The anti-Reagan spin has begun. Here are the most notable half-truths and misleading statements about Reagan: (1) he abandoned his principles, became "pragmatic" about what could be done, then tried to achieve his goals; (2) he did nothing viz. AIDS; (3) he trebled the national debt; (4) Iran-Contra is a stain on his legacy; (5) he was a racist.
Here are some facts and rejoinders:
First, Jonah Goldberg appropriately rubbishes the idea that Reagan was a pragmatist:
To call the Gipper a pragmatist is to confuse ends and means so totally so as to lose any comprehension of the difference between the two. It's one thing to say, "I have got to get to California, but I'm pragmatic about the best way to get there: car, boat, plane, train, mule, whatever." It's another thing to say, "I don't care where I go." Reagan was no hamster on a treadmill, marking time, going nowhere, waiting for events to come to him.
The facts show that Reagan was an idealist -- he spoke of winning the Cold War in 1977, before four years of Carter harmed the US position even more; he believed in American exceptionalism; he championed freedom and his efforts led DIRECTLY to the emancipation of 350 million (or more) people in Eastern Europe.
Second, Reagan's AIDS record is a target of intentional distortion by AIDS activists. As Deroy Murdock shows, every Reagan budget from 1983 to 1989 contained at least a 43% increase in AIDS research from the previous year and AIDS was not identified until 1982. No other disease received as much research financing from the government during Reagan's tenure, even though cancer, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease were all greater killers by large orders of magnitude than AIDS. And Reagan was no homophobe. Here's Andrew Sullivan (who is gay) on Reagan and gays (emphasis added below):
His biographer, Lou Cannon, wrote that Reagan was "repelled by the aggressive public crusades against homosexual life styles which became a staple of right wing politics in the late 1970s." In 1978, Reagan put his career on the line opposing the Briggs Initiative in California that would have barred gay teachers from working in the public high school system. In an op-ed at the time, Reagan wrote: "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."
Third, Reagan did not write the budgets that he ultimately enacted. He sent budget proposals to Congress and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives (and that means liberal Speaker Tip O'Neill) added to those budgets because the House, by law, must initiate all spending and revenue bills. As the Wall Street Journal has shown time and again, under Reagan the government's revenue as a share of the GDP was consistent with its share under Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Ike and Truman -- around 18-19%. That means that as the economy grew, the government took in more and more revenue DESPITE the tax cuts Reagan passed. Why? Because people stopped hiding their money in tax shelters from the former 70% tax rate and invested it while accepting the 28-31% tax hit.
Fourth, Iran-Contra is not Watergate, not the equivalent of being fella--d by a 20-year old intern in the Oval Office, not even close. The goal to help the Contras was laudable -- because of Reagan's help, the Sandinista Communists ended up capitulating and allowing an election in Nicaragua. They were clobbered and Nicaragua and Central America are now non-communist. Here's John Podhoretz on Iranamok:
The core issue involved the Reagan administration's effort to keep an anti-communist guerrilla movement alive and fighting against the Soviet puppet state in Nicaragua.
At the time, people thought it was bad because they didn't believe communist regimes should be challenged. Instead, they believed such regimes should be accommodated, wooed, played footsie with. (John Kerry, this means you.)
Such people have had their views invalidated by history. It was the very fact that the United States under Ronald Reagan sought to face down the Soviet Union at every major pressure point that helped lead to the collapse of that horrifically evil physical and ideological empire.
So eager were some of Reagan's staffers to ensure that the funding for the Contras continued after a congressional cut-off that they came up with a crazy scheme to skim off some money from an arms sale designed to help free American hostages in Lebanon.
That was stupid and nuts, and the people who thought it up were stupid and nuts. They did immense damage to the cause they were trying to help along. The arms-for-hostages swap was perhaps the greatest blunder of the Reagan presidency. But that sort of thing was really upsetting only to Reagan's hard-line foreign-policy friends. The people who turned Iran-Contra into a first-class Washington brouhaha didn't like the Contra part.
Finally, the canard repeated by every liberal black "leader" in the past 25 years, that Reagan was a racist. In 1967 Reagan (governor of California) and RFK met in a town-hall type of proceeding, shown by CBS and broadcast on the BBC. The whole transcript is here. This is Reagan on America and race -- it's just not a racist sentiment, but it is Reagan's own statement:
I happen to believe that the greatest part of the problem lies in the hearts of men. I think that bigotry and prejudice is probably the worst of all man's ills [and] the hardest to correct... Now we've found it necessary to legislate, to make it more possible for government to exert its responsibility to guarantee those constitutional rights. At the same time, we have much more that can be done in the area of just human relationships. I happen to bridge a time span in which I was a radio sports announcer for major league sports in our country, in athletics, many years ago. At that time the great American game of baseball had a rulebook whose opening line was: "Baseball is a game for Caucasian gentlemen." And up until that time, up until World War II, there'd never been a Negro play in organized major league or minor league baseball in America. And one man defied that rule--a man named Branch Rickey of one of the major league teams, and today baseball is far better off and our country is far better off because he destroyed that by handpicking one man and putting him on his baseball team, and the rule disappeared. Now I don't say this is the only answer, but we must use both, and I think the people in positions like ourselves like the Senator and myself, like the President of the United States, can do a great deal of good, perhaps almost as much as proper legislation, if we take the lead in saying those who operate their businesses or their lives on a basis of practicing discrimination and prejudice are practicing what is an evil sickness. And that we would not knowingly patronize a business that did such a thing, and we urge all right-thinking people to join us and not patronize that business. Soon we will make those who live by prejudice learn that they stand alone . . .
Ultimately, I don't care about Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather's Reagan fatigue (Peter Jennings probably had it shortly after Reagan passed away). For all their outward patriotism, they should smarten up and realize that not only was Reagan the best president they could have voted for (and didn't), but he was the best leader of the second-half of the 20th century. That calls for tribute.