I saw a poll among voters who consider President Obama to be the worst president in post-FDR history. They ranked President Reagan as the greatest. It isn’t hard to dismiss this sort of faux-information as shallow, given the fact that Duck Dynasty and the Bachelorette continue to get high ratings, but I must admit that a wave of dark energy coursed through my veins.
It made me want to hold a nationwide Webinar where I show America how unemployment is below where it was when the recession started (in spite of the obstruction of a jobs bill), how the stock market has grown, how corporate reserves are at all-time highs, and deficit spending is down.
I want to remind people that more Americans can live without the fear of losing everything due to illness, and that we haven’t entered new wars. I then want to show them stock market graphs, deficit gaps and unemployment figures from 2001 through 2009 and ask them again: “Who was the worst president?”
But, I’d be wasting my time. Fox News reaches them, too.
As troubling to me as the Obama-fail in the poll was the Reagan-canonization.
I can admire President Reagan for a brilliant presence that still inspires people around the globe (his televised indignation toward communist repression resonates to this day), but his legacy is not as much about his foreign policy as it is about his economic policies and this is where I’d like to shed light onto his perceived “greatness.”
I contend that it is a myth; a fable; a story woven from selective memory in order to put a noble face on failed policy.
In 1980 inflation averaged a very high, 12.5% and America was heading into a recession. President Carter’s failed economic policy was the perfect platform for the Reagan myth to begin. Reagan immediately implemented supply-side economics which meant tax cuts across the board and expanding the tax base to offset revenue loss.
Economic indicators began to improve quickly. During Reagan’s administration, the unemployment rate averaged 7.5% over his eight years after reaching a high from an inherited recession in 1982 of 10.5.
Production went up and unemployment went down. But, there was a virus deep within Reagan’s great plan. There wasn’t enough revenue to pay for his defense initiatives and for the government programs that he supported, so along came…the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982; the largest peacetime tax increase in history.
And here’s what made him the Greatest Showman on Earth- while tax burden increased on the Middle and Lower classes by eliminating their breaks, he sold the need for “fiscal responsibility” with a brilliant aw-shucks grin that furthered his legend as the Patron Saint of Tax Relief.
Then he sold the Tax Reform Act of 1986 which “simplified” the tax code while raising the bottom tax rate 4% and lowering the top another 22%! He could say that they were tax cuts since the total percentage was lower, but tax burden fell to everyone but the wealthy.
My interest is in truth and it must be said that the widening gap between the rich and poor had already begun during the 1970s, and Democrats were complicit, however, it must also be stated that Reagan’s policies exacerbated that trend. When Reagan left office there were 7 million more Americans living in poverty than when he started.
Republicans today can cite the facts of an economic recovery in the 80′s because of Reagan’s economic policies, but they step over huge canyons of shame such as fiscal disaster, increased burden on the Middle Class and the poor, and ultimately a recession after his second term. They were a short term fix with long term, negative, consequences.
So, revere Reagan or hate him…or be like me and respect his talents and accomplishments while disliking many of his policies. The proof of his successes and failures are in our real history, and they will not be revealed by polls, party rhetoric or platitudes; they are there for serious minded people to view and decide for themselves.
Greatest president since FDR? Depends on your income.
Author: Gary Kroeger is a creative director for a Midwestern advertising agency. He’s a former actor (in the cast of Saturday Night Live in the mid ‘80s) and producer.