Saint Reagan Really Wasn’t Even a Good President

Saint Reagan 2There is recently yet another round of right-wing lionization of Saint Ronald of Reagan going on as we speak. (No, I will not tell you where it’s happening. It’s not worth the pain and suffering.) It’s puzzling, really. Not only do they lie about the few decent things he did and pretend he was just like them, they also largely ignore the fact that he was a really terrible president. Horrible. It would be hard to come up with many that were worse. Definitely Bush. And probably Hoover. Maybe Nixon.

What did Saint Reagan do to become such an idol? Republicans talk about him like he was a demigod whose name should be spoken with reverence, with heads bowed and hands folded in prayer. Even some lefties – especially professional lefties who used to be Republicans, and there are a lot of them  — speak of him as if he was a breath of fresh air on a spring day.

He wasn’t. His rise marked the beginning of the second worst political period in our history. 

It’s time someone told the whole truth about Saint Reagan, starting with the fact that he was no saint. He was also an incompetent president, perhaps marginally more competent than Bush, Jr. The Reagan myths are so pervasive, even now, some pro lefties compare President Obama to him. But make no mistake; no comparison can be made between the two because Obama is actually competent.

Let’s look at some of the most persistent Reagan myths and correct them.

Ronald Reagan did NOT cut taxes for most people – Like George W. Bush, Reagan reduced taxes only on the very rich. Unlike George W. Bush, he actually raised them on the rest of us. When Reagan took office, the top tax rate was 50%. When he left, the top tax rate was 28%. Meanwhile, the middle class got screwed.

The Congressional Budget Office (“Congressional Study: Tax Progressivity and Income Distribution,” 26 March 1990. CIS#H782-11), demonstrates how effective tax rates changed for various families during the Reagan years.

Quintile 1980 1985 1990 % Change – 1980-1990
Lowest 20% 8.4 10.6 9.7 16.1
Second 20% 15.7 16.1 16.7 6
Third 20% 20 19.3 20.3 1.2
Fourth 20% 23 21.7 22.5 -2.2
Highest 20% 27.3 24 25.8 -5.5
Top 1% 31.8 24.9 27.2 -14.4

With the Tax “Reform” Act of 1986, everyone’s income taxes went down slightly. Unfortunately, payroll taxes skyrocketed, and the income tax cuts didn’t come close to offsetting that. The initial intent of this tax “reform,” which was proposed by Democrat Bill Bradley, was to make the tax code simpler and fairer. We got the “simpler,” to a certain extent, but the “fairer” never happened. This is the effective income (NOT payroll) tax rate, when Reagan oversaw tax “reform:”

Income Bracket Size of Tax Cut Savings per Tax Return
Under $10,000 11% $37
10-20,000 6 69
20-30,000 11 300
30-40,000 11 467
40-50,000 16 1,000
50-75,000 16 1,523
75-100,000 18 3,034
100-200,000 22 7,203
200-500,000 27 24,603
500,000 – 1 million 34 86,084
1 million+ 31 281,033

Really, what were you going to do with an extra $69 if you were making $20,000 per year, even back then? To his credit, Reagan did expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped the poor, but while the poor got a few extra bucks, the middle class got enough to pay for a couple months of cable tv.

Which leads us to another Reagan myth:

Supply-side economics did NOT increase revenues under Ronald Reagan – Reagan’s initial tax cuts for the rich were based on the concept of “supply-side economics,” or “trickle-down.” This theory suggests that the less taxes everyone pays, the more they will spend to create jobs and income opportunities for everyone else.

Unfortunately, this only works when it comes to people with little or no disposable income. The family in the chart above making $30-40,000 per year would likely use their $467 to make a mortgage payment, or perhaps put a down payment on a car, or pay some utility bills, all of which bring economic benefit to many. But the millionaire family saving $281,033 won’t likely “create jobs” with it. In fact; they’re more likely to buy Treasury Bonds and finance the debt Republicans create with this nonsense. Look at the numbers. This is the revenue our Treasury took in during each year of the Reagan era (The “Constant” figures are in 1987 dollars):

FY Actual Constant
1980 517.1 728.1
1981 599.3 766.6
1982 617.8 738.2
1983 600.6 684.3
1984 666.6 730.4
1985 734.1 776.6
1986 769.1 790
1987 854.1 854.1
1988 909 877.3
1989 990.7 916.2
1990 1031.3 914.1

As you can see, in inflation-adjusted dollars revenues didn’t increase significantly until Reagan raised taxes on most of us in 1986.

Which leads us to te next Reagan myth:

There was NO economic boom under Saint Reagan – The average unemployment rate in 1980 was 7.2%, and skyrocketed to 11% by 1982.  The unemployment rate was actually 7.4% when Reagan was reelected in a landslide in 1984. Unemployment didn’t actually drop below 7% until he raised taxes for most people in 1986. The lowest unemployment rate during his presidency was 5.2% in January 1989, as he was leaving office. Not bad, but there’s a good bt Obama will top that, even with Republican obstruction. Of course, Reagan Republicans tried to con us into believing 5% constituted “full employment,” which was absurd, given that we were less than 20 years removed from 3% unemployment.

Saint Reagan’s job numbers rank as the third-worst among the 11 post-war presidents. His job creation numbers were barely ahead of both Bushes who were the worst. The number of jobs grew by 2.1% per year under Reagan; about half the job growth rate under Eisenhower, just over half the rate under Johnson and Clinton, and a full percentage point below the job growth rate under Jimmy Carter, whom Reagan’s most fervent followers pretend is the worst president ever. Saint Reagan also deserves no credit for getting a handle on inflation. Carter and Paul Volcker started that process. Yes, folks, It was Carter who hired Volcker, not Reagan. In fact, Reagan essentially “fired” Volcker by denying him a third term, and put Alan Greenspan in charge. Wasn’t that a great move?

Reagan wasn’t even great for business. According to figures by Dun & Bradstreet, the number of failed businesses soared under Reagan, and was more than FOUR TIMES anything seen while Carter was president.

Year # Failures Rate
1970 10,748 44
1975 11,432 43
1980 11,742 42
1981 16,794 61
1982 24,908 88
1983 31,334 110
1984 52,078 107
1985 57,078 115
1986 61,116 120
1987 61,111 102
1988 57,098 98
1989 50,361 65
1990 60,747 74

When Saint Reagan was president, we experienced historically high unemployment, job creation numbers that are barely better than either Bush, and a record number of business failures. In what way is that a boom? This is when we started to lose the middle class. This is also when te government reverted to shipping our jobs overseas. The following chart demonstrates how much incomes grew during the post-war period, and how much they stopped growing once Reagan took over:

Quintile 1950-1978 1979-1993
Lowest 20% 138% -15%
Second 20% 98 -7
Third 20% 106 -3
Fourth 20% 111 5
Highest 20% 99 18

Saint Reagan did NOT reduce the size of government – While Reagan slashed and burned nearly every program designed to help the poor and working class, the enormous increases in “Defense” spending more than offset the cuts and, as noted, his tax cuts also reduced revenues. The federal government was actually about 25% larger in 1989 than when Reagan took office in 1981. The federal civilian workforce actually grew from 2.8 million to 3 million during the Reagan years.

Saint ReaganWhile Saint Reagan’s admirers talk big about “limited government,” but their hero didn’t live by that concept. As a percent of GDP, federal government spending increased from 33.8% in FY 1981, Carter’s last budget, to 34.9% in 1989, Reagan’s last. Spending topped 35% of GDP five times and, overall, . federal government spending under Reagan increased by 80%.

Saint Reagan is responsible for starting the “culture of debt” mentality that dominates the GOP these days – From 1946 through 1980, when Democrats ran the show, the national debt shrunk from 120% of GDP to just under 33% of GDP.  During the Reagan years, the debt tripled in raw numbers, and constituted 56% of GDP by the time he left office. In dollars, the debt was 650% higher when he left than when he was elected.

Reagan was NOT a “nice guy” as president – This one makes me crazy, because even progressives say it as if it’s fact. Based on his record, as president he was downright mean to the poor and working classes. He slashed most government job training programs, including the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA, a direct descendant of the Works Progress Administration and an essential part of the New Deal. Many programs were dumped or gutted financially. He and the GOP also made severe cuts to AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). In constant 1987 dollars, the average AFDC payment per family dropped from $367 in 1981 to $276 in 1989. Also, the average Food Stamp benefit was $45 per person in 1981 and $46 in 1989.. Saint Reagan is also the only post-war president who failed to propose or sign a minimum wage increase. Even Dubya signed one of those.

His treatment of Air Traffic Controllers set the stage for a wholesale dismantling of trade unions during the 1980s than continues to this day, resulting in depressed wages for most people. In fact, Reagan (who was, ironically, a former union leader) went far beyond PATCO when it came to undermining unions in this country. His nominees to the NLRB were so bad that a House subcommittee found they had abandoned their oversight responsibilities in what they referred to as “a betrayal of American workers.” In eight years, Reagan’s NLRB settled half as many complaints as Carter’s had in four, and they sided with employers in three-quarters of cases. By comparison, even Nixon’s NRLB only sided with employers a third of the time.

Reagan did not “support and defend the Constitution,” he undermined it – There has been a trend during the last 30 years to place government power ahead of individual liberty, and you can thank Saint Reagan for that mindset. Reagan didn’t care about your personal freedoms, and it showed.

Take the “Drug War,” which accelerated under Reagan. The circumvention of individual rights in a vain attempt to keep drugs away from people and vice versa is Reagan’s legacy. Making drugs illegal and using draconian means to find them has made criminals filthy rich and turned average people into criminals, and Reagan led the charge. Saint Reagan led the drive to implement mandatory sentencing laws, while doing little or nothing about those who actually imported the drugs and made billions from them. It was under Saint Reagan’s Justice Department that profiling proliferated. Black men who were happily driving their luxury cars on major highways were being stopped because they were assumed to be drug dealers. Meanwhile, the clean-cut white kid with the buzz cut and the old, beat-up Honda could drive by with a few hundred pounds hidden under the back seat.

It was under Reagan that police were encouraged to be corrupt. Basically, if they “suspected” someone of being a drug dealer, they got to keep whatever cash was confiscated, and it was up to the accused to go to court and demand his money back. On Reagan’s watch, it became a crime for anyone to pay cash for an airline ticket or to carry cash onto a plane and they were essentially guilty until proven innocent.

By the way, you know that I-9 form you have to fill out every time you get a job? Reagan. Thank Saint Reagan for having to prove you’re NOT here illegally to get a job.

Ronald Reagan’s energy policies are why we’re screwed now — When Saint Reagan took office, the energy policies in place were reducing our personal fossil fuel use by 5% per year. That meant a net decrease in our dependence on foreign oil. There was also massive investment in alternative fuels and clean energy. But Saint Reagan ditched them all. The short term effects were to drive gasoline prices to record lows for a few years, but the long term effects were to encourage the use of gas guzzlers and to abandon our research into oil replacements.

Look at all of this. Saint Reagan was a disaster as president. I didn’t even get into the criminals in his Administration or Iran-Contra, in which he armed both sides of the Iran-Iraq War and used the money to fund nun rapists in Central America…

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