Guest Paul Posted September 30, 2008 Report Share Posted September 30, 2008 On another topic, 2smart4u asked me whether I would "concede" that Reagan was one of our greatest presidents despite not having a law degree. A law degree has nothing to do with it. I've never suggested that a president should have a law degree, so I don't know where you're getting that. I thought the broader question whether Reagan was a great president deserved a topic. I'll address my answer to my fellow American, 2smart4u. I'm delighted that we're actually beginning a discussion. Let's see how long we can keep it up and how far we can take it. You ask a fascinating question about Reagan: fascinating because I believe the end of the Bush presidency and the current economic crisis mark the end of the Reagan era in American politics. If you count a great president as one who transforms his country, then Reagan was great; but by that definition many leaders whom we do not admire would be called great. So I don't accept that definition. I believe that transformation is one quality of a great president, but in addition the president must also have done the country good in the process. Reagan accomplished many good things in the short term, but he did them at the expense of our long-term welfare. For that reason I think history will look on his era as a march backward instead of a leap forward, and on him as a Pied Piper who led the country where it viscerally wanted to go, but not where it needed to go. I would summarize the Reagan era as one of selfishness and myopia. Having given up on the Kennedy-esque ideal of "ask what you can do for your country," the American people turned inward when the demands of the world were exactly the opposite. The tragic irony is that this era has made American decline, as all great powers have previously declined, much more likely. We could have avoided this, but that is not the road we took under Reagan or are on now. Consider Reagan’s accomplishments. 1. He restored a sense of national pride. On the other hand, excessive nationalism has an ugly history. 2. He ended a period of economic malaise and ushered in a period where Americans felt it was “morning in America.” On the other hand, he did it by mortgaging the future, ignoring long-term needs and forestalling needed changes we should have spent the past twenty-eight years making. He also did it by dumbing down our politics and our civic life together as a people. 3. He called the Democratic party to task for corruption and inefficiency, but instead of bringing in an era of responsibility, he replaced Democratic failures with Republican failures. He promised to balance the federal budget, but did exactly the opposite. 4. He ended unnecessary and wasteful programs, but also ended or scaled back many good programs like funding for the arts. In the end, government was just as wasteful at the end of his term as it was at the beginning. 5. He may have hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the credit some people give him for this is excessive. The Soviet Union collapsed mainly for economic and internal political reasons, and would probably have done so regardless of Reagan's policies. He may have hastened it a bit. The reasons I believe history’s assessment of Reagan will be mainly negative are: 1. He ushered in an era of profligacy by telling us we could have whatever we wanted without paying for it. He replaced tax and spend with borrow and spend. Never would there be another tax, he implied, but services would continue. He helped make us irresponsible as a people. 2. As a result, we began accumulating massive debts, both as a nation and as individuals. We have buried ourselves in debt largely because of Reagan’s governing philosophy, which has held sway all these years, to the point that no American politician dares to admit that he would propose a tax increase, no matter how necessary it might be. 3. He told us government was the problem. This has led to an era of knee-jerk conservatism, which is no better than knee-jerk liberalism was, and in many ways is worse. 4. He made us arrogant as a nation and as a people. American exceptionalism is a very bad idea, which we are about to find out if we do not change course. 5. He ignored the essential need to develop alternative energy sources. We could have embarked on a major research project during the 1980s. President Carter had just stated the urgency of that. Reagan told us what we wanted to hear: that cheap oil would continue forever, even if we had to obtain it by military force, and there would never be a price to pay. This is perhaps the main reason for our current state of affairs today. 6. He neglected and harmed the middle class. Except for a short reversal during the Clinton years, the income gap has grown to obscene proportions during the Reagan era, precisely because of his laissez-faire economic philosophy. Capitalism is the best among imperfect systems, but it must be controlled and regulated. Reagan told us it wasn’t necessary, and we were foolish enough to believe him. 7. He disconnected reason from politics, replacing substance with form. This came at the worst possible time in our history, just as television and even the newspapers were in their transition period into all-entertainment (at the expense of reality). We needed someone to counteract this trend, not encourage it. See Paddy Chayefsky’s film “Network” to understand what I’m referring to. It’s fiction, but it’s spot on. 8. He undermined respect for the judiciary and for fundamental Constitutional principles like church-state separation. He also politicized the courts in an unprecedented way, thereby threatening the Constitution’s separation of powers. So why was Reagan so popular? In fact, his popularity faded in the middle of his second term, after the Iran-contra scandal. But he was popular because we got the candy without having to pay for it. The American economy entered 1981 with tremendous reserves. He neglected to tell us that our children would have to pay for his and our depleting them. During his era, which is just now about to end, our manufacturing base has been allowed to erode and we have borrowed obscene an amount of money, which is now fueling China’s rise to replace us. This is all traceable to Reagan’s feel-good political economics. The better course would have been investing in our future, a process Bill Clinton began but was able to take only so far because Republicans controlled Congress during most of his two terms. We should have had a research and development program for new energy sources, concomitant development of new manufacturing industries, a far saner approach to budgeting, and continued regulation of financial institutions that were only becoming more complex and therefore in need of regulation. In short, we should have been planning for our future instead of expecting unregulated capitalism to bring it magically into place. Because Reagan did not believe in government, and managed to convince the American people that he was right, none of that happened, which is why we have the problems we have today. There is much more to say, but that's probably more already than most people care to read. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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