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Friday, November 20, 2009

Ronald Reagan's Greatest Disappointment

By: Ryan Jaroncyk, THL Contributor

Since 2007, the GOP has been prolifically citing President Ronald Reagan as its primary source of inspiration.

In 2007-2008, the presidential candidates mentioned Reagan a dizzying number of times in the debates, and popular conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity frequently appeal to him as the standard bearer of the Republican Party.

Reagan is viewed as the epitome of conservatism, a man whose tax cuts produced a veritable economic boom in the 1980s, whose foreign policy defeated the mighty Soviets, and whose philosophy of limited government, individual responsibility, and traditional family values shaped a nation.

While Reagan's reputation is unmatched in the conservative community, perhaps we should take a closer look at what he himself called his "greatest disappointment." For even great men make mistakes.

According to a Cato Institute analysis back in 1996, Reagan's fiscal policies generated a significant number of positive developments. GDP growth averaged 3.2% during his tenure, compared to 2.8% during the Ford-Carter years and 2.1% during the Bush I-Clinton years.

Real median family income rose by $4,000 during the Reagan years, while it remained static pre-Reagan, and fell by almost $1,500 post-Reagan. Interest rates, inflation, and unemployment fell faster under President Reagan than they did immediately before or immediately after his presidency.

Finally, the stock market rose by about 14% under his tenure. That's the good news. Now, here's the bad news.

Under Reagan, and a largely Republican Senate and Democratic House, budget deficits and national debt skyrocketed. During his presidency, the budget deficit ranged anywhere from $101 to $236 billion. Compare this with President Jimmy Carter, whose deficits ranged between $40-$74 billion.

On Reagan's watch, the national debt more than doubled, from about $1 trillion to a little over $2 trillion, in real terms. Federal spending grew by 22% in real terms, with military spending accounting for most of the increase. And finally, the US Dollar lost about 6% of its value.

So, as "conservatives" channel the Great Communicator as a catalyst for a GOP rebirth, perhaps they should reconsider. Does the GOP need another leader who increases federal spending, runs huge deficits, adds trillions to the national debt, and devalues the Dollar?

Didn't the GOP just go this route with George W. Bush? Bush, like Reagan, was a champion of tax cuts and limited government, yet he increased federal spending, ran huge deficits, added trillions to the national debt, and devalued the Dollar.

Perhaps the GOP needs to take a fresh approach as it chooses its next leader. How about a leader (or leaders) who champions tax cuts and limited government, AND reduces federal spending, balances the budget, lowers the debt, and increases the value of the Dollar?

How about a leader who can defend America without growing the size of government and exploding the size of the military budget? If the GOP is going to rail against Obama's excessive spending, deficits, debt, and Dollar devaluation, then how can it unreservedly fawn over a past icon who committed many of the same fiscal mistakes?

Is it because Reagan's spending, deficits, debt, and Dollar devaluation were merely less egregious than Obama's? Until the standard is raised, and until this contradiction is addressed in an honest manner, the GOP will continue to suffer a credibility problem on fiscal matters.

Perhaps the time has come for the GOP to seek a new brand of leadership that can build on Reagan's strengths and rectify his weaknesses. After all, even Reagan acknowledged that the increase in the national debt was his "greatest disappointment."


  1. He was one of the greatest presidents in the history of US and probably the most loved and respected by people in 20-th century. And that's not just my opinion.

    Look what famous world leaders said about Ronald Reagan:

  2. Of course the deficit would rise when we were in the cold war; we were strengthening our defenses to protect our country. All I have to say is that both parties need to stop pointing the finger and saying..... What about him he started it (his deficit was bigger than mine, or you weren’t complaining when it was your guy spending the money). It sounds like my two 8 year old boys fighting. The party that stands up and says enough should get our vote.

  3. Anonymous, I am hearing that! The fact that the other party wrecked things doesn't excuse whichever party is currently in power for wrecking things.

    As for Reagan, it wasn't just defense spending that rose during his administration. Domestic entitlement spending and government projects grew by seriously unsettling amounts. He didn't use his veto nearly enough to keep government from growing.

  4. All that said, I'd still take Reagan and $101 to $236 deficits to what we have now.

  5. I agree. It is really important to remember though, that our choice isn't between big deficits or smaller deficits. Our choice isn't between Obama or Reagan. If we'd like, we can have someone even better and more principled than Reagan. We can have someone who will truly restrain the growth of government. As long as we think the choice is simply between a bad government and a less bad government- government will continue to get worse and worse.

  6. Government will always grow. No matter who we have in the White House, the government will always grow. Reagan was a great President because it didn't grow that much (The only thing that really grew was the military, which was expected considering we were trying to spend the soviets into the ground). There were no bailouts, "stimulus packages" (politically correct term for bailout), nationalizing buisnesses etc. etc. blah blah blah.

    had we not been in the cold war, i doubt the deficit would've been that big. reagan, i truely believe, had a good (enough) excuse to spend (hey, it beats seeing a communist empire) money and devalue our dollar. while our dollar was devalued because of the spending, the USSR collapsed, thus ending the cold war and possibly preventing any form of World War 3 from happening anytime soon.

    however, politicians today don't really have an excuse to increase our deficit, though. :( truely a tragedy.

  7. Please do some reading up on what happened under the Reagan Administration. Domestic spending grew drastically. Yes there was a bailout (of the banking industry, if you would believe it) during his administration.

    He also raised taxes over the course of his administration, reversing the round of tax cuts at the beginning of it. He did this to pay for saving Social Security (instead of dismantling it at our country's best opportunity to do so). He also allowed taxes to rise through inflationary bracket creep.

    And whatever the social democrats may say, Reagan heavily tightened Federal regulations and controls on our economy and personal lives.


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