Monday, February 07, 2011

Ronald Reagan: One of The Worst-Ever Presidents

An unintended benefit to the American consumer of news, particularly TV and cable news, is that the riveting images from Cairo of the Egyptian revolution have knocked Ronald Reagan off the front pages, the lead TV news stories, and atop the public's consciousness on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Indeed, there's enough misinformation going around about the ludicrous threat of a "Caliphate" without our having to endure endless hagiograpies and bombastic praise of the conservatives' icon Numero Uno.

 Despite the best efforts of conservatives and the Right wing to deify Reagan, history and reality have a way of intruding upon the mythology, in a society that still allows the free flow of ideas, information and facts to counter the falsehoods of the Right wing propaganda machine. It has been more than 30 years of steady economic decline for the United States since the election of Ronald Reagan — a fault line that divides the three prior decades which saw historically unprecedented growth and prosperity in our economy and the rise of our middle class.

Between 1950 and 1980, The income gap between the richest and the poorest had closed, there was progressive taxation, with growing prosperity for a wide swath of the population. Our manufacturing base was strong; we built things in this country. President Lyndon Johnson completed the social safety net for our seniors with Medicare and  dramatically decreased the rate of poverty. Medicaid ensured that life-threatening illness did not turn into the death sentence for those who could not afford it that it is today, in the Republican Death Panel state of Arizona.

In the mid- to late 1970s the perfect storm generated by the confluence of Watergate (public cynicism of government), the OPEC oil crisis leading to high energy costs, shortages, high unemployment and recession, lifted Reagan to the presidency. There was a radical shift away from Keynesian economics toward "trickle-down" supply side Reaganomics and the advent of the so-called "conservative revolution." It was an unmitigated disaster for the foundation of America's post-WWII prosperity, which was our once-prosperous and growing middle class.

The brief respite of the Clinton years did little to reverse Reaganomics. Bill Clinton, a Republican-Lite president, signed off on NAFTA (a disaster for U.S. manufacturing workers, wage growth, and the environment), welfare "reform" which tossed more people into poverty when the economy turned, and banking deregulation (which led to the financial collapse of 2007) — all Reaganomics-inspired initiatives. The only 'Democratic' achievements of Bill Clinton were a tax on the rich to pay down the debt, creating a surplus for George W. Bush which he promptly gave back to the rich, and a stellar jobs performance based partly on an unsustainable dotcom boom.

The Income Inequality Historical Chart — From 1917 to 2005: Share of pre-tax household income received by the top 1%, top 0.1% and top 0.01%.  Notice the 1925-29 spike and rising inequality beginning in 1981.

Every single issue that leads us to despair of our country today, whether we're in the Tea Party or the Democratic Party, whether we count ourselves liberals or conservatives, can be traced to Reagan's presidency. The Right will never admit it. They're in a constant steady state — of denial. Consider this: Our crushing deficits can be traced to Reaganomics; the growing disdain, bordering on phobia, of government can be traced to Reagan — Watergate and Vietnam too — but Reagan popularized it with his "government is the problem" and the 10 most feared words in the English Language: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."

Patent nonsense. But when his fans dubbed him "the great communicator" this was the "communicating" he was good at. Ronald Reagan reversed the progress made by successive Democratic administrations and even some Republican ones building on the foundation laid by FDR. The climate of deregulation led to a series of boom-and-bust cycles and a Wall Street run amok resulting in the financial collapse of 2007, the BP oil spill disaster, the breakdown of food safety standards and environmental protection and preservation — an idea that every president since Teddy Roosevelt had embraced.

The "greed is good" decade of the 80s was a mixture of the "roarin' 20s" and the "Gilded Age" of the turn of the century, leading inexorably to the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. It took roughly 30 years for the robber barons to wreck the U.S. economy. Ronald Reagan doubled down, and 30 years of Reaganomics reached the same result. Ronald Reagan slashed social programs, waged war on unions, neglected our cities and our manufacturing base, and initiated the destruction of America's middle class. Here's the reality:
"Wages for the average worker declined and the nation’s homeownership rate fell. During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, the minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 an hour, while prices rose, thus eroding the standard of living of millions of low-wage workers. The number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988. Meanwhile, the rich got much richer. By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent of Americans had 39 percent of the nation’s wealth."
And he never even uttered the word 'AIDS' as the disease was ravaging Americans like the Black Plague. None of Reagan's hagiographers will mention the scandals of his administration, Iran-Contra, the terrorist bombing of the Beirut Marine barracks, leading America to evacuate Lebanon with its tail between its legs. They will not mention the invented "welfare queen" which perpetuated a negative stereotype of poor people, as if they were to blame for being poor. This is the legacy of Reagan that persists to this day in his sycophants and acolytes in government taking pleasure in throwing millions and millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens under the bus, into the gutter, to die quickly and quietly. This is the legacy of Ronald Reagan: Callous and cruel people who find virtue in campaigning to destroy health care for millions of Americans. And destroying Social Security. And Medicare.
In early 1984 on “Good Morning America,” Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement. He said that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”

This is the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

Here are 10 things conservatives don't want you to know about Ronald Reagan. Read it at you peril, wingnuts. Warning: Your heads might explode.

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