Mr. Obama, you're no Ronald Reagan

Reflections on how presidents can be game changers, and why Reagan was able to pull off what Obama can only dream about.

President Obama has appointed new military, CIA leadership.

President Obama has appointed new military, CIA leadership. White House photo

William F. Buckley and President Ronald Reagan in 1986. (White House)

William F. Buckley and President Ronald Reagan in 1986. (White House) None

When can you tell a President has been successful?

One sign is that people in both parties say nice things about them. Think of all the Democrats who say kind things about Abe Lincoln or Republicans who quote John F. Kennedy. Another sign is that time has vindicated the divisive stands they took on important issues during their administrations.

By both of these standards, Ronald Reagan’s presidency has hit iconic status. The Republican Party is as much Reagan’s party as Lincoln’s, and even liberal historians like Richard Reeves and Sean Wilentz acknowledge his lasting impact and legacy. So does President Obama, who noted that Reagan was a “transformative” president who “changed the trajectory” of America.

How did Reagan do it?  By taking strong, sometimes divisive stands on important issues that have stood the test of time.

Begin with facing down the Soviet Union.  When he took office Moscow controlled eastern Europe, intimidated western Europe, and was expanding its reach throughout the Third World.   America responded with a policy designed to ease tensions through diplomacy and arms control called détente.   In the name of détente President Ford declined to meet with Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, fearing it would anger Moscow.

Reagan would have none of it.  Asked his position on the Cold War, he said, "We win and they lose."  Reduce tensions?  Reagan deliberately raised them, casting the conflict in moral terms, arguing that America and western democracy were good, communism was evil, and the Soviet Union in particular was "an evil empire."  Liberal pundit Michael Kinsley recently wrote, "This was no less than the truth and he was right to say it.   But at the time Henry Steele Commager called the Evil Empire address "the worst speech in American history."

Liberals back then confidently predicted that Reagan's policy would result in either a "never-ending arms race" or all out nuclear war (remember Target: Seattle?).   One of the best selling non-fiction books in the 1980s was Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth, which explained in graphic detail the devastation nuclear war would bring to the planet and those still living on it.  The progressive alternative to Reagan's arms build-up was called the "nuclear freeze" that simply stopped further arms deployment.  Millions marched against Reagan and for the Freeze throughout America and Europe.  They marched for it in Moscow, too.  Why not?  It was the Soviet negotiating position. 

When all was said and done, Reagan got his way, the arms race did not proliferate, and the planet did not explode.  Communism did, and the Berlin Wall fell down. 

Reagan's second major contention, on which his entire economic program of tax cuts, deregulation, and domestic spending restraint was based, is that economic growth flows not from the benevolent hand of government, but the fertile imaginations of entrepreneurs.  His capitalism-is-good gospel was best explained in Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder's 1981 bestseller written in Bruce Chapman's apartment above Seattle's Pike Place Market. Reagan's beliefs put him squarely at odds with western thinkers here and in Europe who embraced a "third way" of blending free enterprise with socialism.  Their tonic was packaged in America as "industrial planning" and it went the way of Walter Mondale.    

But what Obama probably finds most relevant about Reagan today was his ability to make the country believe again in the future. Many, many smart people in politics, the media, academia, and even the corporate world in the 70s and 80s believed that America’s best days were in the rear view mirror and that we were now living in "an era of limits."

And no wonder.  America had lost a war, joblessness was rising, welfare programs weren’t working, neither was forced busing, the price of gasoline was spiking (when it was even available), inflation was spiraling, and interest rates were skyrocketing. Compare the soaring eloquence of JFK with Jimmy Carter’ somber, stern lectures, whose the tone alone captures the downcast mood of the country’s leaders.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank goodness he is no Reagan!!!

Rhonwyn

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Obama was not elected for his liberalism. He was elected because he was a very promising counterpoint to Bush/Cheney, the fear mongering Republicans who started foolish wars, made the rest of the world hate America, ruined the American economy and piled up an enormous mountain of debt.

We're still digging out.

John is attempting to draw a more distant comparison and cloud reality, and also brand Obama as an extreme liberal (simply following the petroleum and coal financed script that feeds the wacko GOP echo chamber of the crazy chat radio cacoon.)

Obama is already an historic president who will stand the test of time. That's why the Republicans have come after him with such organized furry. They try to brand him as an extreme liberal Obama's not, and people outside the GOP talk cacoon (most people) know it.

The reason for the GOP takeover of the House: the worst economy since Hoover - delivered by Bush/Cheney.

The reason for John's Reagan compare: no GOP president since has been remotely successful - the last one is in the running for worst ever.

In the next election John would prefer GOP candidates with pictures of themselves with Reagan, not Bush/Cheney. His problem: there are few who were around with Reagan. And there's a web full of the Bush legacy, which includes most every GOP politician around.

Jan

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

We are all thankful that President Obama isn't Ronald Reagan. And Mr. Carlson, I knew Lloyd Bentsen, and you are no Lloyd Bentsen.

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 8:37 a.m. Inappropriate

History is what has made President Reagan the admired man he is today. History has washed away his illegal firing of the air traffic controllers. History ignores the Iran/Contra mess.

Who knows how history will judge President Obama? Who knows if he won't get reelected?

The Republicans are infighting about how far right they should go. While their frontrunner Sarah Palin is more a poor shadow of Dan Quayle than the conservative god of Ronald Reagan.

2cents

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Ronald Reagan was no Ronald Reagan.

mhays

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Must have been hard to type that paean to Mr. Reagan with only one hand.

talisker

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

What made Reagan revolutionary was that his philosophy and programs flew in the face of the perceived wisdom of the establishment Left. Obama's philosophy and programs fly with the flock of that establishment. But whereas FDR's policies were daring and even reckless in their day, Obama's are merely a return to that 80 year old mindset, which history has proven to be dubious at best. Nothing's more bureaucratic than a revolution that's run its course, and in the end the New Deal gave the country little but a stifling bureaucracy.

A perfect example of this president's disconnectedness is his recent address to the Camber of Commerce. His tone was lecturing and pedantic, like he was delivering a lesson to a grade school class. He told the nation's wealth producers to "get with the program" and give people jobs to produce products for which there are currently no buyers. This is a program for economic recovery crafted by someone who, like FDR before him, understands nothing about economics. President Obama will not succeed until he understands that government is not the highest and greatest achievement of man on Earth. Government is the instrumentation that a free society employs to do those jobs that a free economy will not perform due to a whole slate of incentives and disincentives that would fill a book. Government is servant, not master. So the real point is that it is government that needs to "get with the program" and stop holding the country back. Obama doesn't seem like the kind of person capable of learning that lesson.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I think Obama is a better actor than Reagan was.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Indeed, Ronald Reagan "changed the trajectory" of America, just as faulty "O" ring seals changed the trajectory of the space shuttle Challenger.

CP

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

One remembers Reagan fondly in the context of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld buffoonery that followed. Reagan's saving grace was to have the prescience to install a few capable adults like George Schultz and James Baker in key policy positions.

I think it's good that Crosscut undertakes to provide its readers with the views of a few thoughtful conservative commentators. Too bad John Carlson isn't one of them. I vote for more Chris Vance and less Carlson.

woofer

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

"What’s left of his (Obama's) progressive agenda lies in ruins".

I guess that means a progressive agenda doesn't include: regulating the reckless behavior of capitalism that almost brought down the global economy, STARTing down the path to a world without nuclear weapons, and recognizing that sexual orientation is not a hindrance to service in defense of one's country.

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Ol' Ronnie lit that deregulation candle in granny's bedroom and then we all stood around like idiots and watched it burn down the house. Anyone remember that..?

Reagan did make apparent two functions that should be outsourced to China though...the SEC and bank oversight. They have a different take on individual greed damaging the state's economy.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 2:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Fascinating. Plenty of hostile sentiments, yet no factual refutations of what I wrote about Reagan or Obama. And you wonder why so many people find political debate in Seattle so shallow?

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate


the current Republican agenda: kill, rape, destroy, divide, kill, destroy, burn, kill.

Q: If the future goes to the most violent, will they eventually destroy themselves?

figit

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate


Oh, I forgot the most important part of the republican agenda: build more weapons, and pocket the war profits.

figit

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

@John Carlson

I think that was woofer's point, your piece lacks facts. It is just a fluff piece about the fondness of memory. President Reagan was an eloquent speaker, but he was not beloved by all nor was messiah that some conservatives make him out to be.

2cents

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 4:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, 2cents, woofer didn't point that out at all. Woofer simply argued that Reagan hired better people than "W", which has nothing to do with the article. Your assertion that the piece "lacks facts" is easily refuted by simply reading it. Several of those facts underscore my point that Reagan was far from "beloved by all", but was in fact detested by people who turned out to be wrong about the impact of his policies.

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

He's lionized by 1/3, remembered as a friendly talking head by 1/3, and hated by 1/3.

Carlson is a mouthpiece for the PR campaign. Not an honest commentator.

mhays

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you saying, mhayes, that the only honest commentary is a negative commentary?

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:11 p.m. Inappropriate

An almost unbearably absurd and history bereft mythologizing of the "Reagan legacy."

The antidote to this toxin is to understand that almost everything said or written about Reagan at this point is designed to either reinforce or refute Republican memes. Reagan raised taxes 11 times, and he did so to help the nation. All said, I do wish that man was leading the Republican party today.

TimJ

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:20 p.m. Inappropriate

I think the point John is that many people TODAY, through the lens of 20/20 hindstight, view Reagan's presidency as a failure. I'm not in a great position to judge Reagan's foreign policy, his ability to inspire a nation, nor numerous other aspects of his presidency. However, I do know that, despite his reputation as a fiscal conservative, Reagan increased the national debt by $1.86 trillion dollars. In other words, Reagan's administration ran a severe deficit and did not practice fiscal conservatism.

As for stopping inflation, most of that credit should be given, not to Reagan, but to Carter appointment Paul Volcker and his the serious clamps he put on the economy after his appointment to Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Not knocking Reagan on that one, but is naive to associate Reagan's, and only Reagan's, policy decisions with the end of out of control inflation.

In short, Reagan appears to be an average president, not the hero of fiscal conservatism and conservatism in general that Republicans usually paint him to be.

The one thing your right on is the fact that Obama, since his election, seems to have been unable to capture the imaginations of a country like Reagan did. I think this is mainly because his presidency has coincided with a nasty recession, and equally importantly, the Fox News era of political pundits. While I sometimes wish he would pander to his left wing base more often and/or take an ideological stand everyone once and while (like on Monsanto's round up ready alfalfa that poses a threat to the organic industry), I accept that he is trying his best to stay afloat in a time of extreme political tensions.

Finally, comparing Abe Lincoln's Republican party to the modern Republican party is like comparing Dinosaurs and Birds. The party has evolved and changed some much that they are essentially two entirely different entities and it is foolish to compare them unless you're a archeologist, or in other words .01% of the population. That last statistic is, of course, a hyperbolic fact, but I hope there are enough actual facts here for your tastes John.

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I can understand why Republicans are talking about Reagan so much. He's all they've got. They're not talking about the most recent two-term Republican president because they want everyone to forget about him.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Anyone who was around when Reagan was elected understands the Republican party was in a shambles after Goldwater and Nixon. Reagan, the Commie fighter, was seen before election as a dangerous old demagogue cold warrior in an age of detente. He came in, managed credibly, put a kindly face on some of the roughest edges of conservative thinking, and made the entire movement respectable and viable again. For many of us who thought his inauguration spelled the End of the World in an atomic gunfight outside Moscow, well, many of us were happily surprised. Many of us actually came to grudgingly like the guy.

The man put into a few memorable words this cockeyed notion that only liberals trust the government and that thinking people should not. It's nonsense, but thrown b.s. does stick to walls and history books. At the same time, RR grew the government a tremendous amount and put into place an ideology that proteges who worked for him would later declare, "deficits don't matter." His legacy.

This Grover Nordquist stuff about starving the beast, etc, came much, much later. Reagan talked and joked about doing things we understand would damage the social fabric. He was wise enough to just talk and joke about it, not to put any of his happy nonsense into actual action. Instead, he raised taxes. So did his VP, Bush Sr.

I don't believe the man Reagan of that era--whose living hero was FDR and who left the Dems mostly because he felt them soft on Communism ("I didn't leave the party; the party left me"), and who in his presidency let in the religious right only with trepidation and controls--would be a fan of modern Republicanism. He loved his country FAR too much for violent nihilism.

Many of us who did not like him at the time now wish there were thousands more like him in the modern Republican party.

TimJ

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 8:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Despite a "kindly" face, Reagan was not kindly. He presided over the start of the dismantlement of the social services/justice framework that Johnson had constructed. He joked because he did not understand issues well enough to talk about them intelligently or intelligibly. Before he damaged America, he damaged my home state of California. No, he wasn't a violent nihilist, but his presumed love of America did not prevent him from building the road that the current Republicans are traveling. The latter are awful, but they don't make me wish for more Reagans. Nixon did not smile much and nobody laughed at his jokes, but his policies were far better than Reagan's.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

The quality of the posts has picked up in tone, but not so much in content. First, to staybailey, you are entirely right about Paul Volker deserving most of the credit for slaying inflation. He was a Carter appointee, and Reagan reappointed him. Volker has repeatedly expressed gratitude to both for not trying to pressure him off his determined course to wring inflation out of the economy. My article did not assert that "Reagan's and only Reagan's policies" were responsible for bring down inflation, so I don't understand your point.

Staybailey also correctly points out that President Obama's presidency "coincided with a nasty recession." Correct. So did Reagan's, and it was nastier (more than 10% unemployment PLUS 13% inflation and 21% interest rates). Reagan's defense program definitely grew both the deficit and the debt, but winning the Cold War brought defense spending in the early 90's to its lowest proportion of the budget since the late 30's.

TimJ criticizes the article ("unbearably absurd"), again with no refutation, probably to give himself cover for tossing a few compliments Reagan's way (that's an old game in Seattle). He goes on to state that almost everything written about Reagan is designed to "reinforce or refute Republican memes". He could not be more mistaken. More books have been written about Reagan than any president of the last 30 years. Some are ideologically driven and aren't very interesting. But others, particularly Lou Cannon's bio (which President Obama recently toted on vacation) and Richard Reeves history, are outstanding works of substance and scholarship.

As for sarah90, she writes that Reagan made jokes because he didn't understand issues well enough to talk about them intelligently. She could not be more mistaken. Reagan's own diaries, and earlier, his original drafts of hundreds of his three minute radio commentaries (collected in the book "Reagan in his own hand") reveals a mind that thought clearly and orderly about dozens of issues. He then expressed those thoughts persuasively, usually in longhand, with next to no editing. If you think it's easy, sit down and write out a three minute speech on a topic of your choice - again, in longhand. Now imagine doing it hundreds of times.

Posted Fri, Feb 11, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, Reagan changed the trajectory of the US. Despite what his apologists might say, history is still out on his success. 30 years from now, we may have a better view of what he did. Russia still controls a substantial source of energy, and they now use it as a weapon. The weapons have changed, but they are still at odds with us. Unfortunately, we as a nation seem to think that if the Eastern Bloc collapsed, then we won. The real cold war may be playing out right now as food prices around the world skyrocket and possible famine is starting to appear in various populations. We think ourselves insulated from the world. Remember Reagan’s peace dividend, that went up in smoke. We still fight the cold war in our military spending, thus, as Russia and China fight the new battles with pirating ideas and similar forms of warfare, we still build monstrous ships and other exotic weapons systems.

If Reagan were the great president that John Carson claims, we would be preparing for a new world vision rather than then old one. Unfortunately, we idolize a myth and refuse to take a hard look at history.

Posted Sat, Feb 12, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Agree with seattlelifer, the jury is still out on Reagan.

If you look at the graph of US credit market debt as a ratio of GDP, Reagan's new trajectory is sharply visible. Public and private debt began a steep upward slope in 1981 and increased sharply every year through 2009 (then making a slight dip, but still being very close to the highs).

http://www.economagic.com/em-cgi/charter.exe/var/togdp-totalcreditdebt+1952+2011+0+1+1+290+545++0

Ever-increasing debt looks like prosperity, but isn't. Nor can it truly increase forever. A structural adjustment is inevitable which will reduce US consumption sharply. Just remember when it happens, we are merely going through the endgame of Reaganomics with its deregulation, tax cuts, debt, and unaffordable military spending.

spock

Posted Sat, Feb 12, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

A very good piece. Thank you Mr. Carlson and thank you for vigorously responding to commenters; you defend your beliefs effectively. I think I agree with Lifer that we do not yet perceive the entire effect of the Reagan Administration but it is clear to me that the recent USA high water mark of the late 1980s and the 1990s all grew out of Reagan's policies and that a new perception of how our country's economy could work arrived along with Reagan (with him as the chief spokesman). It is not clear to me that building an economy on endlessly increased consumption is desirable or even viable but I do not hear any big name Democrats arguing for the contrary view. For example, it does not seem that Mr. Obama has a different "transformative" vision. Without expressly saying so Obama is trying to reproduce those undeniably Reagan, halcyon years of 1985 to 2001.

kieth

Posted Sat, Feb 12, 9:42 p.m. Inappropriate

(jan) Obama was elected because he was a very promising counterpoint to Bush/Cheney and fear-mongering Republicans who started 'one' of our two mistaken wars that increased enmity toward America, ruined American economy, piled up a mountain of debt, (blame never going to republicans whose slight admissions of failure do not settle the matter of their disgrace to our country.)

Kingpin republicans, if you ask me, are at wsdot,jan. High on the republican list has to include washington state highway planner club men. Why can't Seattle get its plan down? Because the dbt is wrong.
Do NOT do it, amigos.

!!...M.I.K.E....I.S....R.I.G.H.T...!!

postscript:

Ol' Ronnie lit that deregulation candle in granny's bedroom and we all stood around like idiots and watched it burn down the house.
Anyone remember that?? — jmrolls.

Those who demand the most and produce the least tend to be republican. Gotta be some flaw in the gene pool that induces us to believe we earn our quality of life benefits individually as individualists.

Wells

Posted Sun, Feb 13, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Mr. Carlson, for the biggest Big Lie I've ever seen in Crosscut:

"But the old man had it right. Better days were ahead."

Better days for whom? Surely not for working Americans -- we who haven't had a real raise since 1973; we who are now abandoned as surplus humans no longer exploitable for profit; we who are the victims of the trickle-down (urinate-on-the-poor) Reagonomics that yet poison the darkness here beneath the ObamaBush.

To praise Ronald Reagan is to praise the traitorous zoo-keeper who maliciously opened the cages of an economic Jurassic Park and loosed the tyrannosaurs of capitalism to savage us all; to applaud Reagan is to applaud the Happy Face executioner who killed the American Dream and slew the American Experiment in constitutional democracy; to cheer him is to cheer the New Paradigm by which the United States has forever become the neo-feudal United Estates – absolute power and unlimited profit for the capitalist elite, total subjugation and genocidal poverty for all the rest of us.

Posted Sun, Feb 13, 6:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I guess the only question for the hyperbolic lorenbliss is this: If better days were not ahead for America after the mid-to late 70's, and if Reagan really was the "executioner who killed the American Dream", then kindly explain why poll after poll of American citizens shows Reagan to be the most popular president since that time.

Posted Sun, Feb 13, 7:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I think comparisons of President Reagan to President Obama are to be expected, given Obama's statement during the campaign that he hoped to be a transformational president like Reagan, and given that fact that, as Mr. Carlson points out, no politician since Reagan has been as widely admired. If one is a conservative looking to discredit Obama, best to use the gold standard (no pun intended) rather than the less popular icons of the Right who've enjoyed power since Reagan's presidency.

But as a means of providing insight to the effects of Obama's presidency on the country, I think the comparison with President Reagan isn't really helpful. When candidate Obama spoke of being like a Reagan, he was commenting of Reagan's transcendency. When Mr. Carlson or other Conservative writers compare the two, they are comparing each man's beliefs and the efficacy of having those beliefs adopted by the country as a whole. What both analyses miss, I think, is an examination of the times in which both politicians came to power.

President Reagan won the presidency at a time when the New Deal coalition had finally fallen apart. Much of Reagan's crucial support came from "Reagan Democrats," blue collar voters who had in the past supported Democratic economic initiatives but were alienated by the Party's liberal views on race, religion, and foreign policy, and had grown weary of high taxes to fund social programs. By that standard, President Obama is lacking: he has not attracted a similar, formerly-conservative voting bloc to his side. What's more, he probably never will, (but fortunately for me and my fellow Liberals, I don't think he'll need to in order to win reelection).

The better presidential analog for President Obama is President Nixon. Leave aside their personality differences for a moment, and think of the times. 1968 and 2008 were similar elections in that they were the first elections to start the process of returning America to the center. Democrats, and more importantly Liberal ideas, had control of the national dialog in the 1960's. In the same way, Republicans and Conservative ideas have dominated the national debate during the previous decade of the Oughts. Nixon was elected at the high water mark of the New Deal coalition, when, as Mr. Carlson points out, serious cracks started to emerge in the Liberal establishment. Thought it's not an exact comparison, I think the same type of dynamic is happening now. The planks that have made up the Conservative coalition are starting to show strain, whether one looks at social issues (especially gay rights-related issues), defense spending, and, most importantly in my mind, the hollowing-out of the Middle Class as productivity gains gets concentrated in ever-increasing amounts to the top 2%. I don't believe the Republican coalition that President Reagan put together starting in 1980 will be able to survive beyond this decade.

Both presidents Nixon and Obama had to make political compromises that were/are unpalatable to their bases. Remember that Nixon created the EPA, and proposed truly national healthcare and a minimum income--this from a mainstream Conservative in the late 60's and early 70's. Today, Obama compromises on keeping the Bush tax cuts in place, on maintaining the occupation in Afghanistan (and lesser extent, Iraq). He hires Wall Street execs for his cabinet and COS, and works to pass a watered-down health care plan that doesn't include a government option. Both men also received vitriolic, often irrational and intemperate opposition from the other side that limited their effectiveness to win over converts. It remains to be seen if Obama will win a second term--much depends on the nature of the GOP nomination process--but if they select the "Conservative McGovern," that certainly would help.

My guess is that our country will continue to move towards the center, but that the "Liberal Reagan," whoever he or she may eventually be, will have to await several more elections.

Posted Sun, Feb 13, 8:26 p.m. Inappropriate

It's kind of amusing that Mr. Carlson seems to feel that he must refute many of the comments made above. Most writers don't do that; they have their say in their articles, and then commenters have their say. It's as though he's not satisfied with what he said in the article but must keep talking. But it doesn't do any good.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Feb 13, 9:29 p.m. Inappropriate

My only interest, sarah90, is ensuring that the comments are held to the same standard of factual accuracy as the article. Sorry you took it personally.

Posted Mon, Feb 14, 12:19 a.m. Inappropriate

I would disagree with the assessment that Reagan's military buildup hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. In reality, it was the effort of the Saudi Arabia oil kingdom to drive down prices that destroyed the Soviet economy in conjunction with Russian oil production reaching its peak.

Per the book "Petrodollar warfare: oil, Iraq and the future of the dollar" by William R. Clark.

"A illustrated throughout Daniel Yergin's classic book, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, the pursuit of petroleum was a key strategic factor during world wars and the Cold War. Knowledgeable observers have suggested that the declines of domestic oil production likely played a much larger role in ending the Cold War than what is typically acknowledged. History suggests that Saudi-induced low oil priced during the mid-1980s, in conjunction with a natural decline in Russian oil production, contributed to the economic decline in the downfall of the Soviet Union. Strategically, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan accelerated their economic decline.

Recently declassified CIA documents suggested that such topics were carefully analyzed with regard to the anticipated peak in Russian oil production. In March 1977 a CIA intelligence memorandum, "The Impending Soviet Oil Crisis, " was issued by the Office of Economic Research and classified Secret. ... This memorandum predicted an impending peak in Soviet oil production "not later than the early 1980s. ... The unnamed authors of the CIA document proffered: "During the next decade, the USSR may well find itself not only unable to supply oil to Eastern Europe and the West on the present scale, but also having to compete for OPEC oil for its own use." ... "When oil production stops growing and perhaps even before, profound repercussions will be felt on the domestic economy of the USSR and on its international economic relations." Indeed, ten years after this memo was written, Russia reached peak oil production. Two years later, the Berlin Wall came crashing down, and the Cold War was finally over."

History though is often kind to the lucky. Should Carter have won, he likely as well could have taken credit for the demise of the Soviet Empire.

With Reagan in office, his Administration was more than willing to commit to costly defense programs of questionable military use which to this day represent the worst-form of corporate welfare.

During the campaign, Reagan slammed Carter for his effort to cancel the B-1 bomber. Carter though could not mention the super-secret activity launched under his administration to design the Stealth bomber. So when Reagan took office, he committed to building both the B-1B bomber (which was a dog of an airplane having been redesigned as a low-altitude subsonic bomber after technology advances had made the original supersonic design obsolete) AND the B-2 Stealth. In hindsight this was a poor decision since only 24 B-2 were ever built.

Furthermore, intelligence was hyped (in the same manner as the Saddam's WMDs) to suggest that the Soviet Union was developing a first-strike nuclear weapon capability. Thus Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) (aka Star Wars) was launched. Even after the collapse of the USSR, the US government continues to fund this dubious technology which consistently fails to meet technical milestones while at the same time manufacturing threats to justify its existence.

In addition, there was rapid expansion of conventional weapons. I still remember former Navy aviator Senator John McCain arguing AGAINST the Seawolf attack submarine as unnecessary pork barrel spending.

At this 100 year anniversary of Reagan's birth, we are witnessing the revisionist history associated with ideology. Carlson's piece is more of the same.

Posted Mon, Feb 14, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Carlson,

I may have a limited circle of acquaintances, but to a person, they view the end of the middle class of America starting with the Reagan Bust. I was unemployed for a year during his tenure. There were no jobs in the United States. Many people I know have never recovered, after 30 years! Yes, you may have been employed gainfully, but the producers, those who make something have never recovered. Many of us lay this at Reagan and his minions feet. You enjoy ridiculing the liberal elite, yet you are just as foolish in your pronouncements as those you ridicule, except that you are at the opposite end of the spectrum. And, thank God, Obama is not another Reagan!

Posted Tue, Feb 15, 12:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Unfortunately for all of us here below the salt, Obama -- Barack the Betrayer on my blog "Outside Agitator's Notebook" (lorenbliss.typepad.com) -- is indeed another Reaganoid: a closet Republican who won election by waving the false flag of "hope" and brandishing the Big Lie of "change we can believe in."

That the GOPorker noise machine now makes the DemocRats' trickle-down Reaganomic savagery seem "moderate" is merely part of the great deception that has replaced the American Experiment in constitutional democracy.

Posted Thu, Feb 17, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the specific ways in which Reagan damaged this country was that soon after his inauguration he deep-sixed a federal plan begun during the Carter years that would have helped people suffering from chronic mental illnesses live better lives: http://www.miwatch.org/2011/02/_ronald_reagan_and_mental.html

Another specific damaging cutback in which Reagan took pride was shrinking federal subsidies for building low-income housing. Reagan's policies "virtually ended all programs that directly add, through construction and substantial rehabilitation, to the stock of housing available to lower income households" (Hartman, 'America's Housing Crisis,' 1983). Today, the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a tiny fraction of what it was when Reagan took office.

With the depletion of federal funding for human services and affordable housing, homelessness has been on the rise for thirty years. The tattered short- and long-term consequences of the narrowmindedness of Reagan and his ideological followers about these and other problems are visible every day in the misery of those wandering our streets and other public spaces. The results of reducing federal spending, reducing social programs, and turning services over to an increasingly wealthy private sector are also visible in the shamefully long rows of zeroes following the dollar-sign incomes of the top 10% of Americans, who now own 90% of the nation's wealth, and of the top 1% of Americans, who now take home an incredible 23% of the total national income annually.

I'm greatly relieved to hear that President Obama is no President Reagan.

Posted Thu, Feb 17, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Hear, hear, Judy! Though I am willing to concede that the black-and-white thinking John Carlson is extolling has its uses. Sometimes saying, "us is us, and them is them, and who the hell cares about them?" increases our odds of surviving. Well, it's debatable, anyway.

Our best leaders have always been people who were capable of making tough, unpopular decisions but who never entirely lost their three-dimensional appreciation that the world is complex and that outcomes are always mixed, never just good or bad. In that sense I agree that Obama is no Reagan--and Reagan was no Obama.

Posted Thu, Feb 17, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually Carol, when it comes to foreign policy, Obama is certainly no Reagan, but he is arguably George W. Bush. The Iraq timetable is unchanged, we've doubled down in Afghanistan, drone strikes on targets in other countries are up, Gitmo remains open, and the most controverisal elements of the Patriot Act (roving wiretaps, library inspections, etc) are being renewed at the request of the President. Gee, where are all the rallies and protesters?

Posted Thu, Feb 17, 6:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Absolutely. Obama is also George W. Bush on federal tax policy, extending Bush's tax cuts (something it's unlikely McCain would have accomplished had he been elected).

spock

Posted Sun, Feb 20, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't think there is any question about whether Reagan was had major effects on our nation, that's why it was called "the Reagan Revolution." Whether they were good or not is hotly disputed.
As Robert Reich points out (http://robertreich.org/), Reagan and GW Bush tax cuts have vastly enriched the wealthiest Americans, while the vast bulk of Americans have seen no improvement in their pay for decades. Our society went along with these two presidents, which by changing the tax policy from that of the Republican president Eisenhower, who had a top tax rate on the very wealthiest of 91% (and a booming economy), to the present capital gains rate of 15%, changed our society to one with so little regulation of the financial sector that it almost wrecked our economy, and a rapidly increasing wealth and income disparity that is heading our country towards resembling a Latin American country. Latin America is notable for countries in which a few fabulously wealthy families own most of the country's wealth and have complete control of the government, while the vast majority are mired in endless poverty. That inequity, injustice and hopelessness creates anger is a tinderbox for revolutionary movements. That's where we're heading thanks to the leadership of Reagan and GW Bush. At the moment, the economy is recovering slowly, while the wealthiest are reaping fabulous profits in the stock market (the top 13 hedge managers took home an average of $1 billion a piece, and the top one took home $5 billion). The growth of our economy is going to the wealthiest, while the rest of us are stuck forever where we are. And the economy can't recover quickly, because the big money goes into the pockets of the fabulously wealthy, who can't spend most of it, not into the pockets of the vast majority of Americans, who would spend it quickly. Our economy is driven by consumer spending, and keeping the growth of the economy out of the hands of the average person makes it so the economy can't grow. A strongly progressive tax system with tax relief for the middle class paid for by higher taxes for the fabulously wealthy will greatly strengthen the economy. But so far the Republican Trojan horse lies like "trickle down" and "if you reduce taxes on the wealthy some day you'll be a millionaire" so far has bought off the public, who don't vote in their own best interest. Now the newly elected Republicans want to take it even farther to put more of your money into the hands of the wealthiest Americans, if you'll let them. See http://robertreich.org/ to see how they will do it. You want to have the USA be like a Latin American country, go for it.

DougF

Posted Tue, Apr 26, 4:16 p.m. Inappropriate

I am amazed by the person above who condemned Bush/Chainy and "the fear mongering Republicans who started foolish wars, made the rest of the world hate America, ruined the American economy and piled up an enormous mountain of debt." Sounds like a perfect description of Obama and the Democrats. Under the enlightened Democratic leadership of Obama we are now in a war with Libya (as well as with Iraq and Afghanistan), supporting the rebels whose leader is a former 5 year resident of GITMO and a top Al-Qaida operative. The world hates us even more today than it did 2 ½ years ago, only now they have no respect for us as our president grovels before the leaders of 3rd world nations apologizing for the United States. As for our economy, between insane bailouts, hobbling Big oil, subsidizing impractical green energy, and grossly increasing entitlements our economy is in real endanger of collapse. I kinda miss George Bush, heck, I can't believe I'm saying it, but I even miss Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan was a man who built his political beliefs over a lifetime of study and questioning. He was a man of principles, not of poles. He was a visionary who could inspire people with his vision because it was rooted in truth. He was a man who valued God, country and family. He understood that our constitution was a timeless document as relevant today as it was when it was written. Under Ronald Reagan the world respected the United States, and some, the ones who mattered, even loved us.

Gilgamesh

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