Just How Good Was Ronald Reagan as President?

Kevin Damato | United States

In the modern-day Republican Party, Ronald Reagan is akin to a god. Invoking the name of Reagan is assumed to add some sort of legitimacy. A quick conversation with any self-proclaimed conservative would leave you to believe Ronald Reagan was the epitome of what every President should be. But is the former Governor and President someone that we should be looking up to, or have our memories of the man himself been distorted with time?

Because of the massive quantity accomplished in a public career like Reagan’s, I will only be looking at the largest policy points behind the Reagan Administration during his tenure as Governor of California and President of the United States. This is not to discount the importance of other issues, but instead to maximize analysis of the topics I chose.

The Good

The Cold War

I would never argue that Reagan was the sole force behind the ending of the Cold War. But, his pressuring policies definitely didn’t cause any harm. The constant pushing from a massive (perhaps too massive) military and programs like Star Wars most certainly concerned the Soviets.

For the most part, Reagan’s non-action in not starting a violent conflict helped lead the Soviet Union to its ultimate demise through self-inflicted means.

All else aside, this huge geopolitical shift occurred under his watch, giving his policies at least some credit.

Reagan’s Originalist Supreme Court Justices

Whether it be Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia or Anthony Kennedy, Reagan did not miss a step on his nominations of judges. Reagan, along with his Republican-controlled Senate, confirmed these Justices who in turn were able to serve on the court for decades.

Their interpretation of the Constitution was strict and reflected the will of the founders who ratified the document in 1788. The upholding of these original views are vital to maintaining the nation set up by the founders and Reagan should deserve credit for helping that cause.

Reaganomics… Well, Kinda

Ronald Reagan’s economic policies are a mixed bag. I credit him with three things: the morality of his tax cuts, inflation control, and deregulation. These three policies directly spoke to the American people. Prior to Reagan, we were stuck with ludicrously high taxes, Carter’s stagflation, and an over-regulated economy following decades of progressive policy.

As a result of these policies, we saw several economic health indications become better. Growth during the Reagan economy was shaky at times but averaged out at around 3.5%. Upon this, Reagan added a staggering 16.5 Million jobs to the economy through his 8-year term. This makes him the 3rd largest job-creating president in American history.

The Bad

The Flipside of Reaganomics

Every good story comes with some caveats…

As I mentioned earlier, I agreed with Reagan’s tax cuts on a moral basis, not an economic one. A massive pillar of Reaganomics was the promise that cutting taxes would, in turn, stimulate the economy so much that we could still afford to pay our bills. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Reagan’s supply-side economic theory is inherently flawed. In order to balance the budget, spending needed to be cut. Much like today, this was not done. As a result, Reagan left office ultimately adding $1.86 trillion to the national debt, nearly doubling the amount that his predecessor Jimmy Carter added.

Reagan’s debt spike set a dangerous precedent which has become completely unwieldy in current American politics. Much like Reagan, no president has taken the necessary steps to balance the budget, whether it be drastic spending cuts or tax increases.

Support of Gun Control

Despite what you may think, Ronald Reagan does not have a particularly strong record of defending the second amendment. As a Governor (in the form of the Mulford Act) and later in his life (in the form of the Brady Bill), Ronald Reagan has supported gun control bills which degraded citizen’s second amendment rights.

In a country where the current administration along with the NRA fight tooth and nail against any gun restrictions, I personally find it baffling that there is still such conservative support for Reagan.

Drug War/Sentencing

While Reagan may not have been the first president to talk about the war on drugs, he definitely was the one to declare it. A series of anti-drug ads, along with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign were perhaps the more mild side of the war, but that was just the start.

Zero-tolerance policies and mandatory minimums coupled together to create the ultimate mass-incarceration weapon. The number of non-violent criminals skyrocketed, causing early signs of prison overpopulation and stirring further racial tensions in the country.

The Reagan

As noted above, Reagan was a complicated figure in American politics. Undoubtedly due in part with his having to work with a Democrat-led House of Representatives, but also due to his fundamentally “non-conservative” views on certain issues.

None of this article was meant in any way to diminish Ronald Reagan’s legacy. He was a very successful and admired politician in the 1980’s as well as today. The fact is, this article could have been published on a number of notable politicians ranging throughout the ideological spectrum, including Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. The reason why this type of analysis would be applicable to so many figures regarded as popular politicians connects to a far more dangerous problem in our society today: the partisan divide.

In the modern day of our two party system, we have turned away from objective understanding towards unabashed party support. The underlying problem is this: The reason why you don’t hear about the anti-conservative traits of Ronald Reagan is that Republicans want to use him as a tool to push their agenda. This is in part why politics is fundamentally broken in the United States.

My wish for this president’s day is that going on, we will remember Reagan for all he did, including the good and bad. Until we can all agree that idolization of public figures is foolish and that party lines are not as strict as those in power make it out to be, progress will continue to halt, divisions will continue to rise, and anger will continue to grow.

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