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Ronald Reagan: Setting the Record Straight

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Shakespeare wrote, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." In American politics the process is reversed, as the longer a President is out of office the more his reputation is sanitized.  Tricky Dick Nixon is recast as a "statesman."  And Ronald Reagan, who did more than any contemporary President to kill the American dream, is elevated to sainthood.


February 6 th  was Reagan's 100 th  birthday.  Throughout the US he was eulogized as a font of optimism; remembered for his promise "it's morning in America."  For this reason it's a good time to tell the truth about Ronald Reagan, to set the record straight, because many onerous US problems are his responsibility.


Reagan was a popular President, despite the fact that throughout his tenure most voters disagreed with his policies.  Reagan got what he wanted from Congress because he had an affable manner, was an effective speaker, and could deliver the most egregious lie with a straight face.  Of course, Ronald Reagan was an actor made famous as a spokesman for General Electric and their nuclear power program, where "progress is our most important product."


Regan's archconservative ideology has had a devastating impact on America: dogmatic advocacy of unlimited defense spending; unwarranted faith in the free market; and exaggerated emphasis on "traditional" values.


Military Budget: During his first term as President, Reagan dramatically escalated the "Cold War" with the USSR and increased weapon-related expenditures.  Some say the resulting arms race precipitated the economic demise of the Soviet Union.  Whatever the reality, no one doubts that the spending spree produced the zenith of American "empire" where the US military budget was more than that of all other nations combined.


As a consequence of Reagan's policies, America continues to spend billions on "defense," even though the Soviet Union has ceased to exist and there is no comparable threat to our security -- fighting "terrorism" requires far fewer resources.  Nonetheless, the Department of Defense remains America's sacred cow.  Politicians fear to challenge DOD expenditures less their manhood be questioned and their reelection prospects diminished. 


Ronald Reagan is gone but his military policies continue.  Now it's the US, rather than the USSR, that teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.  And, like the former Soviet Union, America has wasted billions on a bloated military while vital infrastructure projects were not funded.


Free Market Economics: During the Reagan presidency, conservative economists infused American political discourse with three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else, "a rising tide lifts all boats;" markets were inherently self correcting and there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because that was a byproduct of the free market.  Indeed, Reagan famously argued,  "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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