“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” ~Ronald Reagan
What a couple of weeks it has been in world politics. Here in the US, many conservatives were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan by publicly repeating the lies they tell themselves about him. Meanwhile, Egyptians were showing the world that removing a despot is best achieved not by force from the outside (the Bush method in Iraq) but by home-grown demands for change (the colonists’ method in America). Many of the same people who are trying to burnish Reagan’s legacy by propagating myths are also misrepresenting the Egyptian revolution for political gain here at home.
Let’s examine the real Ronald Reagan:
• Reagan was not a shoot-first, ask-questions-later hawk. Instead, as Joshua Green, writing for Washington Monthly, put it, Reagan was a “bellicose peacenik.” Reagan negotiated arms-reduction treaties with the Soviets. Reagan signed the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Torture. When a suicide bomber — an Iranian terrorist — killed 241 US Marines in Lebanon in 1983, Reagan did not retaliate with military force. Instead, he ordered the Marines to leave. If a Democrat had done the same, how fast do you think a “cut and run” label would have been attached to his legacy by the very people who venerate Reagan?
• Reagan was forgiving of illegal immigration. Reagan signed legislation that gave amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants. This column begins with a Reagan quote supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants that you don’t hear often from today’s right-wingers. What’s more, Reagan opposed a border fence between the US and Mexico. NPR reported that “… Reagan’s own diaries show the president found the idea of a militantly staffed border fence difficult to take. In a private meeting with then-President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico in 1979, Reagan wrote that he hoped to discuss how the United States and Mexico could make the border ‘something other than the location for a fence.’”
• Reagan did not reduce the size of the federal government. Reagan famously claimed that “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Talk is cheap — actions count. Reagan’s action: Increasing the number of federal workers from 2.8 million to three million. It took a Democrat, Bill Clinton, to reduce that number to lower-than-pre Reagan levels, 2.7 million federal workers. Reagan promised to dump two cabinet-level agencies — but didn’t — and instead added one.
• Reagan repeatedly raised taxes. The Washington Post reported that “The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was, at the time, the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history.” Reagan increased other taxes during his presidency, including gasoline, payroll and corporate taxes. The Post concluded that “While wealthy Americans benefitted from Reagan’s tax policies, blue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in.”
• Reagan dramatically increased the deficit. The New York Times noted that the US deficit “nearly tripled during the Reagan presidency.” It took a Democrat, Clinton, to turn Reagan’s deficit into a surplus. It took another Republican, George W. Bush, to turn that surplus back into a deficit.
• Reagan did not pursue a pro-life agenda. Although Reagan talked a great anti-abortion game, Green reported that “The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued” during Reagan’s two terms. Moreover, as California’s governor, Reagan signed 1967 legislation that greatly expanded Californians’ reproductive rights.
And now we come to the situation in Egypt. Many who want to use the still-unfolding events to advance a particular political agenda are playing fast and loose with the facts yet again. If they’re willing to lie to you about Reagan’s legacy, what else are they willing to lie to you about? And to what end?
Fact check your information sources. Use critical thinking skills to evaluate claims. It’s hard work, I know. But if more of us did that, the Reagan mythology would be scorned and the purveyors of lies intended to scare us into voting for a particular agenda would be looking for honest work.
“Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.” ~Ronald Reagan