I suppose I’m exaggerating in my title. We’ve had some pretty awful presidents. Johnson comes to mind, Grant, others. So it’s a bit of a stretch to say he’s the worst president ever or even a particularly bad president. But where he was good he was very very good, and where he was bad he was terrible. So while Johnson was a vile and contemptible person, Nixon had obstruction of Justice, Reagan was the only president we’ve ever had that was guilty of treason. It’s a pity he was never brought to trial. If I was North, I’d have thrown Reagan under the bus so fast, but then I’d still be in prison so pick your battles. But Iran-Contra was external it happened to other countries, so I tend not to care as much. And Nixon only screwed up Republicans, I’m not sure that even counts as a crime. Reagan changed something pretty fundamental to the United States and slowly but surely the US has gotten worse. We’ve had our ups and downs and I’m a firm believer in America, I think we’ll eventually right the ship, but most of our troubles had their start right in the early 80s. I blame Reagan.
I’ll tell you why. Because he was the “Great Communicator”. It wasn’t a particular policy objective that did us in, it was something much more insidious. It was a change in attitude. Bush II ran as a compassionate conservative. Imagine a world were it is necessary to point out that your conservationism is a compassionate variety. Why was it necessary? Because Reagan was a compassion-less conservative. He made it cool. He made it popular. Hell, in 1984 he took half the democrats with him. He made it easy to blame groups of people instead of fixing institutional problems. Take our current union antipathy. It got it’s start with Reagan. Millions of people still believe unions are the problem in some nebulous fashion. Nope, but if we can punish unions enough like Reagan did when he was in office things might get better. Sadly they’re not the cause of our problems and attacking them won’t fix them.
Reaganomics certainly had something to do with the economic expansion in the 80s. Although, business cycles, international trade and monetary policies under Volker, and good old fashioned Keynesian stimulus probably had far more to do with it. But the important bit, the really key bit that people need to pay attention to is you can take your marginal income tax from 50 to 25, you can’t take another 25 points off the top. Won’t work and it won’t do anything but we keep trying. Tax cut!!! the solution to every problem. Perhaps this is the fault of incompetent politicians who have seized on one good idea and will never have another so long as they live.
Drugs are the problem! Classic 1980s belief. They’re so much of a threat that we need to declare a war on them. The 30 year war has been a disaster on all levels. Not only for us, but it’s actually destabilized half a dozen South and Central American states. Score one for the Gipper.
Got a foreign policy issue? a quick bombing run will fix it. Ludicrous by today’s standards but we’ve been trying to follow his example ever since.
Immigration! Actually Reagan was a good guy here, though he’s been excoriated ever since by conservatives. Oh well, there’s no pleasing everyone.
Poor People are the problem! Give a man a fish and he won’t care about fishing but will hound you to the end of your days stealing all your fish. Wrong. IT’s so bad we even have our own War on Poverty. Technically that’s LBJ’s creation, but Reagan did his best to martial troops for the other side. The infamous Welfare Queen myth comes directly from Reagan. From Reagan we derive our overt hostility towards the poor. They are diseased, they are infectious, they are crazy, they are uncurable. The only thing you can do to the poor is give money to the rich and hopefully they’ll know what to do with it.
Reagan took the “enlightenment” out of “enlightened self-interest”. He turned “conservative” into “selfish” and it never had to be that way. He made selfishness desirable. American. The plight of the poor is not a hopeless one. And in fact once we ignore the mythology that Reagan and those close to him created, we find that not only are the poor able to be helped, it’s cost effective to do so. Post Reagan compassion has become a Liberal virtue, and what we have found is that it is a most cost effective one. Reagan made the government the enemy when it is not. He inspired generations of people to treat the government with contempt and hostility. There’s a place for limited government values. But Reagan made it the only value a politician could embrace. It was dangerous and stupid. Ever since then we’ve been sliding into decay, becoming more poor, more angry, more hostile, more decisive.