In just one Republican presidential primary debate this past September, the moderators and 11 remaining candidates managed 64 times to invoke the name of former President Ronald Reagan, a conservative idol — and frequent subject of Ted Cruz’s daydreams. These 10 angry men (and one very angry woman) lauded Reagan’s Midas touch on a broad spectrum of issues, including immigration, tax reform and even the Gipper’s own “heartwarming” smile. To an outsider, this extraordinary level of patronage might seem excessive even for a Reagan fan club meeting (also known as Thanksgiving with your uncle), let alone a nationally televised debate.
But this political obsession with a president whose acting career began before the invention of color television extends far beyond the edge of that debate stage. Both Democrats and Republicans alike highlight very dissimilar aspects of Reagan’s legacy, resulting in his ascension to the top of a bizarrely bipartisan pedestal. However, a closer look at the economic and cultural legacy he bestowed on the American public leaves one wondering why even progressives continue to perpetuate the great Reagan myth.
In an effort to underscore a perceived recent shift to the right in conservative ideology, many mainstream liberal politicians and pundits have labeled Reagan as a moderate, a man concerned only with economic stability and cross-party compromise. They tout his 11 federal tax increases or his supposed propensity for fiscal responsibility as prime examples of why he couldn’t possibly win in today’s republican primary. In a 2008 interview with the Reno-Gazette Journal, even then-Sen. Barack Obama latched onto this increasingly popular narrative, extolling Reagan for “put[ing] us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the ’60s and the ’70s and government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating.”
Obama’s words of admiration seem to affirm the general notion that St. Reagan brought economic prosperity and curbed government spending in a time a brief overview of our national labor statistics tell another story. The U.S. yearly federal budget deficit skyrocketed under Reagan, nearly doubling by the time he left office, while total government expenditures rose from $1.36 trillion to $1.73 trillion. Meanwhile, he lowered the marginal income tax rate for top bracket earners from 70 percent down to 27 percent, placing much of the burden for this gap on lower-income earners through the 11 future federal tax increases mentioned above.
While chiding his arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union, for its policy of active wealth redistribution, Reagan himself led a crusade to redistribute wealth to citizens with income of $250,000 or more through tax “reform” intended to spur economic growth through trickle-down theory. In reality, income inequality hit then-record highs during his presidency and has continued unabated ever since. Throw in Reagan’s penchants for race-baiting, welfare-shaming, disdain for abortion and interventionist Middle East foreign policy, and you begin to ponder why he enjoys such revered status from the party who seemingly opposed him on virtually every major economic and social policy issue.
Reuven Banks is a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.