The Reagan Mythology

Filed in National by on February 6, 2011

Today is the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, so expect a lot of conservatives on TV pushing their false narrative about Reagan. There are some good reads about Reagan’s actual legacy. I recommend this take by Will Bunch (author of a book on Reagan Tear Down This Myth): “Five myths about Ronald Reagan’s legacy.”

1. Reagan was one of our most popular presidents.
2. Reagan was a tax-cutter.
3. Reagan was a hawk.
4. Reagan shrank the federal government.
5. Reagan was a conservative culture warrior.

For your reading pleasure, read this really satisfying takedown of Rush Limbaugh from progressive blogger Mike Stark (partial transcript below). Stark leaves the usually talkative Limbaugh almost speechless.

STARK: Why is Reagan a hero to conservatives?

RUSH: “Why is Reagan a hero to conservatives?” I don’t think you… Given what you’ve said, and I’m not trying to avoid the question, I don’t think you’d ever understand it.

STARK: Well, he’s a tax raiser, an amnesty giver, a cut-and-runner, and he negotiated with terrorists. Why is he a hero to conservatives? I don’t think you understand it.

RUSH: No, I do. Most assuredly I do. I just don’t think that you would understand it. Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on Social Security? What websites do you read? Where did you pick that up?

STARK: Look up the Greenspan Commission. It’s not too hard to find. I mean, it’s a matter of history.

RUSH: Where did you get it? I mean, you’re asking me questions. I’m just reversing one on you here.

STARK: I’m sorry. It’s just general knowledge. It’s something I’ve known for a long time. I can’t remember where I got it from.

RUSH: You can’t remember? You’ve never heard of a website called Media Matters which highlighted it yesterday?

STARK: (static) Oh, no. I know Media Matters very well but that’s not where I got it.

RUSH: Oh, not where you got it. It’s an amazing coincidence.

STARK: (static) I mean, I’m a liberal. Of course I know Media Matters.

RUSH: Amazing coincidence out there.

STARK: They’re a fantastic website. But why are you dodging the question? I want to know why a tax-raising, amnesty-giving, cut-and-running, negotiating-with-terrorists guy is a hero to the conservative movement.

Where did Stark get the idea that Reagan raised taxes? Uh well, because he did raise taxes, many times. He gave us the biggest tax raise in history (plus stole some of my Social Security benefits). He also proved that tax cuts decrease revenue but we live in a black-is-white fact-free world right now so Reagan’s myth gave us magical tax-cutting unicorns.

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Opinionated chemist, troublemaker, blogger on national and Delaware politics.

Comments (33)

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  1. enemy says:

    Reagan raised taxes 11 times, negotiated with terrorists and communists, gave millions of illegal immigrants amnesty, his administration illegally sold weapons to Iran aka Contragate, supported radical Islamists in Afghanistan, Oliver North and all his crimes, cut and ran from Lebanon, supported right wing death squads, he grew the size of government, exploded the deficit and that isn’t half of the things his administration was responsible for. It was the beginning of the end for the American middle class.

  2. Obama2008 says:

    It was the beginning of the end for the American middle class.

    … with their own assent.

  3. The only years Reagan didn’t raise taxes were the 1st and last years of his term.

  4. Obama2008 says:

    Check out the first chart in this dkos diary. It shows Reagan’s tax cuts caused a catastrophic drop in revenue. Conservatives will tell you the revenue recovered due to growth caused by the tax cuts. But in reality, the revenue didn’t start to recover until after Reagan signed the largest tax increase in history, and even then did not recover fully. The Reagan tax cuts never paid for themselves.

    BTW, that chart came from this very useful web site:

    It is interactive and you can generate charts for all kinds of economic statistics. Check out the “sister sites” links on the left for other economic stats.

  5. cassandra_m says:

    You beat me to this post!

    Will Bunch also did an article on CNN on the Reagan mythology last week.

    For all of his conservative-iconhood, Regan would never pass muster with the current crop of tebagggers. Raising taxes, granting amnesty to undocumented workers, overseeing a pretty big expansion of government *and* government spending (a thing that GHWB paid for in trying to be responsible for), and generally cooperating with Democrats would get him the Mike Castle-RINO treatment today. These conservatives and tejadis working at their myth making machine won’t acknowledge that though. The only thing that matters is keeping the myth alive and trying to connect themselves to that myth.

  6. Funny thing though, the top tax bracket under Reagan was 50%.

  7. I think Reagan’s big contribution was making the “moral” case for low taxes for the rich. This is what we can’t get away from and affects our politics deeply today. Lost to history is Reagan’s pragmatism.

  8. jason330 says:

    I agree. The GOP’s guiding philosophy, that the poor have too much money, and the wealthy don’t have enough, is Reagan’s most enduring legacy.

  9. jason330 says:

    Probably the other most enduring legacy is the notion that political reality does not have to overlap with, or even touch actual reality. It is not overtime that Republicans decided to ignore, the “tax-raising, amnesty-giving, cut-and-running, negotiating-with-terrorists” stuff and replace it with a mythology of “tax cutting, standing tall, and not dealing with terrorists.”

    That mythology was being spun from day one.

  10. cassandra_m says:

    The other thing that I’d note about the Reagan influence was that it solidified the GOP’s Southern Strategy and all of the fruits from that poison tree. Invoking racial fears and resentments to get elected (starting with the kickoff of his campaign in Philadelphia, MS of all places) and to convince the people who elected him that he was getting *those* people back under control let white people pretend that they were somehow victims and put upon by a group of people who were pushing back against permanent Otherness. He and his wife hardened the War on Drugs which has been a failure at every level, and is one of the biggest reasons why states are having budget troubles today.

  11. jason330 says:

    All things considered, Reagan was a unmitigated disaster for the country.

  12. Auntie Dem says:

    Meet the Press is being broadcast from the Reagan presidential library and museum today. David Gregory is in heaven.

  13. Obama2008 says:

    I”ll give Reagan credit where credit is due. Reaganism was useful as a shock to the system for a year or three. The problem is conservatives making a religion out of it. Reaganism as a policy sucks, but Reaganism as a way to win politically endures.

    What amazes me is the demonization of Carter. Carter looks pretty good when you look at the actual economic numbers compared to Reagan. Nearly every bad economic statistic people associate with Carter happened either before or after the Carter Administration.

    But demonizing Carter and liberals was necessary to win. There is a direct line between the demonization of Carter and the shooting of Gabby Giffords.

  14. I agree Cassandra that Reagan brought Nixon’s Southern strategy to new lows with his winks to segregationists in Philadelphia, Mississippi and his invocation of welfare queens driving cadillacs. That was the Lee Atwater era. In some ways we’ve gone backwards even since then with blatant racism becoming standard political speech recently.

  15. The high inflation that Carter had to deal with was Nixon’s. Carter was a man before his time in many ways. I wonder what kind of energy policy we’d have now if Carter had gotten a second term.

  16. Obama2008 says:

    That was the Lee Atwater era.

    Atwater yes, but I pin the blame on Reagan himself.

    “There you go again” was the prototype for successfully using a lie to spread personal contempt for your opponent. It has been the GOP blueprint ever since, pushed to an extreme by the teabaggers (although I fear not the ultimate extreme).

  17. cassandra_m says:

    And how can we forget Reagan’s support of the apartheid regime in South Africa? (Dick Cheney thought that letting white people keep its black citizens in second class status was fine, too) Archbishop Tutu came to Congress to denounce in no uncertain terms a regime that existed entirely by oppressing its black citizens and Reagan could only dragged to support sanctions when Congress overrode his veto of said sanctions. And even then, he didn’t put much effort into enforcing them.

  18. jason330 says:

    The national non-response to the AIDS epidemic. Probably his only real nod to the so-called Christians who turned out to vote for him.

  19. Dana Garrett says:

    And let’s not forget his economic and military support of despotic right wing governments and terrorist groups in central America. Reagan has alot of blood of innocents on his hands. Iran Contra is something he should have been prosecuted for.

  20. a.price says:

    how interesting
    speak the truth about Reagan, (big government building, terrorist negotiation, deficit exploding, tax hiking bastard) and the Tbags are silent to defend “the One”

  21. Obama2008 says:

    I just stumbled across this; I think I am going to buy the book:

  22. Joe Cass says:

    Reagan made me a democrat. He was a traitor to unions and gave the gov over to plutocracy. Burn in hell, ronnie the divorcer.

  23. Albert Jackson says:

    Reagan was responsible for all the homeless people because he cut off funding for mental hospitals across America. He did the same thing in California when he was Govenor. He mined the harbor of a central American Country (an act of war). Tip O’Neal said we could not go through another impeachment and refused to go along with any thing against Reagan. This man was a desaster for our country. The GOP is nothing but bull shit artists with this Reagan talk of acomplishments especially his Voodo economic policies. A lot of people voted for this guy because he was the closest thing to John Wayne.

  24. Belinsky says:

    Good summary of administration that ranged from thuggery to incompetence:

  25. Newshound says:

    I find it strikingly ironic that Obama himself has been ‘studying up’ on Reagan of late, has sought reflective counsel from Reagan biographer Ken Doberstein and has had former Reagan speechwriter, David Gergen over to discuss further, Reagan’s legacy.

    Even the WH has been propigating this meme. And the hapless MSM has obliged, in earnest.

    Moreover, more than half of the so-called MSM has recently coronated Obama with descriptive words such as ‘Reaganesque’ in his oratory. Finally, there is no president or person in the U.S. who is perfect, let alone blameless while governing. It ain’t gonna happen.

    And by all generally-excepted standards (including all liberal media outlets) both Reagan and Clinton are thought of as having had very good presidencies. Gee, let’s bash a former (now deceased) president on his 100th birthday. How warm.

    Why not discuss a certain Peanut Farmer? You know, the one who the White House adamantly denies (as presidencies go) that their guy is more closely linked to the ‘malaise’ and ‘weakness’ of Carter.

    Oh, by the way, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are not part of real conservative intellectual thinking. They are merely political infotainers who, like many other cable commentators on other networks and radio, are about gaining viewership and making money. Why the laser-like focus on idiots like Rush? He’s a non-entity in the grand scheme of things.

  26. pandora says:

    Love the scolding on bashing a former President and then turning around and bashing a former President.

  27. Delaware Dem says:

    Remember Pandora…. Democrats are not allowed to be President. Only Republicans are. Thus when a Democrat gets elected, he is not only illegitimate, he must be disrespected and destroyed in any way possible.

  28. Newshound says:

    Who actually thinks Carter was a good president? Your ‘bashing’ adjective is hyperbole. He was a very weak president by any standard. To ignore reality is to repeat it.

    Btw, Clinton was a great president! Ten-times the president that Obama has been thus far. I love your Straw Man jab regarding Dem presidents vs. Rep presidents.

  29. pandora says:

    Try stepping out of your limited world view, newshound. You like Reagan. Others like Carter. Your entire premise is based on your opinion of Carter and Reagan.

    Look, I get that you think you’re above it all… but you’re not.

  30. Obama2008 says:

    Perhaps a new post is needed on the Carter Mythology. Carter’s economic numbers compared with Reagan’s first term come out pretty good, and nothing like the false memories implanted by the media.

  31. Geezer says:

    “He was a very weak president by any standard. To ignore reality is to repeat it.”

    How about by the human rights standard? The energy policy standard? The political ethics standard?

  32. Obama2008 says:

    How about by the jobs created standard?

    Carter: 10.3 million jobs created, vs. 5.3 million jobs in Reagan’s first term.

    I love the sound of myths shattering.

    Wanna compare another stat? GDP maybe? Deficit growth?

  33. cassandra m says:

    This is very good — a bunch of graphs showing some of Reagan’s performance. Pretty much verifying that he underperformed as a custodian of the economy, but (oddly) good for the country’s mood.