Some liberal bloggers are concerned that lefties not be seen as “gloating” over Reagan’s death. I agree that it would be inappropriate to gloat over the death of a 93 year old man with Alzheimer’s, if anyone were inclined to do so. But I don’t think anyone should shy away from a realistic appraisal of the man’s legacy particularly right now, when the tributes are being given and the past is acquiring its gauzy haze. Those were not good years.
…as Timothy Noah reminds us:
But the only hot war waged during the Reagan administration was to remove a comic-opera Marxist government from the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The United States retreated from Lebanon after a suicide bomber killed more than 200 American soldiers. It is seldom observed that Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds, which George W. Bush rightly denounced prior to the Iraq war, occurred on Reagan’s watch. In 1984, when the Reagan administration got its first inkling that Iraq was engaged in chemical warfare, it chose not to make a fuss. The most ambitious foreign intervention during the Reagan administration the funnelling of aid to the Nicaraguan contras was done illegally, and, after it was discovered, embroiled Reagan’s second term in a scandal from which it never recovered.
Reagan can probably claim some credit for ending the Cold War, but his principal weapon, characteristically, was spending the Soviets bankrupted themselves trying to keep up with the Pentagon’s weapons-buying binge through the 1980s. Reagan’s greatest achievement in foreign affairs was therefore linked to his greatest achievement in domestic affairs. He taught Republicans that they could be even less responsible than Democrats.
…The deficit, which stood at $74 billion in Carter’s final year, ballooned to $155 billion in Reagan’s final year. In the words of Vice President Dick Cheney, “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.”
Today, what does it mean to be a Republican? It means you can cut taxes indiscriminately and needn’t worry about the debt you’re piling up. It certainly doesn’t mean that you want to shrink the federal government. Indeed, government spending under George W. Bush has increased faster than it did under Bill Clinton. Before Reagan, pandering was principally a Democratic vice. Today, it’s principally a Republican vice. Ronald Reagan performed that transformation, and it remains his most enduring legacy.