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10 Things Conservatives Don't Want You to Know About Reagan

The image of Reagan as a conservative superhero is myth, created to unite the various factions of the right behind a common leader.
 
 
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Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, and all week, conservatives tried to outdo each others’ remembrances of the great conservative icon. Senate Republicans spent much of Thursday singing Reagan’s praise from the Senate floor, while conservative publications have been running non-stop commemorations. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich are hoping to make a few bucks off the Gipper’s centennial.

But Reagan was not the man conservatives claim he was. This image of Reagan as a conservative superhero is myth, created to unite the various factions of the right behind a common leader. In reality, Reagan was no conservative ideologue or flawless commander-in-chief. Reagan regularly strayed from conservative dogma — he raised taxes eleven times as president while tripling the deficit — and he often ended up on the wrong side of history, like when he vetoed an Anti-Apartheid bill.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the top 10 things conservatives rarely mention when talking about President Reagan:

1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “ signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology,” Brinkley said.

2. Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit. During the Reagan years, the debt increased to nearly $3 trillion, “ roughly three times as much as the first 80 years of the century had done altogether.” Reagan enacted a major tax cut his first year in office and government revenue dropped off precipitously. Despite the conservative myth that tax cuts somehow increase revenue, the government went deeper into debt and Reagan had to raise taxes just a year after he enacted his tax cut. Despite ten more tax hikes on everything from gasoline to corporate income, Reagan was never able to get the deficit under control.

3. Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. Unemployment jumped to 10.8 percent after Reagan enacted his much-touted tax cut, and it took years for the rate to get back down to its previous level. Meanwhile, income inequality exploded. Despite the myth that Reagan presided over an era of unmatched economic boom for all Americans, Reagan disproportionately taxed the poor and middle class, but the economic growth of the 1980′s did little help them. “Since 1980, median household income has risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled or quadrupled,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted.

4. Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously. Reagan promised “to move boldly, decisively, and quickly to control the runaway growth of federal spending,” but federal spending “ ballooned” under Reagan. He bailed out Social Security in 1983 after attempting to privatize it, and set up a progressive taxation system to keep it funded into the future. He promised to cut government agencies like the Department of Energy and Education but ended up adding one of the largest — the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which today has a budget of nearly $90 billion and close to 300,000 employees. He also hiked defense spending by over $100 billion a year to a level not seen since the height of the Vietnam war.

 
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