Skip to comments.Reagan Was Right About Almost Everything (Andrew Sullivan - Feb. 4, 2001)
Posted on 06/06/2004 12:47:43 AM PDT by Eagle9
He will turn 90 this Tuesday, but in all likelihood he will barely be aware of it. The cruelty of Alzheimer's has robbed Ronald Reagan of the capacity for clear memory. But that doesn't apply to the rest of us. He seems, in some respects, an historical oddity now, his political and cultural presence obscured in America by the Clinton psychodrama and the Bush dynasty. But the truth is, his successors do not begin to compare either in achievement or legacy. Reagan is still, in my view, the architect of our modern world, and nowhere is this clearer than in the United States.
Reagan stood for two simple but indisputably big things: the expansion of freedom at home and the extinction of tyranny abroad. He achieved both. When he came to office, top tax rates in the United States were in the 70 percent range. Against the odds, Reagan slashed the top rate to 28 percent and ignited an economic boom that, in some respects, is still with us. Bill Clinton nudged taxes up a little, but to nowhere near the levels of the Carter's America, and all signs now point to a reduction this year back to Reagan levels. But unlike George W. Bush, and certainly unlike the hopelessly confused Michael Portillo, Reagan understood what tax cuts were about. Back in 1976, he made the case in one of his innumerable radio addresses, the transcripts of which have just been released by the Free Press in a mammoth 500 page tome. The little speech was called, "America's Strength." Here's the relevant passage (in his idiosyncratic style), just excerpted in the Weekly Standard:
"Our system freed the individual genius of man. Released him to fly as high & as far as his own talent & energy would take him. We allocate resources not by govt. decision but by the mil's. of decisions customers make when they go into the mkt. place to buy. If something seems too high-priced we buy something else. Thus resources are steered toward those things the people want most at the price they are willing to pay. It may not be a perfect system but it's better than any other that's ever been tried."
Classic Reagan. Simple. Intelligible. True. Some people believe he was a moron, incapable of argument or intellectual engagement. A brief perusal through these dozens of talks will put the lie to that. He wrote constantly, and grappled directly and bravely with the main issues of his day. He was a believer in the press and the media as a way to communicate as powerfully as possible ideas that could change lives. In this sense, he was one of the most intellectual presidents in history. He took great pain with words, and spent a lifetime learning how to craft them.
And if he was right about taxation and the role of government, he was also right about the other great question of his day: the Soviet Union. "Detente," he remarked in a 1975 speech. "Isn't that what a farmer has with a turkey until Thanksgiving?" I will never forget the moment I heard his "evil empire" speech. It was broadcast on Radio Four in snippets, festooned with sceptical British commentary about this inflammatory and dangerous new president, this cowboy who knew nothing about geo-politics or the complexities of late-Communism. But for all the criticism, what came through to my teenage brain was an actual truth. Yes, the Soviet Union was evil. Who now doubts that? But who in a position of power said so when it mattered? Barely no-one but Reagan. He alone saw that communism was destined to be put on the "ash-heap of history," as he told the House of Commons. And he helped put it there. His achievement in this respect was so monumental that a whole generation of former peaceniks now take it for granted. Think of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In the 1980s, they were nuclear freeze supporters. And yet both now thoughtlessly enjoy the soft and easy fruits of a greater man's courage.
The critics harp on the enormous deficits of the Reagan era, and see them as an indictment of all he stood for. But the truth is, federal revenues boomed on Reagan's watch. Tax cuts didn't destroy public finances they helped them. What created the deficits was an unprecedented increase in defence spending the bargaining chip that eventually forced the Soviets to surrender. And you could easily argue that this was a price worth paying for an early end to an extremely expensive conflict. Thanks to the peace dividend of the post-Cold War world, and the free market expansion that Ronald Reagan initiated, America is now enjoying record surpluses. Even the straggling defenders of perestroika now concede that Reagan's intransigence and skill speeded the collapse of the Soviet empire. The deficits, from the standpoint of history, were therefore a fiscal bargain. In the long run, they paid for themselves.
And on most of the current pressing issues, Reaganism still has plenty of credibility. The main cloud on the fiscal horizon the long-term insolvency of the government-run pension system stems from a program Reagan opposed. The partial privatization of the program that George W. Bush is now contemplating is straight out of the Reagan hand-book. The most significant change in American social policy in the 1990s the end of the federal welfare entitlement was also presaged by Reagan. In the early 1970s, when Reagan was governor of California, the question of whether to federalize that entitlement was in front of the National Governors' Association. The governors voted to have Washington guarantee the benefit 49 - 1. Guess who the hold-out was. It took thirty years and Bill Clinton to finally recognize the validity of Reagan's point. And Reagan's unlikeliest dream - nuclear missile defence - is also still with us. Lampooned at the time as "Star Wars," it will soon regain the preeminence it deserves in America's military defence, as Donald Rumsfeld aggressively moves it forward.
The contrast with Clinton couldn't be clearer. Clinton was a group-hugger, a man in command of every detail of government, a sex-addict, even to being fellated by a staffer in the White House itself, obsessed with the press, fixated on spin, devoted to polls. Reagan was aloof, distant even from his own family, focussed on a few important themes and a delegator of everything else. He was devoted to his second wife with a romantic zeal that even now impresses, a man who wore a coat and tie at all times in the Oval Office, a room he considered something close to sacred. He was also pricelessly funny. It is not apocryphal that, as he was wheeled into the operating room after a bullet almost took his life, he looked at the solemn, green-suited doctors and said, "Please tell me you're Republicans." The morning after, respiratory tubes stuck down his throat, he could only scribble jokes.On a pink piece of paper, he wrote to his wife, "I'd like to do this scene again - starting at the hotel." The other week, in preparation for Clinton's farewell address, the television networks included a snippet from one of Reagan's last speeches as president. He said of his impending retirement, "I'm looking forward to going home at last, putting my feet up and taking a good long nap." Pause. "I guess it won't be that much different after all."
Reagan cared about public opinion, but only so he knew best how to challenge and shape it. It never shaped him. He didn't need spin. He had faith. A natural populist, Reagan spent hours as president hand-writing letters to friends and often obscure pen-pals from around the country he had befriended some time in the past, never dreaming for a second that he was too important to ignore such little tasks of courtesy. He was a democrat to his fingertips who didn't need a 'common touch' because he was so effortlessly a common man himself.
Except, of course, he was anything but. It takes time to recognize greatness and it sometimes appears in the oddest of forms. A B-actor from Hollywood, a cold fish, a man unknown even to his own children at times, a hack-radio announcer for General Electric, and easily the finest president of the last fifty years. When he dies, this country will go into shock. For Americans know in their hearts that this unlikely man understood the deepest meaning of their country in a way no-one else has done for a generation. He gave them purpose again, and in return they still give him love. For what it's worth, let me now add my own.
February 4, 2001, The Sunday Times of London.
copyright © 2001 Andrew Sullivan
I think Sullivan's eloquent tribute to Ronald Reagan deserves to be revived, for those who haven't read it.
Though, I could have done without the appallingly self-referential mention of Michael Portillo. Yes Andrew, we know you're British. We know you're a homosexual. We know that you have a hard-on for William Hague, now get over yourself!
Anyway, it was a compelling piece, which should be read by anyone who's interested in a blow-by-blow comparison of one of America's finest, with one of our nation's worst.
I'm of a mind that the diminished memory and understanding of what that man, Mr. Clinton, was doing to our country was a blessing for President Reagan.
Reagan got a lot right. Especially the big things. But the WOD wasn't one of them. Neither was immigration.
People that demand Bush get it all right "or else" should reflect on that.
The Reagan administration was relatively successful in terms of drug interdiction, suppression and treatment.
I realize that the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines were instituted while he was in office, but those were enacted at the behest of an overwhelmingly Democratic congress.
I know that you probably feel that William Bennett is a sanctimonious, paternalistic moralizer when it comes to this particular issue, but he did do a reasonably effective job at the Office for Drug Control Policy.
Personally, I think that the bureaucracy underneath the "Drug Czar" is redundant, and often more harmful than helpful, but you still have begrudgingly admit that Bennett did a pretty job when he held that post during the Reagan administration.
Yes it does take time to open eyes as to who was great, and we now know that President Regan was one of the greatest, and guess what? President Bush will be another one.
Where I think things went particularly wrong in the WOD was asset seizure without due process and no knock raids. No knock raids are particularly hideous. Many people have died defending their homes from unannounced attacks from masked government agents who were absolutely innocent. Your presumption of innocents is totally crushed by such actions.
The civil and criminal forfeiture laws have been distorted beyond recognition in pursuit of certain government objectives.
Though, I think the problem extends beyond the "War on Drugs", and can be found in many different aspects of law enforcement, particularly in the zoning regulations used by various city councils to punish or reward certain people/groups/corporate entities.
There's a big fracas occurring in my own borough (Kings County, NY), over the attempt by Bruce Ratner and his consortium to build a stadium for the New Jersey Nets in downtown Bklyn.
The issues are a little too complex to explore in a brief post-especially after having not slept for the past 25 or so hours-but it basically comes down to the rights of the homeowners in E. New York, being pitted against the economic arguments made by Ratner et. al., who claim that this stadium will revitalize downtown Brooklyn.
Personally, I think that the advantages of having the team relocate to our borough are oversold, whereas the negative repercussions are not given nearly enough press.
But that's just my opinion
Reagan was under the impression that 1 million illegals would be legalized in 1986, and that our border control would be tightened so that we would never again have to face the same issue. How could he know that Seniors Bush, Clinton and Bush would sell this nation out the way they have on this issue.
Around 13 to 15 million illegals reside in our nation today. That's a conservative estimation BTW. Comparing Reagan to the other three men on this issue is misleading in the extreme.
Does that word ring any bells?
It's often forgotten that on cultural issues, Reagan was closer to a libertarian than a "cultural conservative".
There were not that many official policies broadcast during the Reagan administration that would fall under the broad rubric of "social conservatism."
Of course, there was the "Mexico City Policy", but that was done through an executive order, not as a result of some piece of legislation being signed into law.
Then there was the Meese Commission, which was pretty toothless and did not exactly stem the tide of America's growing consumption of pornography.
I think that the most enduring achievements of Ronald Reagan can be seen in the fields of domestic economic policy and in the drastic recasting of American foreign policy.
Ronald Reagan is not done inspiring Americans, that's for sure.
Yes I realize there was an amnesty. I alluded to that in my comments. The reality was that those 1 million people I mentioned had come here over decades, not one year as takes place today.
For the record, I did not agree with the amnesty then, and still don't today. That amnesty did spur increased levels of illegals IMO. I think Reagan was wrong to do what he did, and history bears that out.
Now, granting even 1 illegal amnesty is wrong in my book, but attempting to grant amnesty to 1 million illegals that came here over three to five decades is none the less vastly different than granting amnesty to 15 million plus that came here in 14 years.
I've never made the claim that Reagan was a perfect conservative, but Bush does have a very clear example that should drive him away from the insane idea he's come up with. Reagan didn't have that example to my knowledge, and the fact still remains that there was supposed to be proposals in his amnesty plan that would prevent further illegal incursions into our nation.
Three subsequent presidents have screwed the pooch. And if you wish to say Reagan did too, I won't disagree.
Please see 18.
I guess you could even make the argument that had the U.S. Congress put some teeth into the enforcement provisions of the amnesty bill, then we might have actually seen a reduction in the amount of illegal immigrants who remained inside of American borders.
The crux of the problem remains that no one is willing to punish the gigantic corporate behemoths-such as Tyson Foods-that regularly flout the employment provisions of this law.
I don't blame either Reagan or President Bush for their immigration policies. It's my impression that Republicans like them sincerely believe in an open door policy.
What really irks me is the Wall St. Journal faction of the GOP, which foists this crap on us with no firmer convictions than the power of the almighty dollar.
This venal, self-interested type of behavior is what is truly destroying our country.
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