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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
History ... Politics ...

I still can’t understand why so many Americans think that Ronald Reagan was a great President. A recent Harris poll indicates that Reagan is considered by 25% of Americans as the best President since 1940, beating FDR (at 19%) and Kennedy (at 15%). A 2012 survey by Nate Silver of 4 presidential scholar polls found Reagan to be the 10th greatest Prez, just behind JFK (and ahead of Lyndon Johnson, at #12).

I lived through the Reagan years, and to be honest, I think that the Gipper is one of the most overrated leaders of all time. Actually, he was one of the luckiest. The economy started in slump when he was first elected in 1980, but then achieved significant growth levels for the balance of his two terms. People still attribute this to his tax cuts and “Reaganomics”, but actually, oil and energy prices dropped significantly during this time (due to technical factors on the world level and not due to anything Reagan did or didn’t do), and inflation was tamed by the initially painful restraint on money supply growth by Fed Chairman Paul Volcker (who, remember, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter).

The US’s major enemy for the past 50 years, the Soviet Union, had also lost its strength and began its collapse by the end of Reagan’s term. Part of this could be attributed to its overspending on defense, goaded by Reagan’s military build-up and his committing the US to a mostly fruitless program to develop a high-tech “Star Wars” defense against ballistic missiles. But in reality, the USSR had been collapsing of its own internal inefficiencies and corruptions for over a decade by the time that Reagan left office in 1989. It was more a function of Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to liberalize and humanize the Communist regime that brought its ultimate contradictions into the light and undermined the balance of terror that kept it going.

I have to agree with Slate-founder Michael Kinsley that the Reagan mystique needs some de-mystifying. Until 1980, Ronald Reagan was known mostly for being a grade B movie actor. You had to really be bored to be caught on a Saturday afternoon watching an old film with Reagan in it (or be up at 2 am, perhaps). I only remember Reagan for his stint as the TV host of GE Theater. But in the 1980’s, Reagan showed just what a masterful actor he really was. He really did convince a majority of Americans that he was the wise and powerful commander-in-chief of the greatest nation on earth. A fellow blogger named Tim Sexton summed Reagan up quite well:

It may be the ultimate political irony in American history that much of Ronald Reagan’s success as a President was acting as if everything was going along just fine, and that the only thing in the world Americans had to fear was communist aggression . . . in fact, many Americans had to fear more from Reagan’s economic policies than anything the Soviet Union ever did. The irony, of course, is that [in Hollywood, as opposed to the White House,] Ronald Reagan never was considered a particularly great talent.

[But then again, sometimes delusion is required in social affairs so as to unleash positive energy; positive delusions sometimes become self-fulfilling. Reagan did make the country feel good about itself, and admittedly there were good effects from that. Barack Obama seems to me a much more capable decision maker than Reagan, but he also seems to be a depressant upon the American spirit; and the initial failings and computer glitches of Obamacare certainly aren’t helping matters. A depressed nation, like a depressed individual, is usually not capable of great things. For all the Gipper’s many sins, he was definitely not depressing, other than to the Democrats who couldn’t get a political leg up on him.]

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 pm      

  1. Jim, I could not agree with you more! I remember when Reagan was running for president the first time someone from California (can’t remember who, but I know it was someone who either was privy to the running of the California legislature or was actually a legislator) said that Reagan had totally wrecked California’s economy and would do the same to the U.S. if elected president.

    Well, it seems he put on an excellent act, and people fell for it.

    Furthermore, with all due respect to people in this situation and to Reagan himself, we have to remember that he spent much (if perhaps not all) of his second term with Alzheimer’s. (I’ve sometimes wondered if his Alzheimer’s began even in his first term, but that’s just me wondering, knowing something about hos Alzheimer’s works.) While there is nothing “bad” about having Alzheimer’s, the problem with Reagan and his situation is that he really should never have been elected to his second term. A person with Alzheimer’s simply does not have the ability to run a country – as I say, with all due respect to those with this medical condition.

    Reagan was an actor and carried what acting ability he had over into the presidency. Again, while there’s nothing wrong at all with being an actor, the presidency is simply no place to exercise that profession.

    As to the people of the U.S.: It seems to me that they want simple solutions to complex problems. It’s as if they say (dealing with Reagan or Obama, any prez for that matter), “don’t bother me with all the complexity of the problems; just fix it”; and that “fix”, people want, tends to be an easy, simple one, no matter the complexity of the problem.

    Tangentially: Is this “simple solution to complex problems related to social media technology and everything being reduced to, what is it?, 100-some characters? People are used to seeing movies and TV with simple solutions. People are used to giving “opinions” and solutions to the most complex problems on various social media with just a few characters allowed. Nobody wants to deal with anything longer than something that can be read in a few seconds – at least that’s how it seems to me. Sometimes I think they have learned from this habit that no matter the complexity of the problem there is a simple solution and everyone will be happy.

    But back from my digression: I have never tho’t Reagan did a favor to the U.S.; I still do not. Perhaps as with Lincoln, the true evaluation of presidents will take the time for all those who lived through his time to die off; seems that’s what is meant when it is said that history will evaluate the presidents. At least one can hope that eventually time will do its work well. MCS

    Comment by Mary — October 24, 2013 @ 10:27 am

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