Polishing Reagan's Turd

A while back, a friend told me about a collection of PBS videos he'd been watching with his family: The Presidents. I haven't seen the series, yet, but according to my friend the series is particularly friendly to the man who called the Nicaraguan Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers." Reagan's memory, unlike his actual memory, has received a thorough polishing in the last decade. The man who began his administration by swapping weapons to Iran for hostages, who'd practically bankrupted the country with his Star Wars folly, and an administration that rivaled U.S. Grant's in corruption is, now, seen by a myopic many as some kind of "great leader."

One of the nasty features of being old is having to hear people who weren't alive when history happened (or where alive, but were too damn dumb to know what was going on) tell me what happened "way back when." For instance, the fruitballs at Motley Fool have been trying to sell me on their brilliant investment advice by screeching, "When Ronald Reagan signed his $750 billion stimulus plan in 1981, it snapped the U.S. out of a deep recession, ignited a high-tech revolution, and signaled the start of the greatest bull market in history... " And so on.

There was no "snapping" of the economy in 1981 or in any year surrounding 1981. The US Misery Index does a fine, month-by-month, non-partisan job of graphing the combined effect of the economy on US citizens and that index steadily grew in the early years of Reagan's administration and didn't begin to fall until the last year of Reagan's 2nd term. It didn't drop substantially until Clinton's 2nd term. The US's flawed and disingenuous "unemployment" statistics peaked at 9.7% in 1982 and fell back to the 6-7% territory (as it had been during Carter's term and the previous 2 Republican administrations) in 1987. It dropped all the way to 4% in Clinton's last year of office. The graph to the right (thanks to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank) demonstrates the "snapping" that went on during the Reagan years. Thanks, Ronny. You really improved our lives.

Most likely, the speculators and con artists on Wall Street made a killing during the Reagan years. After all, he handed over the keys to every S&L in the country to mobsters (like one of the Bush brothers) and they made off with billions of taxpayer dollars (~$150B). Reagan raised the public debt more than 4 1/4 times--from $700B to $3T--and joked about it. So much for the "conservative economic policy" king. The GNP, always a contested statistic, rose fairly steadily during Reagan's terms. Since the average quality of life of the working class dropped steadily during the Reagan/Bush I years, I don't know what that meant. The fact is, most of us were better off before Reagan, unless "we" were building bombs.

Joe Conason wrote in Salon.com, "However historians will assess Reagan's responsibility, the record is what it is. Gathering dust in the news archives are thousands of clippings about the gross influence peddling, bribery, fraud, illegal lobbying and sundry abuses that engulfed the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon, to name a few of the most notorious cases." Dozens of Reagan appointees were prosecuted and jailed for corruption. Cheney learned his infamous "I don't recall" defense during the Iran-Contra hearings. If the President can get away with claiming senility as a defense, why can't everyone else? Now, our ex-Vice President uses that infirmity every time he's put in a position of recalling any past decision. Of course, when Cheney does remember something he's notoriously wrong, so it's probably true that Little Dick is senile and always has been.

What I remember about the Reagan years was economic terror. I was well-employed during most of those years, but I knew lots of hard-working, talented people who weren't. I knew several talented engineers who couldn't find work anywhere outside of the military-industrial complex. I knew doctors who were forced to quit their private practices and join HMOs because insurance companies squeezed them out of business. I knew lots of people, including myself, who held a couple of jobs and needed them to pay their bills. I knew people who lost a job and were out of their homes and on the street in a few weeks. Like most working class people, I lived in fear that I'd lose my job, be unable to find a replacement, and be unable to protect my family from poverty. Like my depression-era parents, I've lived in fear of being broke and on the streets for much of my life and it affected how I spent my money, where I saved it, and how much or little confidence I've had in personal security. Those twenty Republican years are the cause of that insecurity, 1972-1992, and the Bush II years amplified that insecurity. Carter didn't count for anything. Johnson-Nixon-Ford and Vietnam had bankrupted the country and Carter was in office with nothing to work with and no clue where to begin. Reagan promised a magic cure, but he was just more of the same.

The one thing I do know about Reagan is that I wouldn't invest a nickel with anyone who claimed there was a Reagan economic miracle. That is the kind of fool who is doomed to repeat the past indefinitely.

Anyone who is good for the speculators is bad for the rest of us. Anyone who is good for the military and its contractors is bad for the country. Anyone who conducts private wars, financed with drug money and siphoned tax money is bad for the world. Anyone who believes that making the world tax-free for the idle rich will "trickle down" prosperity on the working class is a fool and/or a crook. Reagan was all of these things and a lot more. I don't remember anything good about the man and his evil has lived on in the wingnuts and is doing damage to our democracy and economy every day.


  1. Anonymous11/04/2009

    ???? "joked about it"??? Tell me more.

  2. Possibly unintentionally. Reagan wasn't smart enough to actually be funny. When I was writing this, I was remembering Reagan's campaign against Ford in '76. I found this bit, which reinforced my memory:

    In Reagan's mind, inflation is the great economic enemy, and the cause of most other ills. Says Reagan, with breathtaking assurance: "Inflation is the cause of recession, and the only cause." And what brings about inflation? "The one basic cause of inflation is Government spending more than it takes in."

    So, proclaims Reagan, "the cure is a balanced budget." He argues that the Government should set a specific timetable for bringing spending into line with revenues and stick to it come what may. He implies that he would even accept a renewed recession as the price of carrying out that policy. Says Reagan: "In correcting inflation, I'm afraid there will temporarily be economic dislocation."

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,914455,00.html#ixzz0VttcXcO2

    Ronnie liked to pretend he was a budget cutter, but he just wanted to syphon public money to his mobster buddies without having to worry about wasting it on working people or anyone who might actually need it. Sounds like a joke to me.

    This was one of his lines during his monster spending period, "The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." That pretty much sums up how he felt about spending money on the California military-industrial complex during the 80's.