If there is one thing most conservatives can agree on it's that Ronald Reagan was not only one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States, but that he was a near saint and a hero that should be the model for every president moving forward. The problem with their beliefs and opinions are that they are misguided and often based on twisted logic.
Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide in November of 1980, defeating his Democratic challenger, incumbent Jimmy Carter. Carter had fallen in popularity so far that he was actually primaried by Sen. Ted Kennedy the previous summer, but was able to weather the storm and be nominated as the Democratic challenger for president. The eight years that followed issued a dramatic change in Washington and around the country. By the time Reagan officially left office in 1989, the national debt had tripled due to a massive increase in defense spending and drastic tax cuts for the wealthy. Reagan did cut spending in some areas, but they affected the country's most vulnerable.
When delivering an accurate criticism of Ronald Reagan, the most common critiques are those of the increased debt and tax breaks for the wealthiest in the country. Others bring up the Iran/Contra scandal, the attack on working America and unions or the funding of the future al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Ronald Reagan did all of those things and should be criticized for doing so, but there are other things Reagan did in the White House that should be highlighted.
1. Reagan helped kick the mentally ill out into the street and increase homelessness -
In October of 1980, one month prior to the presidential election, Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act, which proposed continuing to fund the federal community mental health centers program and give states the ability to act accordingly. The Mental Health Systems Act also added additional federal involvement “for projects for the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of positive mental health.” Fast Forward through the early part of the 1980s and new president Ronald Reagan put mental health on the back burner. Carter's Mental Health Systems Act was essentially deleted and replaced during the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1982, cutting federal funding and severely limiting the federal government’s role in providing services to the mentally ill and simply block granting the limited funds to the states.
Reagan's actions, or lack there of, was the driving force for the increase in the mentally ill on the streets in the United States and also contributed to an increase in the homeless. By 1989, a TV station in San Francisco put up posters around the city to bring attention to the city's growing homeless population stating, “You are now walking though America’s newest mental institution.” Salon highlights multiple studies that show how the 1980s was a time where the mentally ill made up a large portion of the homeless population.
"By the end of the 1980s, the origins of the increasing number of mentally ill homeless persons had become abundantly clear. A study of 187 patients discharged from Metropolitan State Hospital in Massachusetts reported that 27% had become homeless. A study of 132 patients discharged from Columbus State Hospital in Ohio reported that 36% had become homeless."
The growing number of mentally ill wasn't just growing on the street, but also in prisons across the country. The number of mentally ill prisoners doubled from 5 percent at the start of the 1980s to 10 percent by the time the decade came to a close.
"Given all the data, it seems reasonable to conclude that approximately 10 percent of inmates in prisons and jails, or approximately 100,000 individuals, suffer from schizophrenia or manic-depressive psychosis (bipolar disorder)."
Ronald Reagan. Champion of the poor, sick and needy? Not so much.
2. Ignoring AIDS for nearly a decade -
As the disco fever era died down, something scary followed. HIV and AIDS was injected into the lives of many Americans and caught everyone off guard. The mysterious virus was unknown and for years ignorance on the issue caused many to spread misinformation and often, out right lies to the public. Due to the mystery surrounding the new phenomenon, many just ignored it like a child would ignore the boogy man, closing their eyes and hoping it would disappear when they woke up. One of those with his eyes closed was the Commander in Chief himself, Ronald Reagan. As the 1980s moved along, Reagan couldn't even say the word "AIDS" during most of his presidency and it took a close friend to finally get him to acknowledge the reality of what was going on in the country.
During his time as an actor, Reagan became close with many people. One good friend was actor Rock Hudson. According to Reagan's daughter Patty Davis, Reagan would hint at Hudson's homosexuality, but never openly stated his opinion due to the country's heavy homophobia at that time. His daughter stated that her father once said "some men are born to love a man and some women are born to love a woman." despite those "kind" words, Reagan partnered with anti-gay Moral Majority, led by the controversial Rev. Jerry Falwell who would go on to claim that AIDS was the "wrath of God upon homosexuals." Reagan had also labeled Pat Buchanan his communications director who later argued that AIDS was "nature's revenge on gay men."
Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, but didn't go public until the following summer in July of 1985 after collapsing at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on July 21. Two months after Hudson's announcement, Reagan was asked about AIDS during a press conference on September 15, 1985. Reagan claimed medical research for AIDS would be a "top priority," even sending a telegram to the Commitment to Life AIDS benefit just a few days later. The telegram would be the last of Reagan's involvement with AIDS and wouldn't mention it again for another two years.
3. Reagan embraced the apartheid regime in South Africa -
Following the death of former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela earlier this year, focus on other parts of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy have come to light. While the Iran/Contra scandal is often what comes to mind when thinking of the negative aspect of the Reagan foreign policy agenda, his support for the South African government should not be thrown under the rug. The apartheid in South Africa created a government that oppressed and stripped nonwhites of their rights and became one of the most horrific crimes against humanity the world has ever seen.
Prior to his failed reelection bid, former president Jimmy Carter had criticized the South African government and imposed multiple sanctions and restrictions on the country. American made its opinion known and joined in with the growing anti-apartheid movement during the late 1970s.
As the 1970s ended and 1980s began, Reagan erased what Carter had built up and went back to supporting the government of South Africa, claiming that it was a policy of “constructive engagement,” which ultimately failed in the end. Reagan was vocal about his opposition to those who were against the South African government, most notably the African National Congress, claiming they were a dangerous and pro-communist movement. Reagan took further steps to defend the South African government, even vetoing a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa, which was eventually overturned by Congress.