Of the many complaints leveled against the Obama Administration in the past months, perhaps none is more emblematic of the conservative line than the opinion piece ‘What Would Reagan Do?” published in last week’s Campus Times.
According to the logic pushed forward by this argument, our country would be in far better shape if Obama stopped lallygagging around, started committing to real, helpful change, like lowering taxes to stimulate the economy and if he would stop wasting time and money on silly socialistic programs. If only Obama would rally the people around that platform, then surely our economy would reach new heights, our standing in the world would be raised and our national debt would be paid off. In short, if only Barack Obama was somehow the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, then we would reach the glorious prosperity last seen in the ’80s.
Such critics, while entirely free to express their opinions, would better spend their time reviewing recent American history. They say taxes should be as low as they were during the ’80s. In reality, from 1982 to 1986, during the height of Reagan’s presidency, there were 12 income tax brackets, the highest taking 50 percent and the lowest taking 12 percent. Under Obama, there are six income tax brackets, the highest taking only 35 percent and the lowest taking 10 percent.
During the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan administration did nothing, and his press secretary Larry Speakes literally laughed it off as some sort of ‘gay plague” in 1982. Reagan himself did not mention it until 1987, by which point AIDS was well on its way to becoming a major epidemic.
Or how about education in the ’80s? Budgets were cut, efforts to censor books tripled, and Reagan’s most significant action in regards to education was a misguided and pathetic endorsement of a constitutional amendment to permit school prayer. Perhaps some attention to social programs and domestic policy might have been helpful at the time.
Under Reagan, the economy, far from prospering, met a series of Titanic-sized disasters. In 1987, we had the Black Monday stock market crash and the Savings and Loans Crisis of 1986 lasting through 1991. These economic disasters could have been prevented by proper government regulation. Indeed, it is very likely that all of these disasters were caused by specific acts of deregulation during the Reagan Era. These acts allowed the destructive type of trading that caused the ’87 crash and allowed savings and loans companies to act like banks without the same regulations on banks.
As for our standing in the world, the ’80s turned out to be a prime time to absolutely destroy any respect that the rest of the world had for the U.S. From Grenada to the Iran-Contra affair, to our arms deals with Saddam Hussein so that he could fight the Iran-Iraq War, to our funding and supplying of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan who later became the Taliban, the Reagan Era was one endless foreign policy disaster after another. In fact, Reagan decided that he ‘would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran,” which meant supplying and arming Saddam Hussein.
Under Reagan, our national debt, which up until then had been in steady decline (as a percent of GDP) since World War II and was almost at pre-Great Depression levels, skyrocketed from 26.1 percent to 42 percent of our GDP. It did not decrease again until midway through Clinton’s presidency, ending in 2000 at 35.1 percent of GDP. As of 2009, the national debt is 54.6 percent of GDP, almost all of that caused by the same policies Reagan used.
During Reagan’s presidency, despite most of his tenure occurring during war and depression free years, Reagan ran up a deficit every single year. His absurdly wasteful spending has become so ingrained over the past 30 years that we have only had four years of budget surplus, all of them occurring in years that began with Clinton as president.
They say Reagan was a great man, that he sacrificed much for his country and that we would do well to find another man like him to lead us again. Looking at history, we can see that Reagan severely hurt America instead.
We should be thankful that the leader of the free world today is not in the mold of Ronald Reagan.
Billings is a member of
the class of 2013.