Saturday, June 5, 2004

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Open Reagan thread

Ronald Reagan died today.

Readers are invited to comment on what they believe will be the most significant aspect of Reagan's legacy.

UPDATE: Chicago residents, you'll get my take on Reagan on ABC7 News Sunday Morning at aroung 9:00 AM.

posted by Dan on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM


Pres. Reagan's greatest contribution: Victory in the Cold War.

posted by: Acad Ronin on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

His presidency won the cold war and signalled the end of unquestioned big government liberalism. Not bad for a cowboy.

His presidency is shaping up to be one of the most significant of the 20th century.

posted by: Ernst Blofeld on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I'll remember him for firing the air traffic controllers (the first time in my life I'd seen a politician actually take action against a recalicitrant union).

But most of all, I'll remember him for ending the post-Viet Nam, Watergate, recession malaise/hangover the country had been in for almost a decade.

The country's mood and self-confidence lifted quickly after his election.

posted by: Craig Howard on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan's administration was a failure on many levels. The main problems he bequeathed to us are:

1. The "free ride" philosophy of government. Deficits don't matter, you can get whatever you want without paying for it. This is tied to the Laffer curve idiocy and "growing out" of deficits. We still haven't grown out of the deficits he left us with.

2. The "genial idiot" philosophy of government. The President can be a figurehead, as long as he hires good people. We are reaping the results of that idea as we speak.

3. The explicit support for terrorists in Central America and Afghanistan. Little bit of blowback on that one.

4. The cult of personality, shown by the current effort to name government buildings, airports , etc. after Reagan. Reminiscent of Kim Jong Il in North Korea.

5. The idea that what government does is not as important as how people in the media report it. Refined by Clinton and perfected by Bush II.

6. Allowing religious fanatics increasing sway in government policy, and blatant entanglement of religion with government. Remember "Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion?"

7. Implicit racism, from his statement about supporting states' rights in Philadelphia, MS to his visit to Bitburg cemetery in Germany. Oh yeah, and the line about welfare queens in their Cadillacs.

That's just off the top of my head. A little research would come up with a much longer list.

posted by: HankP on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I've got mixed feelings about Reagan. . . right on Communism, wrong on support for non-Communist tyrannies, wrong on supply-side economics, and so on. Just as too many Democratic policy initiatives appear to be big government for big government's sake, too many of Reagan's policies sound like small er government for smaller government's sake, without regards to the consequences. My father spent most of the 80s trying to prevent huge cuts in funding for scientific research, promoted by people who didn't understand or care what the money was being spent on but just wanted it stopped.

On the other hand, I think Bush isn't fit to polish Reagan's cowboy boots, so I'll toast to his memory too. Much as I dislike some of Reagan's policies, I'll grant that he did have genuine moral principles, which I feel are sadly missing from our current administration.

posted by: neoliberal on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

This old fart didn't always agree with the man, in fact considered him radical sometimes, but I remember the years when he was Governor of California, and people like George Wallace and Lester Maddox were also Governors. The difference was critical to the redefinition of the Republican Party.

Ronald Reagan, with his toughness, integrity, humour, good looks, and obvious personal compassion, simply made true conservatism acceptable and attractive in America. There can be no overestimation of his importance.

posted by: bob mcmanus on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

"There can be no overestimation of his importance."

I'd wait a week to see what the networks offer before I make this claim.

They've been revving up for a decade now.


posted by: Spencer on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

HankP: Although I read your entire list after item #1 I pretty much discounted the rest as blather.

"We still haven't grown out of the deficits he left us with."

Forgetting history aren't you? The Clinton White House/Republican Congress erased the deficit.

As for #3, The Cia supported what is now the Northern Alliance and the local tribes. OBL and his ilk received their funding exclusively from Saudi Arabia.

posted by: Marc on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Definitely Iran/Contra. He taught a generation that you can get away with anything as long as you pander to the right ideology.

posted by: Hal on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

The decade of slow economic growth produced by his budget deficits...

posted by: Brad DeLong on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

It comes as no suprise that the Left can't stifle its hatred, even for a moment.

Because President Reagan really never considered anyone his enemy, I have to be careful how I put this -

The character & quality of those who declared themselves Reagan's enemies are a testament to just how good and decent a man he was.

posted by: BradDad on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

He was a man of great personal dignity, humanity, and gentle humor. Winning the cold war ranks second to that.

posted by: Fred Boness on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

The Democratic Congress in the 80s were the ones who saddled us with enormous deficits, not Reagan. Defense spending was very necessary to win the Cold War (and we did), our nanny state wasn't.

posted by: Crash on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Remember those old cartoons where Superman would grab a severed electrical power cable and save the day by letting the current run through his body to its destination? Reagan grabbed the high tension wire of the American Soul with one hand and our dispirited Carter-Era psyche's with the other, allowing us to connect with the heritage we all knew but were told not to trust. The result? A surging economic freight train that (with one brief pause) didn't slow until the late '90's and a storm surge of democracy that's washed away dozens of totalitarian dictatorships.

posted by: Dr. Diatribe on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]


You bring up a fair point of Reagan's support for non-Commmunist tyrannies. Still, it would behoove you to look at many of those states that are no longer tyrannies (non-Communist or otherwise)in part because of Reagan's vision. I think the best example is the Phillipines. Yes, the Reagan administration did not do all it could to get rid of slimeball number 1 Marcos. But still his ideals allowed the US to let go of that creep, when others from a not-so-bygone era would have done all they could to keep him there for the stake of stability.
His willingness to oppose the Sandanistas - thugs with good P.R. - is another example of affecting change for the best, although by means that we may not be so proud of after the fact.

No he wasn't solely responsible for winning the Cold War either. Still the attitude he brought to the Presidency that this nation was not going to apologize to an ideology whose purpose was to enslave humanity to the state certainly helped facilitate the downfall of what was truly an evil empire.

posted by: Daniel on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

One could also cite most of the rest of Central America in support of my argument. I don't by any means blame Reagan for all of what happened, but there was a large degree of willful blindness, approaching outright encouragement, by members of his administration. Likewise, the ridiculous idolization of Jonas Savimbi. Iran-Contra was unforgiveable; I'll let Afghanistan pass, as it seemed like a good idea at the time and a liberal Democrat, Charlie Wilson, was one of the architects of that policy.

As someone who thinks the "evil empire" characterization was pretty close to the truth, I'm more disappointed than angry with Reagan's policies in the Third World. How could someone who stood up for human rights behind the Iron Curtain simultaneously ignore the effect of overzealous US policies elsewhere? I just don't think "the ends justify the means" is a very conservative philosophy.

posted by: neoliberal on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan's biggest acheivement historically, IMO, is the dramatic liberalization of economic policy. Thatcher and Reagan shifted the West's economic viewpoint from Freidman to Hayek... in the US this seemed a bit odd at the time, but to the UK it was salvation from economic meltdown. There is a convincing argument that the US was rapidly approaching a similar meltdown, and Reagan's economic policy shift saved us from it.

IMO, his economic policies went too far, but in the right direction. That is not uncommon for such as fundamental shift.

Yes there is much more that can be said, good and bad (and some like Iran-Contra is terrible and probably should have gotten him impeached). But in a world that is beginning to understand ecomonics enough to see its importance, I think history will have to recognize Reagan's role in creating the new economic liberalization that is so central to the age.

posted by: travc on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan was probably the first of the greats to go. The generation of world leaders in the heyday of the cold war - Thatcher, Gorbachev, Kohl, Mitterand and the like. The Soviet threat acted as a glue that has never since been replaced. Hats off to a great man!

posted by: sudhir on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I don't think Reagan was guided by an "ends justify the means" philosophy in his dealings with dictatorships. I think he was just so thoroughly anti-communist that it actually blinded him to other manifestations of evil. I think he honestly believed these Third World dictators he supported were fundamentally on the side of good, despite their flaws, and therefore worthy of our support and "friendly" advice vis-a-vis human rights. Kind of analagous to the neo-cons and Chalabi, actually. So blinded by ideology that they see their allies as they wish them to be, not as they truly are.

posted by: Dave on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

In the interest of fairness, I should point out that alot of liberals have been guilty of the same thing over the years vis-a-vis Leftist dictatorships.

posted by: Dave on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]


Very well said. I second that emotion.

posted by: Chris Sherman on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]


No, I suppose it shouldn't shock you. It didn't me; and it certainly didn't take long to find, either. I collected a bit of it from usenet and from Moonbat central, otherwise known as DemocraticUnderground, and posted them on my own site.

Here it is.

(An aside to Dan; This was kind of a tough choice, for me;

Look, I'm aware you've been pretty open about policy and posting stuff, but given the hate-filled nature of the comments I found and reposted, I was uneasy about putting them here.

I thought the collection of hateful BS on this subject an interesting addition and a valid point and yet.... well, I'd just as soon not post the hateful stuff here. Usually, I won't post links to my own site... in this case, perhaps a linkback is a better idea. Your call, but just so you understand.)

posted by: Bithead on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I remember the time before Iran-Contra broke. Reagan was getting pounded for seeming to not be doing anything to get the hostages back. Then Iran-Contra broke and they pounded him for trying to get the hostages back.

But the thing I'll remember most is the Berlin Wall speech when he called out Gorbachev for all the world to hear. I had always wanted my President to say that and he was the one who did.

posted by: MArk on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Why Spencer thinks that what the networks say is of any significance whatever puzzles me.

They are almost by definition ignorant, short-sighted, prejudiced, and self-important. You can be pretty sure that whatever their judgment, it'll be wrong.

I thought Reagan was a naive utopian when he predicted in 1982 that communism and the Soviet Union were on their last legs. I thought he was a weakling (yes!!) in the Cold War and that he was whistling past the graveyard. The Soviets had us beat, I thought, with many more missiles, more determined armies, and the will to win.

Well, he was right and I was wrong. He didn't really cut government, he didn't trim the regulatory nanny state, and he did leave deficits (actually, Congress did), and there was Iran-Contra. Still, beyond doubt, he was the greatest president since FDR.

David G.

posted by: David G. on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I vividly remember my sophmore year in college when Reagan was shot. Certain students (English lit) were cheering and gloating in class. I was appalled, and it was the first time I understood the pernicious influence of what we then quaintly called the 'leftist orthodoxy' on campus. I will never forget a history professor (who was flirting with apoplexy when discussing Reagan) supressing discussion in class by calling any uncomfortable U.S./Soviet contrast an "invidious comparison"; which he would not countenance in his class! What the chattering classes never got was that Reagan was not talking to them. They were safely marginalized on campus speaking "nonsense to indifference" as someone once said. Reagan was speaking to truly, as in actually, non metaphorically, objectively, manifestly undeniably, oppressed people behind the iron curtain. Talk of "evil empires" was clearly understood there, and gave hope to the hopeless.

posted by: Alex S. on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I wonder how many people still remembered the terror of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear war.

I recall there were quite a lot of people in the 1980s, who claimed Reagan was "rocking the boat" of the balance of power between the West and the Soviet Union -- who claimed, in essence, that Reagan would "provoke" World War III.

In hindsight, they were wrong. He started a process of real nuclear disarmament (Reykjavik, remember?). Funny, how hindsight makes all the things that were being said in the past seem loopy, treacherous or plain wrongheaded.

It makes me wonder about all that's been said in the past 10 years (1994-2004), and how much of it will appear loopy, treacherous or plain wrongheaded in 2014...

Note to self: When a President is called a "cowboy", it may later turn out to be a compliment.

-A.R. Yngve

posted by: A.R. Yngve on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Brad Delong wrote:

The decade of slow economic growth produced by his budget deficits...

Yes Brad, especially compared to the powerhouse growth in the decade before Reagan took office. We all particularly appreciated the Misery Index (inflation + employment) peak of 21 in 1980.


posted by: scarhill on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Bithead- that link you referred to doesn't seem to work.

posted by: h0mi on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan's good points:

Military buildup, which proved useful not only in bringing the Soviets to ultimately throw in the towel without nuking anyone, but also came in quite handy in the first Gulf War. Anyone who claims that we will need a draft to expand our forces for the War on Terror should look at the all-volunteer force deployed by Reagan.

Deregulation in the price of oil and in other areas. I'm thinking that this was the real catalyst behind the economic growth we saw (and the consequent boosts in revenue), and the tax cuts were just icing on the cake.

But the tax cuts were definitely good.

Calling Communism evil out loud, in public, no if ands or buts. It's amazing but true that this was once shocking.

Bad points:

Kicked the War on Drugs into high gear, and thereby helped make our inner cities into war zones.

Showed weakness in the Middle East, except in the well-known case of Libya. Paying ransom (in weapons, no less!) for hostages not the brightest idea.

Jacked up FICA collections, promised undiminished future benefits in the face of future demographic problems, then took the current excess and spent it on general budgetary items.

Also, those who criticize Reagan for supporting unsavory regimes in order to defeat the Soviets should recall that FDR supported the Soviet Union, the most monstrous regime of all, in order to deal with the Nazi threat.

posted by: Ken on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

It's worth pointing out that the one Cental American country that US did not invade, smuggle illegal arms to, or otherwise insert ourselves into their political process, Costa Rica, is now the most successful, liberal country in that region.

It's also interesting to remember Reagan's final fessing up to the Iran-Contra scandal. I'm paraphrasing, 'In my heart, I don't believe that we traded arms for hostages and sent the proceeds from the deal to prop up torturers in Cental America, but, unfortunately, the facts show otherwise.'

posted by: moog on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Bithead- that link you referred to doesn't seem to work.

Ah. Sorry.

Let's try again

Since that was posted, one of my readers also forwarded Kos's comments....

posted by: Bithead on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

A very unusual man. A genius, a star, one of the great speakers of the 20th Century.

A warm smile, but a profoundly cold man. Not just a self-made man, but a self-invented one. A man who lived closer to dreams (or, if you prefer, fantasy) than any other, but made his dream so real to so many of us.

And his dreams were, mostly, good ones. Not for him the dark Nixonian catcombs, but the sunny uplands of America The Good. Yes, no bomber pilot rode it down with a crippled kid -- but is that such a bad dream, really?

Yet not always. He dreamed of a welfare queen made legion, and made us dream that dream also.

His sincere offer at Rekjavik to scrap all -- all -- of our nuclear weapons shows his worth. It failed, but no other president would have attempted such a thing.

His greatest legacy? Probably the change in how Americans view government and taxes. Whether that is a good thing or bad depends on your politics. But it was, at any rate, a great thing.

A great but flawed President, but now is not the time to speak of flaws. One thing, though: I don't think it's at all fair to give him credit for winning the cold war. All contributed, from Truman to GHW Bush. Let's give him his share of credit, but not too much more. It's important, because the cold war was an example of the older days, when Democrats and Republicans were Americans first, and could succeed each other but still continue a coherent shared policy. For good or ill, those days are over, but let's not let them be completely buried and forgotten.

But still... "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". That still sends a thrill as great as does "I am a pastry!" to this old Kennedyite.

posted by: Voice of the Democracys on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan and Gorbachev were the ones who got rid of that damned clock.

You know the one. It was the clock brought out yearly by SANE or the Concerned Scientists or one of the other groups purporting to show how close the world was to a nuclear holocaust. Up until the 1980s I don't think it ever showed us being any more than fifteen minutes from midnight. I always thought these little demonstrations exaggerated the danger -- not the consequences of a nuclear exchange, just the risk of one. Even so it was pretty unnerving when you thought about it. These enormous arsenals were there, had been for over twenty years, and if the wrong sequence of events happened they could be used.

Earlier administrations had lived with that because they didn't think we had a choice, and in their time they may have been right. Reagan saw the choice emerge when Gorbachev came to power, and set American policy toward arms reduction in a new direction. He deserves no end of credit for that -- as does Gorbachev, something Americans probably remember more clearly than Russians do.

posted by: Zathras on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

He was simply the best. And arguably the most influential man in my life.

posted by: ronistheman on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reversing post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, post-60's turmoil American declinism, of which by far the most important manifestation was the belief in the inevitability of the Soviet challenge.

It's easy to forget how prevalent this belief was in the mid- to late-1970s. Nearly every Soviet expert, from Seweryn Bialer to Jerry Hough to Adam Ulam to Stephen Cohen, argued that the US could at most contain the Soviet Union and should reconcile itself to Soviet domination of half of Europe. Many prominent intellectuals such as John K Galbriath actually argued that the American and Soviet economic and social models were converging in bureaucratic, "new industrial state".

Reagan's brilliance and great courage came in his rejection of this (near) universally-accepted nonsense. His conviction was grounded in the insights and wisdom of historian Richard Pipes of Harvard, the lone western academic who argued that the Soviet Union would not survive the century, and Daniel Moynihan, who also voiced this view.

was virtually alone in arguing US exceptionalism

posted by: thibaud on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

You have all missed his truly greatest

He freed the US of A from the tyranny
of James Earl Carter, Jr.

For that simple act alone, he will be
remembered as one of the greatest of
all Presidents.

May he rest in peace and be remembered in
the prayers of a grateful America.

posted by: pragmatist on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

Reagan: while I disagreed (daily) with the president, I certainly admired the man. On a bit smaller scale, I had similar respect for Sen. Wellstone (who also drove me nuts).

But leave it to me to be petty: does no one remember the Reagan "ketchup as a legal veggie in the school lunch program" proposal?

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

There was never any respect for Reagan among the far left. But the Democratic party leadership's opposition to Reagan was always at least civil. Issues were debated, for the most part, on the merits without accusations of bad faith.

But then, that was before it became respectable for leading Dem politicians to scream about "betrayal" and to bray crackpot conspiracy theories of the Michael Moore variety.

It helps to recall that Reagan, like many of the leaders of the Republican revolution of the 1980s, grew up a Democrat and had no problem reaching out to blue-collar northern and southern Democrats who felt abandoned by an ossified and increasingly incompetent Dem party leadership.

A shame that the Repubs seem to have been captured by Rove-ite shameless opportunism and the Dems by Michael Moore-ite screaming idiocy.

As Lenin would say, Shto delat'?

posted by: thibaud on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

I remember the ketchup thing. It actually originated with a junior Republican appointee in the USDA, which was under heavy pressure from OMB to find ways to reduce spending on its programs, including the food stamp program. The idea may have been intended as a poison pill -- that is, a barely plausible but obviously impractical thing that USDA would send to OMB to get that agency off its back, and that the White House would subsequently force OMB to drop to avoid the predictable fallout on the Hill.

However, OMB was biting off a lot in the early '80s, so no one caught the proposal before it found its way to the press. As they say in Washington, oops. There wasn't much question about Reagan himself knowing anything about the details of the food stamp program, but obviously as the guy in charge he got most of the blame. As for the guy credited with inventing the Ketchup as a vegetable idea in the first place, he moved into the Senate as a staffer on the Budget Committee. I think he's still there.

posted by: Zathras on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

it's hard to select which of the following would be the "most significant" aspects of Reagan's "legacy":

--winning the Cold War

--beginning to drive the stake through the heart of the entitlement mentality

--popularizing a renewed positive vision of America.

and i say this as someone who, back in the day, despised Ronald Reagan. but like someone above said, "he was right and i was wrong."

posted by: Robert E. Bihlmayer on 06.05.04 at 05:40 PM [permalink]

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