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posted on 24 May 2016

Correctly Assessing President Ronald Reagan

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In two previous posts, I discussed "American conservatism" (What is American Conservatism, Anyway?) and called Donald Trump a true Reagan conservative (Who is Donald Trump, Anyway?). Neither post can be fully appreciated without an objective assessment of President Ronald Reagan, which is what this post is about ...

1. President Ronald Reagan

Here is a summary of Reagan's Presidency from Wikipedia - Ronald Reagan:

Entering the presidency in 1981, Reagan implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed "Reaganomics", advocated tax rate reduction to spur economic growth, control of the money supply to curb inflation, economic deregulation, and reduction in government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, escalated the War on Drugs, and fought public-sector labor. Over his two terms, his economic policies saw a reduction of inflation from 12.5% to 4.4%, and an average annual growth of real GDP of 3.4%; while Reagan did enact cuts in domestic discretionary spending, increased military spending contributed to increased federal outlays overall, even after adjustment for inflation. During his reelection bid, Reagan campaigned on the notion that it was "Morning in America", winning a landslide in 1984 with the largest electoral college victory in history. Foreign affairs dominated his second term, including ending of the Cold War, the bombing of Libya, and the Iran - Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire", he transitioned Cold War policy from détente to rollback, by escalating an arms race with the USSR while engaging in talks with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, which culminated in the INF Treaty, shrinking both countries' nuclear arsenals.[1] During his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, President Reagan challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!". Only months after the end of his term, the Berlin Wall fell, and on December 26, 1991, nearly three years after he left office, the Soviet Union collapsed.

2. Overview

I largely agree with Wikipedia's summary of Reagan's Presidency. On top of that, I consider Reagan the best American President after WWII, at least!

President Reagan's two most significant achievements:

  1. Domestically: He restored the economy and put the country back on a solid capitalistic footing for economic growth for years to come. Very importantly, he also improved the morale of the country, after four years of Carter's "Malaise".
  2. Internationally: He contributed decisively to the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Nevertheless, for historic accuracy, it is important to understand three major misconceptions about President Reagan:

  1. Ending the Cold War: While it was credited [almost] solely to President Reagan, other factors contributed heavily as well.
  2. The MIC (Military-Industrial Complex): It grew amok on his watch, although President Reagan claimed to be fiscally conservative.
  3. American conservatism: He succinctly defined it, indeed, yet the government saw unfettered growth on his watch.

Let me elaborate on each ...

3. Ending the Cold War

Simply put, President Reagan has been given too much credit for ending the Cold War! Two important factors:

  1. Mikhail Gorbachev: He will perhaps eventually be recognized as a traitor by Russian historians! President Reagan was lucky to deal with him! Had the Soviet leader been Vladimir Putin during Reagan's presidency, the Cold War would, most likely, not have been drawn down as it was! For more, read: Mikhail Gorbachev vs. Deng Xiaoping.
  2. Communism: Democracy did not prevail over communism - Capitalism did! For more, read: Democracy Prevailed over Communism, Really?

In short, communism is such a bad ideology that it has bankrupted all the countries that have adopted it, including both China, which did not have any arms-race with any other country, and the USSR, with or without an arms-race with America!

Why, then, did America get into such a huge arms-race with the USSR? Blame the MIC!

4. The MIC

The MIC expanded rapidly on President Reagan's watch, which he felt, most likely, was validated by the Cold War.

President Reagan obviously ignored President Dwight D. Eisenhower's explicit warning about the MIC (farewell address)! Yet, despite this warning and an increasing evidence of the demise of communism on its own, no American President since Eisenhower, including President Reagan, has seriously attempted to contain the MIC!

As a result, the MIC is so big and so out-of-control now that it is a huge existential threat to America, second only to socialism/communism! For more, read: Democratic Socialism vs. Democratic Imperialism.

5. American conservatism

President Reagan accurately and succinctly defined American conservatism for his time!

Unfortunately, the federal government expanded rapidly on President Reagan's watch, from the national debt to the number of federal employees, thanks, in no small part, to the MIC! For more, read: Ronald Reagan's big government legacy.

Note: after reading the above reference, if you think President Bill Clinton was a genius, read: The Myth of The Bill Clinton Presidency.

6. Discussion

An American President is not a king or dictator (e.g. China’s Mao Zedong), and is thus limited in greatness (e.g. China’s Deng Xiaoping) or destructive power (e.g. Adolf Hitler). In other words, no American President, past, present, or future, should be revered as a great king, either in form or in substance! Why not? Because there has never been, and there will never be, a great American President comparable in achievements with great kings in human history (e.g. Alexander the Great, China’s First Emperor, and China’s Deng)! It is simply not what the American Presidency was designed to be! More pointedly, the U.S. Constitution was specifically written to limit the powers of the American President to prevent the tyranny of another king! Furthermore, because of the getting the re-elected ad nauseam thing, there have been more and more disastrous American Presidents (e.g. JFK, Bush II, and Obama) than bad ones (e.g. Jimmy Carter). For more, read: American Presidency: Why is One-Term a Must (Version 3)?

While acknowledging Ronald Reagan as the best American President after WWII, at least, we must also recognize his shortcomings, not only to be true historically, but, more importantly, to draw lessons for our present and future.

The Cold War ended in 1991. Instead of pursuing world peace, America, the only superpower left on earth at the time, in terms of both economic and military power, greatly and aggressively expanded its global influence, both ideologically (i.e. democracy, which does not even work at home) and militarily (e.g. NATO, which is obsolete), with disastrous results today and for decades to come! Two examples,

  1. Ukraine: Read: Crimea, Ukraine, Russia, and the U.S.
  2. The Mideast: Read: The Middle East without America?

What does this have to do specifically with President Reagan? He decisively won the Cold War for us, but several Reagan doctrines have been distorted over the past 25 years! Two examples:

  1. "Peace through strength": The foundation of strength is a strong economy, on which all other power (e.g. military) depends. America is bankrupt - America can no longer afford to save the world, either economically or militarily, while further bankrupting ourselves at home!
  2. American conservatism: President Reagan defined it as Libertarianism, which precludes unnecessary wars, such as the disastrous Iraq War, launched by President George W. Bush in 2003 and re-launched by President Obama in 2014!

7. Closing

Correctly assessing an American President is always difficult, considering the widely opposing views of all things political. For example, despite mounting evidence that President JFK actually committed the worst anti-America act with his Executive Order 10988, creating public-sector unions as a large pool of takers against the makers and thus dooming our future, many Americans are still blithely unaware of it! For more, read: Diagnosis for America (Version 3).

This post has, hopefully, given you a new perspective of President Reagan.

Finally, let me emphasize that given a chance, Donald Trump may out-perform President Ronald Reagan, especially in terms of fixing the MIC. For more, read: Fixing the Military-Industrial Complex!

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