the immense popularity of Franklin Roosevelt and the charisma of the Kennedy’s that has driven Republicans to an unnatural obsession with Ronald Reagan. Or, perhaps not since Abraham Lincoln has a Republican President enjoyed the raptus of a nation. Teddy Roosevelt was smart, gregarious and bold, too bold for many Republicans when it came to pursuing anti-trust matters. President Eisenhower was well liked, but even members of his own Party thought him vapid and politically ineffectual. It’s almost like Republicans need someone to point to with shared national pride, an undisputed national hero.

The biggest claim Reagan supporters make is that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War with his unprecedented buildup of the US military. To be sure, there were others who made the same argument. Tom Wicker wrote in the New York Times that the Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars, and the military buildup “seemed to impress the Soviets as a challenge they might not be able to meet.” Even the Vatican was among the supporters of Reagan’s military buildup. Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican’s Secretary of State said, "Ronald Reagan obligated the Soviet Union to increase its military spending to the limits of insupportability."

That’s all good, but there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence to support that premise. The Central Intelligence Agency, even during the Reagan years, indicated that neither the military buildup that began during the Carter Administration and continued under the Regan Administration had a noticeable impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. According to CIA estimates Soviet Defense spending did not decline until 1989 and even then not as rapidly as spending in the overall economy. That doesn’t mean that defense spending wasn’t an extreme burden on the USSR, it was; Soviet leaders could not have stayed in power without the military. The Soviets had their own version of a military-industrial complex.

Despite Grover Norquist’s efforts to name a notable public landmark in every state after President Reagan, the President is not without his detractors. After observing him at a press conference Christopher Hitchens called him a cruel and stupid lizard. He said the man was never without the sort of falsehood that however laughable would buy him some time. And he wrote that philosophers say whereas the fox is smart in many small things and the hedgehog smart in one big thing Ronald Reagan was neither fox nor hedgehog, he was as dumb as a stump. In my view Ronald Reagan appeared likeable enough; he didn’t seem mean spirited and was generally good humored, but he was a notoriously bad president.

President Reagan did more to destroy the American Labor movement than any of his predecessors, and not because of his harsh and cruel response to the air traffic controllers. He signed anti-labor legislation and installed a National Labor Relations Board that was at best antithetical toward labor. It was during the Regan Administration when companies routinely filed bankruptcy to scuttle labor agreements and at the same time were allowed to pilfer pension funds.

His scripted press conferences, his laissez-faire approach toward big business, supply side economics and the Laffer curve that became Reagannomics did not serve the American people well. Those who find comfort in claiming that Ronald Reagan made them “feel good about America again” probably should refrain from criticism of Mrs. Obama for her remarks about “feeling good about America for the first time” and both should read what Thomas Paine said about sunshine patriots and weekend warriors during the formation of the United States.

Despite the critics, Reagan Republicans can take heart; from a distance and after eight years of George Dubya even Ronald Reagan looks better.

 
 

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