One of the amusing sideshows of the Republican presidential nomination fight is seeing individuals like John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney desperately elbowing each other out of the way to stake a claim on being "the true inheritor" of Ronald Reagan's legacy.
It's especially funny when one considers what a ludicrously overrated President Reagan was. Our ever-profound media, enamored with the idea of "folksy charm," cultivated an eight-year love affair with the man while he occupied the White House, and has never quite let go.
And it is true that the thorough, unremitting disaster that the George W. Bush presidency has been makes President Reagan look like Winston Churchill, sort of the way the Britney Spears saga makes Paris Hilton look downright mature.
But objectively speaking, Ronald Reagan was a very poor chief executive. He was the man whose fiscal policies almost led us to bankruptcy; who extended the Nixonian idea that the laws of the land didn't apply to him; who had no compunctions about funneling arms to terrorist states; and who tried to cover it all up with a veneer of congeniality – which the press, of course, lapped up like mother's milk.
Ronald Reagan was a purveyor of supply-side economics, which promotes the mathematically dubious notion that a government can increase revenue by reducing taxes on economic elites, a model which has long been the standard in Latin American countries. How's that worked out for them?
It's one thing to actually believe in this fairy tale when it's an abstract concept in an economics textbook. It's quite another to continue believing in it when its application in the real world generates crippling budget deficits, job-flight overseas, rising income inequality, stagnant wages, and an overall reduction in standard of living for all but the most affluent Americans.
In a rare moment of candor, David Stockman, Reagan's budget director, revealed that, indeed, supply-side economics was a "Trojan horse" meant to benefit only the elite. He was quickly muzzled after that statement, but there's no denying that Reagan's economic legacy did exactly what he said it would. And, of course, President Reagan raised payroll taxes on most Americans, showing that Republicans will squeeze us from every possible end.
Then again, the train wreck that was Reaganomics – later "perfected" by President Bush – pales in comparison to the lies and deception that characterized the Iran-Contra scandal. It's a very typical reflection of our press corps that this massive exercise in presidential abuses has pretty much dropped down our memory hole, while relative banalities like Bill Clinton's sexual affairs continue to absorb so much media oxygen.
Make no mistake; if a Democrat president had ignored the law and shipped weapons to countries that were on our short list of lethal enemies, he wouldn't have lasted two weeks in office after the scandal broke.
But Ronald Reagan was a Republican, so I guess the definition of "national security" can be quite flexible under those circumstances. And the "rule of law," in the glassy, bloodshot eyes of much of our punditry, is a sacred, inviolable concept when the issue is oral sex, but an easily-dismissed one when we're talking about tossing armaments to Islamists.
And never mind that the Reagan administration was littered with figures of dubious ethics and integrity, such as James Watt, Edwin Meese, Michael Deaver, and countless others. We didn't just get a Latin American economy under President Reagan; we got a Latin American government as well.
President Reagan thought nothing of exploiting Americans' divisions on the campaign trail and in office. He kicked off his first presidential run in Philadelphia, MS, the same town where three civil-rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. He carried over that dog-whistle to Southern reactionaries with race-baiting rhetoric all through his terms of office, notably with the "welfare queen" references. Classy guy.
Did President Reagan "win the Cold War," as his admirers insist? Well, sure he did – but with the Soviet Union imploding due to its blind adherence to an untenable economic model, there's little doubt that such an outcome was pretty much inevitable; and it would have been no matter who occupied the White House. And given his dismal record otherwise, being in the right place at the right time is hardly much to hang one's hat on.
So when the Republican contenders all yap about how much they carry the spirit of Ronald Reagan, one wonders if they're promising us another run of busted budgets, stagnant economies, corruption, and lawless overreach by the executive branch. In other words, precisely what George W. Bush has delivered us in his eight years as the “Decider.” Sounds like exactly what the public wants.
Well, at least John McCain doesn't seem to be much into astrology.