“This president is treated by both the press and foreign leaders as if he were a child. He earns praise for the ordinary, for what used to be the expected. His occasional ability to retain facts is cited as a triumph when it should, in fact, be a routine occurrence…”Shocking that the Cohen we know now would have actually once said that, I'll admit.
Richard Cohen, WaPo, 6/2/83
On a proposed Soviet grain embargo in 1980, in response to their war in Afghanistan (from the “past is prologue” file)
1/7/80On the 1980 U.S. Olympic Boycott...
“I just don’t believe the farmer should be made to pay a special price for our diplomacy, and I’m opposed to the (embargo.)” (Washington Post)
“If we are going to do such a thing to the Soviet Union as a full grain embargo, which I support, first we have to be sure our own allies would join us on this.” (Claremont – NH – Eagle Times)
“I just cannot within myself now find it right that the President of the United States should now be able to say to Americans who have violated no laws or anything, that they cannot go and cannot leave this country (to compete).” (The boycott was always voluntary, by the way.)In an attempt to downgrade President Jimmy Carter’s initiative on US-China policy, Reagan said, “In the first place, China relations had been normalized by the visits of a previous President from a previous administration (i.e., Richard Nixon). And I am not at all sure that (Carter) added anything to what had already been accomplished.” (WaPo, 5/5/83)
(New York Times, 4/9/80)
“I support the boycott today. I supported it yesterday. And I supported it when the President first called for it.”
(New York Times, 4/11/80)
Carter added, of course, what WaPo columnist Philip Geyelin labeled “the hard part” – the 1979 “normalization” agreement that established full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Also, speaking in June 1982, Reagan described Syrian missiles in Lebanon as “offensive weapons,” adding, “There’s no question about the direction in which they’re aimed.”Well, naturally, there was some question, since the weapons under discussion were surface-to-air missiles used for anti-aircraft purposes – they were, therefore, aimed in the direction of whatever was flying over them and were entirely defensive in nature. (WaPo, 6/17/82)
“We have never interfered in the internal government of a country and have no intention of doing so, never have had any thought of that kind.” (9/28/82)Never? That’s not what an article on the front page of the New York Times on December 4, 1982 said: “United States covert activities in Central America, which began a year ago with limited aims, have become the most ambitious paramilitary and political action operation mounted by the CIA in nearly a decade, according to intelligence officials.” Nor is it what the President himself said half a year later: “Now, if they (House committee members) want to tell us that we can give money and do the same things we’ve been doing – money giving, providing subsistence, and so forth to these people (anti-Sandinista guerrillas trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua) and making it overt instead of covert – that’s all right with me.” (WaPo, 5/5/83)
“Well, I learned a lot…I went down (to Latin America) to find out from them and (learn) their views. You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.” (WaPo, 12/6/82)Also…
“Because Vietnam was not a declared war, the veterans are not even eligible for the G.I. Bill of Rights with respect to education or anything.” (Newsweek, 4/21/80)The vets were, in fact, eligible even if Vietnam wasn’t a declared war.
“Up until now (during the Soviet Afghan invasion) the Soviet Union has not used its own military forces in its imperialism. It’s taken over country after country, but it’s done so with proxy troops.” (Des Moines Register, 1/8/80)Soviet troops were used in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
“Now, the Soviets have 945 warheads aimed at targets in Europe with their medium-range missiles. And we have no deterrent whatsoever…” (10/14/82)Uh, no – at that time, the U.S. had, on submarines in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, 400 warheads targeted at the Soviet Union. Also on those subs were an additional 4,500 warheads not officially committed to NATO. Great Britain had 192 warheads targeted at the USSR; France had 98. Reagan also ignored the bomber forces of both the U.S. and NATO, which had the capacity to drop well over 1,000 nuclear weapons on the USSR.
“We then went back into negotiations on their (the Soviets’) terms, because Mr. Carter had cancelled the B-1 bomber, delayed the MX, delayed the Trident submarine, delayed the Cruise missile, shut down the…Minute Man missile production line…” (Presidential debate, 10/28/80)It’s true that the B-1 bomber had been delayed. As for the rest: the Cruise missile and MX were under full-scale development; the Minute Man’s missile production line had been shut down because the production schedule had been met; and the first Trident submarine, the USS Ohio, had been launched on April 7, 1979.
“We’re in greater danger today than we were the day after Pearl Harbor. Our military is absolutely incapable of defending this country.” (New York Times, 4/12/80)Spoken like someone who “served” during WW II on a Hollywood back lot, which is pretty much what he did, making 400 training films.
“Incidentally, the first man who proposed the nuclear freeze was in February 21, 1981, in Moscow – Leonid Brezhnev.” (12/10/82)Nope. The freeze idea was first officially proposed by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon), in 1979, as an amendment to SALT II.
“I was the one who took the lead to begin bringing about the first real arms reduction talks that we’ve ever been able to hold with the Soviet Union.” (2/16/83)Here we go again. Again, remember SALT II? Some people think those were real arms reduction talks, especially since that agreement called for significant reductions in arms between the superpowers. Remember Richard Nixon? Gerald Ford? Jimmy Carter? They all supported SALT II.
On the economy:
“Their lives (the lives of workers and their families) have been shattered by a new depression – the Carter depression. The Carter depression was created and molded by Carter himself.” (8/28/80)Whatever Carter did mold it was not a depression, or at least not according to Reagan’s own economic advisers. Alan Greenspan said, “I wouldn’t have used that term.” Martin Anderson pointed out that most economists believed the nation to be in a “very severe recession” (at that time). Anderson and his aides then went so far as to issue a clarification stating that “the Republican presidential nominee was not using the word ‘depression’ the way economists do.” Oh.
“Real earnings are at last increasing for the first time in quite awhile.” (5/16/82)Try decreasing. The Labor Department reported in June 1982 that real average weekly earnings for American workers declined 1.2%.
“For four quarters we have seen a growth in the GNP.” (9/28/82)Inflation-adjusted GNP had been declining for two of the four quarters under discussion.
Turning to one of Reagan’s pet peeves…
“We reformed welfare in California (when Reagan was governor from 1967-1975) and we saved $2 billion for the taxpayer over a three-year period…” (Washington Star, 3/2/80)There was never $2 billion to save. That figure represents money that would have been spent had the number of people receiving welfare continued to increase, even after the recession ended and the rate of abortion increased. Anthony Beilenson (D-CA) used these same calculations to figure out that by 1978 55% of the state’s population would be on the dole; and that by 1984, everyone in the state including the governor would be on welfare. This claim sometimes appeared as “We returned $2 billion to the taxpayer,” which is even more wrong.
“What Congress, when they finished, gave him (President Kennedy) was 30% (in tax cuts) at the bottom levels of the income earners and 23% at the top levels, and it averaged out to 27%. So…Kemp/Roth (the first disastrous Reagan tax cut) is asking for exactly what, in amount, Kennedy asked for.” (CBS News, 4/3/80)Not exactly. In 1963, JFK requested a tax cut of 18%, weighted in favor of lower-and-middle-income families. After his death, Congress enacted a 19% tax cut.
“History shows that when the taxes of a nation approach about 20% of the people’s income, there begins to be a lack of respect for government…When it reaches 25% there comes an increase in lawlessness.” (Time, 4/14/80)History shows no such thing. Income tax rates in Europe have traditionally been far higher than U.S. rates, while European crime rates have been much lower.
“The percentage of your earnings the federal government took in taxes in 1960 has almost doubled.” (2/5/81)No. As a share of personal income, federal individual income taxes were 10.4% in 1960 and 12.0% in 1981.
“The bipartisan (tax cut) proposal was designed to encourage small businesses…” (7/27/81)If so, the proposal was poorly designed. About 80% of the Accelerated Cost Recovery System cut in corporate taxes went to the top one-tenth of 1% of America’s businesses, or those “small businesses” with assets of more than $250 million. Said William Hardman, a representative of the Small Business Legislative Council, “It would be difficult to write a tax bill better designed to speed the extinction of small business.”
“As a matter of fact, if anyone wants to look closely, our original tax plan did not contain the reduction of the 70% bracket (formerly the high-end rate, believe it or not). That was suggested by the Democrats.” (11/12/81)No it wasn’t. The original Reagan tax plan called for a lowering of the top rates from 70% to 50%, to be phased in over a period of three years. As David Stockman so memorably explained, “Kemp-Roth was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate.”
“I would like to have them (the critics of the plan) give a specific on where this is a budget for the rich. The bulk of the personal income tax cut goes right across from the lower income to middle America.” (2/8/82)Well, here are some specifics. According to the CBO, 35.1% of the tax cuts went to the wealthiest 5% of the taxpayers. The National Journal, using CBO and Census Bureau information, estimated that, had the 1983 tax cuts gone into effect in 1981, they would have taken $1.2 billion from the poorest fifth of the income spectrum and added $36 billion to the income of the richest fifth.
“Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, ‘Keep the government poor and remain free’.” (6/15/82)An official at the White House speechwriting office says the President “came up with that one himself. Holmes never said anything point-blank exactly like that…we’re still trying to track it down.” Professor Ed Bander of Suffolk Law School in Boston, a recognized Holmes scholar, didn’t think Holmes “ever said anything that I can see which resembles that quote.”
Oh, and here’s a budget flip-flop…
“We have no choice. This government must get back as quickly as possible to a balanced budget.” (New York Times, 11/21/75)Continuing…
“In the first place, I said that (a balanced budget) was our goal, not a promise.” (12/17/81)
“And already, we can tell you that that $90 billion deficit of 1983 will actually be smaller in proportion to the GNP than the deficits were in 1975-1978…” (3/8/82)Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the 1984 budget of the US government estimated that the 1983 deficit would be 6.5% of GNP, which made it larger, not smaller, than percentages of GNP for any single year between 1975 and 1978: 3.1% in 1975, 4.0% in 1976, 2.4% in 1977, and 2.3% in 1978. In fact, when the House Budget Committee ranked post-World War II deficits as a percentage of GNP, Reagan’s budgets for his first term in office took four of the top five spots.
“If you’ll remember, there were 2 million who lost their jobs in the last six months of 1980, during the election…” (1/8/82)The number of people employed increased in the last six months of 1980, ending the year with 283,000 more people working than in July.
“I realize there’s been an increase in unemployment. It’s been a continuation of an increase that got underway in the last several months of 1980.” (1/19/82)Still wrong. In the last six months of 1980, unemployment declined from 7.8% to 7.3%. It declined further to 7.2% in 1981, before beginning to climb to double-digit figures.
“We have…in some of the hardest-hit states, extended the unemployment insurance. There’s nothing that strikes to my heart more than the unemployed…”(3/31/82)Then how come the Labor Department estimated that changes in the eligibility formula for the 1981 budget reduced extended benefits for 1.5 million jobless workers? Moreover, changes in the way a state became eligible for the extended benefit program had Michigan – the hardest hit of the states, then pretty much as now – thrown off that program for 13 weeks just prior to the President’s heartfelt speech.
“Is it news that some fellow out in South Succotash somewhere has just been laid off?” (3/16/82)Enough said.
“No, I want to be fair. Unemployment is 9.8%. When we took office it was 7.4%. Okay, I’ll take blame for 2.4% of the unemployment. And if, as everybody is worried about, it goes to 10%, well I’ll take blame for 2.6%” (10/6/82)Let’s be fair to (every president to that point in time). In the past 30 years (from 1983), here’s how the unemployment rate changed during each president’s term in office. Republicans: Ike, +3.7%; Nixon, +2.0%; Ford, +3.1%; Reagan, +2.4%. Democrats: JFK, -.9%, LBJ, -2.3%, Carter, -1.0%. It’s hard to see why the Democrats should accept blame for 7.4% unemployment, when Republican presidents have always increased unemployment and Democratic presidents have always decreased it. And unemployment passed the 10% mark just two days after Reagan said that.
“When Chicago burned down they didn’t declare it a disaster area. They just rebuilt it, the people of Chicago, and this is the kind of America we can have again.” (Washington Star, 3/2/80)This is the kind of America we’ve had all along. On October 10, 1871, the Secretary of War, Gen. William H. Balknap, declared the Chicago fire a “national calamity.” The mayor of Chicago gave absolute police authority to the US Army under Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan. Federal rations, tents, and other supplies arrived from all over the country. According to A.T. Andreas, author of History of Chicago, millions of dollars to aid in the rebuilding of Chicago came from all over the US, from the federal government, and from several foreign governments as well.
And in terms of Repugs not being able to cut from the budget today (at least not without getting their stinking tax cuts first), I believe you could consider this to be a prototype…
“What would I cut?...Right now the GAO has furnished the Congressional Budget Office with a list of 41 specific items. All of them are totally unnecessary, spelled out right down to the penny…they total $11 billion (in savings), those 41 items…” (Washington Star, 3/2/80)They totaled zero, those 41 items, as least as far as the Government Accounting and Congressional Budget Offices are concerned – spokesmen for both said they knew of no such list.
“If the figures that I’ve been given are correct, in these last three years the federal government has increased by 131,000 (workers).” (Time, 4/14/80)The figures were not correct. The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the average number of federal workers in 1976 at 2,733,000 and in 1979 at 2,773,000 – for a grand total increase of 40,000.
“The federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government.” (Inaugural address, 1/20/81)The original 13 colonies did get together and create our constitutional system, including the federal government. Yet the federal government “created” the other 37 states. Their land was either bought with federal monies or won at war by federal armies. Of the 37 states admitted to our nation after ratification, only Texas chose to become part of the US while a sovereign entity. The federal government did, however, assume Texas’ debt when it became a state.
“In England, if a criminal with a gun, even if he was arrested for burglary or theft or whatever he was doing, was tried for first degree murder and hung if he was found guilty.” (4/15/82)A New York Times search of English law going back to the 14th century failed to turn up this legal standard. A member of the Law Society of Britain pointed out that there had once been a law that punished by execution the use of a gun that led to death, but never merely the carrying of a gun. After the error was pointed out, Reagan Press Secretary Larry Speakes commented, “Well, it’s a good story, though. It made the point, didn’t it?”
And here is some of Ronnie’s “compassion” on display…
“We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.” (TV speech for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, 10/27/64)Continuing…
“…a faceless mass, waiting for hand-outs.” (Description of Medicaid recipients, 1965)
“There has been a great deal of misinformation and for that matter pure demagoguery on the subject of Social Security…” (Radio address, 9/24/81)The misinformation was on the subject of just how much Reagan wanted to cut. He acted to eliminate Social Security benefits for students who are children of deceased and disabled workers; proposed cutting the minimum benefit for Social Security recipients; and allowed his Health and Human Services Secretary to propose cutting benefits at 62 years of age – a proposal rejected by the Senate 95-0.
During the 1982 election campaigns, a Republican TV advertisement showed a white-haired mailman delivering July’s Social Security check, which contained an automatic cost-of-living increase in benefits. “President Reagan kept his promise to the American people,” the ad proclaimed.Comparing Ronnie to Tricky Dick – pretty low…
In fact, Reagan opposed the increase in Congress, which passed it anyway. Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Aging, said that for Reagan to claim credit for the increase “lowers the art of deception to depths not explored since the Nixon Administration.” (New York Times, 7/7/82)
“I don’t believe there is going to be any cut (in education funding) that’s going to affect students with true need…” (2/18/82)In fact, the needier the student, the harder he or she would have been hit by Reagan’s student-aid cuts. For example, a college student whose family was unable to make any contribution relied on an aid package that included a maximum Pell Grant, a Supplement Grant, and a Direct Loan or Guaranteed Loan. Reagan’s proposed program would reduce that student’s Pell Grant, take away the Supplemental Grant and the State Grant, reduce the work-study award by 28%, make Direct Loans scarcer, and make Guaranteed Loans more expensive.
“The decrease in poverty I referred to earlier started in the 1950s. By the time the full weight of the Great Society programs was felt, economic progress for America’s poor had come to a tragic halt.” (9/19/82)In 1967, the Field Foundation testified before Congress on hunger in America: “Wherever we went and wherever we looked, we saw children in significant numbers who were hungry and sick.” A decade later, the Field team retraced its 1967 steps and found “far fewer grossly malnourished people in this country…” They concluded that food stamps and other federal nutrition programs, implemented or inspired by Great Society legislation, had made the difference.
And this is shades of Glenn Beck…
“Anyone who wants to take a look at the writings of the members of the brain trust of the New Deal will find that President Roosevelt’s advisers admired the Fascist system.” (New York Times, 8/17/80)Some of the New Dealers made references to the efficiency of the Italian government. So did Winston Churchill. This does not add up to an admiration of fascism. Neither FDR nor the New Deal brain trust ever hinted at adopting that political program.
On the environment…
“Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources.” (Sierra, 9/10/80)Talk about the commonsense gap. Trees do emit hydrocarbons, but the EPA does not find that cause for concern. Trees decay into nitrous oxide, which is not an immediate threat to human health. On the other hand, the EPA projected that emissions of man-made oxides of nitrogen – which are harmful and which those “tough emission standards” are intended to control – would increase by about 50% at least by the year 2000.
“As governor of California, I took charge of passing the strictest air pollution laws in the United States – the strictest air quality law that has ever been accepted.” (Presidential debate – 10/28/80)Dead wrong. It was under Governor Pat Brown, who preceded Reagan in office, that California adopted the toughest anti-pollution measures in the nation. Reagan did put his name to some air and water quality legislation, but only under the most intense pressure from California environmentalists. The record shows that during his eight-year reign as governor, Reagan worked to undermine and weaken environmental standards. California Journal reported that by 1973 the Air Resources Board had “faded from national prominence into a strange kind of bureaucratic malaise, in which it inhibits rather than aids the smog-control effort.”
And I give you Ronnie on nuclear energy…
“It takes 12 years to get a nuclear power plant built in America. It only takes four or five in most other countries. The seven or eight years’ difference is not construction time in our country, it is paperwork and the multitudinous permits required by the government.” (Radio, April 1979)Wrong again. It does take ten to twelve years to build a nuclear power plant in the US, but that puts us ahead of India, Spain, Italy and Britain, and behind Japan and France. In fact, the only country to do it in four years is Japan – once. As for the charge of regulatory sabotage, a congressional report concluded these claims “have been grossly exaggerated.” The reasons for the French and Japanese lead are more logistical than bureaucratic. The Japanese work on their reactors around the clock, and the French have maximized efficiency by standardizing design.
And I give you Ronnie on gas mileage…
“Trains are not any more energy efficient than the average automobile, with both getting about 48 passenger miles to the gallon.” (Chicago Tribune, 5/10/80)The US Department of Transportation figured that a 14-car train travelling at 80 mph gets 400 passenger miles to the gallon. A 1980 auto with good mileage carrying an average of 2.2 people got 42.6 passenger miles to the gallon.
And this has been in the news a bit lately…
“…first of all – the Hatch Act, there are some fifteen million public employees in the United States. If you grant each one of them only influence over one additional vote, such as a family member, you are talking about a voting bloc of 30 million people who conceivably can have any number of conflicts of interest…” (NBC, Meet The Press, 5/1/77)First of all, that voting bloc already exists. The Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in political campaigns, does not prevent them from influencing the votes of their immediate family.
Pro:Ronnie on the law…
“I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet, if necessary.” (L.A. Times, 10/20/65)
“I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (L.A. Times, 6/17/66)
“(John Marshall) wasn’t even a lawyer.” (Presidential debate, 3/13/80)The great Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court received his law license in 1780 and set up practice in 1783. According to Reagan aide Martin Anderson, Reagan meant to say that Marshall never went to law school, since his formal training was a matter of a few lectures at the College of William and Mary. Anderson: “He says it wrong. That’s all.”
Ronnie on school prayer…
“The big spenders…even drove prayer out of the classrooms.” (TV commercial, 10/31/82)School prayer was abolished in 1962 by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Engle v .Vitale. The Court does spend money on its operations, but it uses funds appropriated by Congress. When asked by the New York Times to identify the “big spenders,” Mort Allin, an assistant White House press secretary, could not be specific. “They know who they are,” he said.
Elizabeth Drew wrote in the June 21, 1982 New Yorker of a White House meeting in which the President lauded the inventor of Rubik’s Cube as exemplifying the virtues of American free enterprise. Erno Rubik, the inventor of the cube, was a Hungarian professor living in what was, at the time, Communist Budapest.And here’s some telltale “humor” from Ronnie…
2/18/80:And I give you the following from “Tear Down This Myth” by Will Bunch, published in 2009...
“How do you tell who the Polish fellow is at a cockfight? He’s the one with the duck. How do you tell who the Italian is at the cockfight? He’s the one who bets on the duck. How do you know the Mafia was there? The duck wins.” (Washington Star, 2/18/80)
“I don’t like that type of humor, and in a conversation about stories once, this came about with one of the reporters on the plane and I had given this as an example. And on the bus, he (the reporter) asked me the other day, he said, “What was the sequence of that story,” and I paused and told him, and…I think it’s a cheap shot to use it.” (Washington Post, 2/19/80)
(pg. 3)And by the way, in case you think all I’m going to do here is bash Reagan, I give you this…
…Jim Cramer, the popular, wild-eyed TV Stock guru, and hardly a flaming liberal – was giving a speech at Bucknell University in which he traced the roots of the current mortgage crisis all the way back to the pro-business policies initiated nearly three decades earlier by America’s still popular – even beloved by some – fortieth president, the late Ronald Wilson Reagan. “Ever since the Reagan era,” Cramer told the students, “our nation has been regressing and repealing years and years’ worth of safety net and equal economic justice in the name of discrediting and dismantling the federal government’s missions to help solve our nation’s collective domestic woes.”
…there is the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, a name change that was announced in 2000 when friends of the ex-president, then deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease, said they would raise $150 million for the facility. The irony was not lost on some of the staff, who recalled that as president, Reagan sought to cut federal funding for medical research and that he also had become governor of California in 1966 largely by crusading against the hospital’s parent, the University of California, by calling its main campus in Berkeley “a hotbed of communism and homosexuality.” At the time of the announcement, one staffer compared it to “renaming the Federal Reserve for Herbert Hoover” (president during the beginning of the Great Depression)…
(pg. 15)Also, this tells you how the 2008 Repug presidential candidate started out in public life (in opposition to Reagan, as it turned out – not a complaint, just an observation)…
Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalized an estimated 2.7 million undocumented workers in the US – an action he never renounced in the ensuing years.
(pg. 16)And here is something else that’s ignored by the Reagan revisionist historians…
….if (John McCain) returned to DC from Arizona as a “foot soldier” in the “Reagan Revolution” in 1983, there were times when he could have been tried for mutiny. Two months after he was sworn in that year, the freshman GOP congressman sounded at times like a Democrat when he told the National Journal that the administration was wasting money on defense, expressed alarm about soaring deficits, and said the GOP needed to reach out to minorities and women, as he urged Reagan to name a commission on equal rights for women. Two years later, he was voting against legislation supported by the Reagan White House nearly a third of the time.
(pg. 17)I realize that this writeup, long as it is I know, barely touches on Reagan’s foreign policy, so this timeline of events should suffice (a laundry list of military misadventures, hostage taking and negotiating with Hezbollah – with Iran playing Reagan and company for utter suckers by engaging in arms deals on the one hand and encouraging a terrorist network guilty of criminal acts against our people on the other – also, Reagan and company kept the Iran-Iraq War going for as long as they could by selling weapons to both sides, and played games in Central America to get around the Boland Amendment with illegal money deals, all followed by the typical denials of wrongdoing).
(Reagan’s) 1981 tax cut was followed quickly by tax hikes you rarely hear about (the ’82 increase was the largest peacetime tax increase in this country’s history), and Reagan’s real lasting achievement on that front was slashing marginal rates for the wealthy – even as rising payroll taxes socked the working class. His promise to shrink government was uttered so often that many acolytes believe it really happened, but in fact Reagan expanded the federal payroll, added a new cabinet post, and created a huge debt that ultimately tripped up his handpicked successor, George H.W. Bush. What he did shrink was government regulation and oversight, which critics have linked to a series of unfortunate events from the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s to the subprime mortgage crisis of the 2000s (Bunch also notes that the ’81 cut passed with “surprisingly little debate”).
In 1984, when President Reagan was seeking reelection, reports would surface of two conversations – one with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and another with famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal – in which Reagan claimed that he personally had filmed the liberation of Nazi death camps during World War II and even saved the footage that he shot as proof that the Holocaust occurred. Clearly such an event could not have taken place, as Reagan never left the country during the entire war.
There is one thing about the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 that doesn’t get mentioned during the incantations of the Reagan tax cut mantra today; it was a major unexpected windfall for America’s oil companies. As the AP reported while the bill was awaiting the president’s signature, “The nation’s oil industry hit a small gusher in President Reagan’s new tax-cutting package, with special breaks for both independent producers and the energy giants.” The breaks, inserted into the bill at the last minute, include a repeal of a windfall profits tax that lawmakers would unsuccessfully seek to restore a generation later, adding up to more than $12 billion. One of the few who paid attention was Democratic Representative James Shannon of Massachusetts, who said, “That $12 billion is more than all taxpayers making under $30,000 a year will get out of this bill next year. There’s no way we can justify what we have done for the oil industry…”
Meanwhile, signs that the tax law wouldn’t have the predicted economic impact popped up immediately. Supply-side boosters like (Jack) Kemp and (Arthur) Laffer had said that Wall Street would soar immediately, but a UPI story on the day after the bill signing was headlined “Stocks Go Nowhere In Dull August Week.” In fact, the economy dipped back into a recession in September, one month after the bill was predicted to provide such a great stimulus, and unemployment continued to spike through 1982 until it finally surpassed 10 % by year end.
…the federal government grew in size under Reagan. The feds’ civilian workforce increased during his two terms from 2.8 million to 3 million, even though his successors George H.W. Bush and especially Bill Clinton showed that government could be slashed (down to just 2.68 million by the time the budget-balancing Democrat left the White House). While the Gipper rode into Washington with tough talk about wielding an axe that might slash two cabinet agencies (Education and Energy), he left eight years later having added one, Veterans Affairs. Today, Reagan’s biggest mythmakers will insist that she slashed federal spending. But he didn’t. While Reagan was in office, federal spending grew by 2.5 percent per year, even when adjusted for inflation. As a share of America’s gross national product, federal spending barely moved during the Reagan years, dropping just a couple of tenths of a percentage point.
That’s not to say that Reagan’s economic policies didn’t have an impact – they did, certainly, and do to the present day. Remember that he rode into Washington promising not only to slash everyone’s taxes and reduce government but to ease up on what he described as oppressive government regulations. The irony is that most experts say that Reagan’s legacy on deregulation is overhyped and that Carter, who deregulated America’s airlines in 1979, and the subsequent Clinton administration accomplished a lot more in this area. But there was one exception: the easing of rules of the financial industry – with disastrous consequences.
“All in all, I think we hit the jackpot,” Reagan said on October 15, 1982, when he signed into law a bill that lifted many restrictions on the savings-and-loan industry, giving thrifts the power to make large real estate loans and to compete with money market funds. Some seven years later, after Reagan was safely out of office, the S&L industry was on the receiving end of the largest bailout in American history, with American taxpayers footing the bill of the $160 billion tab even as the nation was still dealing with the original Reagan federal budget deficits. The “jackpot” that Reagan had spoken of quickly became a fool’s gold rush into high-risk commercial real estate ventures, many of them tarnished by corruption.
The United States had been a creditor nation since 1914, fueling its rise as a global superpower, but under Reagan’s watch it quickly reverted to the world’s greatest debtor nation. By 2008, the amount of US debt held by overseas central banks, primarily in China and elsewhere in Asia, had swelled to a staggering $2.3 trillion., leaving America at a grave risk that not necessarily friendly outsiders could determine its financial fate.
In many ways, what happened in the early 1980s was a remarkable yet largely unrecognized turning point in American history. As Paul Krugman and other economists noted, the original great divide between the rich of America’s Gilded Age and the poorer masses in factories and on farms was mended, to an amazing extent, in a period called the Great Compassion, triggered at the time of FDR’s New Deal and the industrial buildup to World War II. For the next two generations, America’s growth and prosperity was shared by a broad middle class. Then came the era that Krugman and others call, in contrast, the Great Divergence – of America’s wealthiest and the working class. The economic data that the Reagan mythmakers tout to show America’s economic miracle of the 1980s and beyond don’t reflect how unevenly the nation’s prosperity has been shared, then and since. The median income of an average American family, in real dollars, grew by just 13 percent from 1979 to 2005, but for the wealthiest 0.1 percent the comparable number is 296 percent. That simply didn’t happen in other industrialized Western nations. (Measured another way, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1991 that incomes during the 1980s rose 44 percent in noninflation-adjusted dollars for people making from $20,000 to $50,000, but 697 percent for those making from $200,000 to $1 million and 2,184 percent for those who earned more than $1 million).
The poorest Americans fared even worse during the decade. The president who is today hailed as the modern savior of the American economy saw poverty actually increase while he was in the White House. The percentage of individual citizens living below the poverty line in this country rose sharply from the tail end of the Carter presidency through the first two years of the Reagan White House, peaking over 15 percent, or higher than when Lyndon Johnson had been moved to launch his War on Poverty in 1964. The numbers only eased down slightly during the rest of Reagan’s presidency, even when those other economic indicators like the Dow took off.
In fact (on energy), Reagan even took down the solar panels that Carter had installed on the roof of the White House. In August 1986, there was some work done on the roof below the panels, and they were never put back. Said a Reagan spokesman at the time: “Putting them back up would be very unwise, based on cost.” This may have been a small gesture with greatly ironic overtones, but there were many other big decisions on energy policy that look extremely unwise today, with the aid of hindsight. The damage that the Reagan administration did to solar energy programs in general was much more severe. For example, Carter had created a Solar Energy Research Institute, which received $124 million in federal funding in 1980, but Reagan slashed that by more than half in just two years, and by 1985 the GOP-led White House had also allowed tax credits for homeowners using solar power to elapse. Reagan made identical moves against research and tax breaks for wind power.
By his second term, Reagan got help for these maneuvers from plummeting oil prices, and for the most part they would remain low for the next generation. Of course, the steep downward spike in oil prices in 1986 had been largely due to the failure of the global OPEC oil cartel to remain united – and a key reason for that had been reduced demand from America and the West, thanks to conservation. It was a story whose moral was completely lost on the Reagan White House. Not only did the administration set back alternative energy research, but it also helped bring gas guzzlers back onto the American highways. Beginning in 1986, the Reagan team worked successfully to roll back the corporate automotive fuel economy standards, or CAFÉ, the federal program that had doubled average mileage on US-built cars to 27.5 miles per gallon; that standard was relaxed to as low as 26 miles per gallon. Reagan’s transportation secretary Jim Burnley later explained that “the whole CAFE scheme is in terms of public policy ridiculous, and has the practical effect of driving U.S. jobs abroad.” The first rumblings of the SUV, or sport utility vehicle, also came during the Reagan presidency. In addition to the fuel economy issues, the Reagan Administration also turned a blind eye in 1986 to consumer safety complaints about SUVs, keeping within the president’s broad mandate that the U.S. auto industry “simply needs the freedom to compete unhindered by whimsical bureaucratic changes in energy, environmental, and safety regulations.”
At the same time, the Reagan White House was ignoring a number of new reports showing that burning of fossil fuels was creating so-called greenhouse gases that were in turn accelerating the warming of the planet. In 1983, two years after leaving the White House, Carter chose environmental issues as the subject for his sharpest attack on the Reagan presidency, stating that Reagan “has stood almost alone in our refusal to cooperate with international efforts” on the new research into climate change, as well as other problems. That same year, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that said “substantial increases in global warming may occur sooner than most of us would like to believe” was rejected at the White House as alarmist, and Reagan would not increase funding for global warming research until the end of his second term.
Oh, and let us not forget that Reagan once referred to the Nicaraguan “contras” fighting the Sandinista government of that country “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers” here (outrageously disgusting rhetoric about a crew supervised by a bunch of graduates from what was once called the School of the Americas).
And I give you the following from here…
"The election of Reagan coincided with the bloodiest outbreak of Guatemalan death squad actions in history. Almost five hundred deaths a month, almost all attributed to the right, were being reported by the American Embassy, but even that figure was considered low by most other monitoring groups. Piles of mutilated bodies were being discovered every morning throughout the country." President Lucas Garcia, alleged to have personally raised half a million dollars from (Reagan advisor Michael) Deaver's Guatemala businessmen for the Reagan campaign, was said in February 1981 by the New York Times (citing Amnesty International) to be directly supervising the security agency in charge of the death squads."Also under Reagan’s watch, four American churchwomen were raped and murdered by government security forces in rightist-ruled El Salvador, and as a result of this tragedy, we saw Reagan Secretary of State Al Haig testify with grotesque absurdity that the women somehow exchanged fire with security forces and were responsible for their own deaths (here). To be fair, though, Reagan deserves credit for pursuing nuclear disarmament, though he did so to regain his popularity as a result of the blowback from the Iran-Contra scandal.
In addition, on the subject of Reagan and racism, we have the following from George Curry here.
I suppose I owe a debt of thanks to Will Bunch, because it never would have occurred to me that there would be such an effort put into this 100-year Reagan remembrance had I not heard about it from his book a couple of years ago. But after I read about it, I immediately recalled all of the glossy Reagan remembrances at the occasion of his death in 2004, and I felt that it was important to respond (if I heard one more talking head on TV say that we loved Reagan for his optimism, or words to that effect, I would have vomited – it’s really easy to be an optimist when you’re a goddamn millionaire, and as Bunch has noted in his book, everyone remembers the doddering individual with a smile who could make nice speeches, but not nearly as many people remember the image of Reagan as California governor, a guy with a squint, a snarl, clenched jaw, and black slicked-back hair who was itching for a fight).
It’s pretty amazing to me that Jim Cramer, of all people, would have sized up Reagan so well, but I believe he did in that speech noted earlier. Under Ronnie, the “great swindle” began for real, with economic war waged against the middle class that built this country in the pursuit of dismantling government piece by piece on behalf of the “pay no price, bear no burden” investor class in the never-ending pursuit of the consolidation of wealth. And to achieve that foul ends, he crafted better than anyone else the template of the convincing-sounding politician peddling evasions, lies and half-truths with a nod and a wink (and in Reagan’s case, employing years of training as a Hollywood actor to “close the deal”…and his acolytes carrying on the fiction into perpetuity, as noted here).
I wasn’t blogging in 2004, so allow me to articulate what I truly wish for The Gipper on this occasion.
May you roast on a spit in hell forever, you dunce.
Update 1: Think Progress reminds me of some stuff that I forgot about here, and I managed to somehow forget about this as well.
Update 2: And here's another bald-faced Reagan lie about not raising taxes, which he did in 1986 (two years after this debate) after also doing so in 1982 and 1984 (and Walter Mondale didn't have many high points in his 1984 presidential campaign, but zinging Reagan here over his "there you go again" line was one of them).
Update 2/6/11: And somehow I forgot about this also - my apologies.
Update 2/7/11: What Mark Sumner sez here...