As conservatives continue to honor the presidency of Ronald Reagan, it's important to look back at the real legacy of the man that ushered in the era of corporate greed in the United States.
There has always been a debate over what makes a great president and depending on your political ideology, you will come up with different answers. For Republicans and conservatives alike, the name Ronald Reagan shines with a type of brightness usually reserved for a sunny summer day. Pulling back the curtain, the sun will set, the darkness of his presidency will appear and the reality of the Reagan administration will haunt the dreams of the American people moving forward.
Reagan became the President of the United States after a decisive victory over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980. It seems like something out of a fairy tale from the moment Reagan was sworn in as the American hostages in Iran were released. Republicans will tell you it was because they were afraid of the conservative "toughness" of Reagan himself, others might suggest that Reagan cut a deal privately with Iran to release them once he was in office, or maybe Jimmy Carter just arranged it that way.
Over the course of the next eight years, Reagan put his stamp and legacy on the United States. His key economic principal was supply-side economics, otherwise known as trickle-down economics or even "Reaganomics." These economic principles promoted the idea that if tax and other breaks were given to the most wealthy, their wealth would eventually "trickle-down" to the rest of the American people. This idea has long since been debunked, but conservative economists continue to push the agenda, especially when there is financial prosperity. Reaganomics creates a short term positive outlook, but as more wealth leaves the middle class, the economy tanks and falls into a tail spin as the rich become richer and rest continue to struggle.
Reagan cut taxes drastically on top income earners, from 70 percent to 28 percent, by the time he left office in January 1989. While doing this, he also raised taxes 11 times, primarily on the middle class, in order to help make up the short fall in revenue. Under Reagan, the national debt nearly tripled from $900 billion to $2.8 trillion following massive increases in military spending.
Reagan's foreign policy left much to be desired, highlighted by the Iran/Contra scandal and the infamous "cut and run" following the attacks that resulted in 299 American and French military deaths during the Beirut, Lebanon barracks bombings. Republicans will point to the moment when Reagan famously stated "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," referring to the Berlin Wall separating West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany, but one could argue that the Cold War was already coming to an end and Reagan's placement was more of a "right place, right time" situation.
The list of Reagan's short falls could go on forever, from breaking up unions, tearing apart the middle class, letting the mentally ill walk the street, ignoring AIDS for much of his presidency and so on, the Reagan legacy, like many others before and after him, will simply be defined by those who tell it.