Ronald Reagan’s Real Legacy
(This article last revised 4-11-2014)
In 1980, before Reaganism took hold in America, there were 13 American Billionaires. Now there are more than 460 Multi-Billionaires and they hold most of the nation's wealth.
Under Reaganism the once great middle class has steadily shrunk, the working poor population keeps growing, and more and more people suffer from poverty, hunger, and homelessness. And those are only a few of the many indicators that reveal the real legacy of Reaganism.
Reaganism was cleverly sold to America by putting its focus on "restoring American pride." However, the truth is that it was established to prop up a failing political economic system.
The fact is that one of the indicators that a government is failing its people is when it refuses to establish fairness, equity and justice for all the people. Instead, a failing government simply establishes a new world view and demonizes its critics. It also establishes a more rigid and harsh criminal justice system, enlarges and strengthens its police forces, and builds bigger and more punitive prisons.
That's what exactly what the U.S. Government has done, particularly since 1982 and during the last 32 years, while at the same time enabling the wealthiest few to establish an even more unfair, more inequitable, and more unjust political and economic system.
Unfortunately, most Americans are not aware of that, and they don't realize that we suffer from the impact and legacy of Reaganism. Instead, many Americans still think of Ronald Reagan as good. In fact, his image has been so carefully and successfully crafted during the last 32 years that many Americans think he was the greatest U.S. president. But, even though he was a very charming man and good in certain respects, if you examine his real record and his actual legacy, you can see that the image is very misleading, to say the very least.
Reagan's image was very carefully and successfully crafted to appear very patriotic, religious, and in the interest of all Americans, and that image was maintained and even more deliberately enhanced after he left office. (In fact, that is why Bill Clinton had to abandon and betray traditional Democratic New Deal values and instead lean to the right out of political expediency in order to become president in 1993. And it is why he collaborated with Reaganite Republicans on the heartless but so-called "Welfare Reform Act" of 1996, for instance, which has proven disastrous in many ways that most Americans are unaware of.)
Reagan's image, however, was misleading and even false, and it was designed from the very beginning to both disguise his real political economic corporate agenda, and to demonize and marginalize all those who were and are judged negatively by corporations, banks and financial institutions and other political and economic power brokers.
These facts have become increasingly apparent to astute and fair political scholars, economists and historians. But, the general public is still very unaware of that, because even though Reagan's real record and legacy has increasingly proven to be not what it was sold as, those who created and/or have benefited immensely from Reaganism and Reaganomics have done everything they can to preserve and enhance Reagan's image, and perpetuate Reaganism.
They want Americans to think Ronald Reagan was a far greater president than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, despite the fact that the historic record shows very clearly that Roosevelt's legacy is that he actually saved the nation from the forces of greed and self-interest and made America and its middle class great, while Reagan’s legacy is quite the opposite.
In fact, because Reaganism and Reaganomics have essentially ruled since 1982, part of Reagan's legacy is that the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans now own 95 percent of the nations wealth, and the wealthiest one percent own most of that.
The historic facts and the statistics regarding America's economic, political and social conditions reveal that the actual agenda of Reaganism and Reaganomics has served and still serves the interests of banks, big corporations and the wealthiest few, not the interests of the American people as a whole nation.
That is why more than 20 percent of American children live in poverty; why the wealthiest few keep getting richer while the median (average) household income keeps falling; why the incomes of the richest 20 percent of the population grew by 30 percent during recent decades while the incomes of the lowest paid 20 percent of us declined by more than 20 percent in the same time period; and why the buying power of the minimum wage has steadily and significantly declined.
Furthermore, one of the main reasons rich Reaganite Democrats and Republicans have been able to get away with that is because of the Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity," which claims that the rich are blessed and the poor deserve to be poor -- which actually turns Christianity up-side-down.
Therefore, it is time that the real truth be brought to light, so that Americans may finally learn the historic facts about Ronald Reagan. Otherwise, his name will continue to be invoked by those who serve the wealthiest few, and the image and the myths they have created about him will continue to be used to justify legislation and policies that have made the rich incredibly richer, caused the middle class to shrink, the working poor population to grow, the poor to suffer more, and enable the wealthiest few to totally rule.
Why It was So Easy to Sell America On Reaganism
The problem was, and still is, that such an ideology, due to the collusion of leaders of the "religious right," actually turned Christianity up-side-down. That is discussed and explained in the articles on The Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity," Why the "Religious Right" Is Wrong, About Christianity, and Poverty: America's Greatest Shame, which reveal exactly how and why the Reaganite ideology is opposite to what Jesus of Nazareth taught about the rich and the poor.
Unfortunately, the Reaganite ideology, or Reaganism, has not only become thoroughly entrenched in America. It continues to be sold, especially by Republicans, Libertarians and Tea Party members.
It is exemplified by people like one of the richest men in America, Charles Koch. He was raised rich and his father Fred (who was one of the founders of the ultra-right wing John Birch Society and was one of the early Libertarians) made his fortune in oil refineries. And since Charles Koch and his brother David Koch are among the richest men in America, and since Charles has managed to rake in a personal fortune of about $34 Billion, it is appropriate that we understand how he reflects the Reaganite mentality.
You see, one of the reasons Ronald Reagan gained the presidency was by claiming that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal human services and social security insurance programs had produced a "welfare state," and Reagan even fabricated a phony story about a "Welfare Queen" who was living high on "government handouts." Thus with misleading a deceptive propaganda Reagan was able to demonize poor people who needed help, and he managed to instill a misleading perception that has persisted to this day, perpetuated by extreme right-wing ideologues like Charles Koch.
Koch has recently said: "We want to do a better job of raising up the disadvantaged and the poorest in this country," because government officials "keep throwing obstacles in their way."
Koch wants us to believe he is compassionate and cares for the poor. However, he exposes his real motive because he would like us to believe that the obstacles are not caused by outsourcing and the offshoring of middle-class jobs, or by union busting, or by insufficient wages doled out by unfair employers who exploit vulnerable and powerless workers. And of course Koch doesn’t blame poorly funded schools, unaffordable health care, or the lack of affordable housing or child care.
No, amazingly, Koch claims the obstacle is "the minimum wage," because he claims it “reduces the mobility of labor."
What does that mean? Well, the “mobility of labor” is a code word the Reaganites and Libertarians have come up with, and its purpose is to disguise their attempt to destroy President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs (like Social Security) and all other human services provided by government -- all in an effort to lower their taxes even more (as if they can't afford to pay their fair share of taxes).
You see, according to the Reaganite Republicans and Libertarians, government should not promote the general welfare, as the Founders of America declared it should!
According to Koch, one of the richest and most powerful Reaganites, if disadvantaged poor people had no protections in the workplace and no government programs to help them, they would then have to try harder just to live, and they would then be “freed them from reliance on government handouts.” Koch says they could then be “free” to become successful and prosperous.
Koch blatantly parrots the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, who said "Government is the problem" and that the poor are "just lazy and dependent." But obviously Koch, like Reagan, ignores how many millions of senior citizens have been and are being lifted out of poverty by Medicare and Social Security. He ignores the generations of middle-class Americans who have prospered because certain conscientious, compassionate American leaders invested in their nation, in the infrastructure, and in the people.
Koch also ignores that almost all Americans learned to read and write, learn about history, civics and liberal arts, and even pursue higher education because of caring teachers in public schools. And he ignores all the young American veterans who went to college on the GI Bill after World War II, helping their families and their nation enjoy decades of prosperity in the process.
The truth is that Koch’s Reaganite self-delusion and attempt to deceive us is typical of right-wing millionaires and billionaires who are greedy and selfish -- unlike many very wealthy but liberal and progressive people who are very deserving of their wealth due to their talents, skills and hard work, and use their for the benefit of the earth and all humanity.
Another example of a greedy, deluded Reaganite is Andy Kessler, a rich former hedge-fund operator who claims he has developed a plan to solve homelessness by closing food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Kessler uses the same “logic” as Koch to support his cold, heartless claim.
In an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, Kessler claimed that the homeless problem is caused or made worse by "all this volunteering and charitable giving" by "do-gooders." Kessler parrots Ronald Reagan who claimed the poor are "coddled,"and he claims that homeless people ought to be working but they're not "because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them."
Claims like these are part of Reagan's legacy, and it is insidious. It has infected many conservative Americans and caused them to be cold, heartless, and even hateful.
However, Koch and Kessler, like Reagan and all the following Reaganites, simply ignore the fact that the Judeo-Christian ethic is a mandate to feed and clothe the needy and poor, and to refrain from being greedy and desiring unjust gain. The greedy hypocrites simply do the opposite and even ignore America's Founders' mandate for government to promote the general welfare.
They think they have that covered, though, since the Reaganite “Gospel of Prosperity,” which was concocted by Reagan in collusion with right-wing televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, enabled Reagan to essentially preach that the rich are blessed and the poor deserve their lot because they are simply “lazy” and not “self-reliant.”
To be fair, though, it should be said that as President Ronald Reagan did some good things in his second term. In fact, then he even said some things that sounded a little more compassionate, more reasonable, and a little more productive.
For example, in 1985 in his second term Reagan made a speech in which he said bus drivers should not have to pay 10 percent of their income in taxes while millionaires often got away with paying nothing in taxes. That was true, as it still is. That is why for awhile President Obama used words almost identical to the words Reagan used in that speech to try to help Americans understand that some corporations and some of the wealthiest few pay nothing in taxes, and most are simply not paying their fair share of taxes.
The tragedy is that Reagan didn't really mean what he said. It was merely a token speech, no doubt given to try to quell the critics who had pointed out that his policies hurt workers, union members, the working poor and the poor, and instead favored the rich. But, Ronald Reagan was great on camera and was a very charming and smooth television pitch man. And that speech Reagan gave in 1985 was very effective in quelling Reagan's critics at the time.
Nevertheless, President Obama has used Reagan's words purposely, knowing that Republican critics who often invoke Reagan's name have been criticizing President Obama for saying exactly what Reagan said in that speech. Obama subtly reminded them that what they don't want to hear was actually said by their political idol, Ronald Reagan. But virtually no one noticed.
Many conservative and traditional Americans loved Ronald Reagan, and many still do, because in some respects, the image of Ronald Reagan was genuine. He was a patriot, in a way, even though he only pretended to serve all the people. Indeed, in some very significant respects his image was a guise, so carefully crafted and groomed that even Reagan himself sincerely believed that he was his own man, and that he was not playing a role written by others.
Of course, Reaganites will vehemently deny that. However, when you learn his history you will see why, because Reagan was a convert, influenced by very wealthy, powerful corporate forces.
However, something began to happen to Reagan when he was 36 years old in 1947, and during the next ten years he went through a conversion in a couple of respects. One was that he was converted to "McCarthyism" and the views and ideology of right-wing extremists like Senator Joseph McCarthy, who waged dirty partisan political warfare and “black listed” many great and famous Americans, labeling them as “communists” or “socialists” even though they were merely conscientious humanitarians trying to inform people about injustice and inequity and advocate for social justice and equal rights and opportunities.
Reagan’s conversion was not merely the result of choosing the slanderous, offensive and dark side of McCarthyism, though. His conversion became even more pronounced as he was carefully groomed for a political career from 1954 to 1962 by top executives at General Electric Corporation. That was when Reagan was a television spokesman for the company on G.E. Theater, and when G.E. executives sent Reagan out across the country on speaking tours promoting anti-union, corporate friendly ideology.
Then from 1976 to 1980 Reagan's conversion became more pronounced, and in May 1976 Time magazine quoted Reagan as saying: “Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal.” And even later, in 1981, there was a New York Times article titled "Reagan says many New Dealers wanted fascism."
Then, not long after that William P. Hoar of the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society, in his 1985 book Architects of Conspiracy, wrote: "The economics of Fascist Italy were soon being imported into this country by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose C.C.C., W.P.A., PWA. and other Depression-era schemes proved so damaging."
Damaging? Quite the opposite. Roosevelt saved millions of people from poverty and improved the country. But right-wing corporate propaganda was deliberately designed to denigrate Roosevelt and his New Deal programs, which were in fact not damaging but saved the country from the consequences of all the greed and corruption that had almost destroyed the country before Roosevelt became president.
However, Reagan’s conversion was not really complete until the most crucial part of it occurred in 1979 and 1980 while he was campaigning for the presidency. That was when he was supported and influenced by the leaders of the "Religious Right" (like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) who justified Reagan's economic ideology by falsely claiming it was consistent with Christianity.
Now it is time to understand the truth about Ronald Reagan’s image because he had a very dark side, and it's important to be aware of because right-wing Republican and Libertarian extremists who love to invoke Reagan's name copy his dark side.
Reagan’s dark side was demonstrated mainly in his lack of empathy and compassion for the working poor, the poor and disadvantaged. But it was also in his hegemonic sense of American pride and superiority which he sold as conservative, religious and patriotic.
Reagan's "Gospel of Prosperity" actually revived the old Hamiltonian Federalist idea of 1800 of a "Christian Meritocracy," which claims that the wealthy are deserving and entitled to rule, especially if they profess to be Christians.
Furthermore, since Reagan had been extremely resentful of the free speech and anti-war movements and the general successes of the "New Left" of the 1960s and '70s, his collusion with the “religious right” enabled him to dismiss his progressive critics as being unpatriotic and even un-Christian -- because Falwell and Robertson were calling those critics "ungodly."
Reagan also promoted the idea that America had nothing to be ashamed of, even for what the U.S. Government had done in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia between 1963 and 1975. And, because Reagan was unrepentant and in denial, he established a precedent that all right-wing Republicans (like George W. Bush) have followed ever since.
The very unfortunate thing about it, though, and what must be stressed, is that while Reagan said exactly what right-wing wealthy and well-to-do Americans wanted to hear, his rhetoric, agenda and policies have ultimately proven to be to the detriment of the environment, the infrastructure, workers, labor unions, the middle class, the working poor, and the poor.
For example, regarding Reagan's and the Reaganite's war on labor unions, here is a video illustrating its impact.
Unfortunately, most Americans are unaware of the facts of the matter, because Reagan successfully sold the misleading corporate idea that labor unions were bad and greedy, and that corporations were good and beneficial. And many Americans still believe it, even though the opposite has proven true!
That is why now, since politicians in America have been using Reaganite tactics and invoking the name of Ronald Reagan trying to maintain or regain political power, it is important that the American people learn the truth about him — not about Reagan the man, personally, but about the agenda and legacy of Ronald Reagan in his role as corporate spokesman, partisan politician, governor, and president.
It is absolutely crucial that people understand that his agenda, like the agenda of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, served the interests of the wealthiest few, not the people or the country as a whole.
It is especially important now to understand that the agenda Reagan sold has nearly ruined America once again during the last 32 years -- as it did in the 1920s causing the economic crash of 1929.
What once made America great was Franklin D. Roosvelt's New Deal, which he made for the American people after the corrupt forces of greed and self-interest had nearly brought America to ruin between 1920 and 1931. That was because the corrupt wealthy people were motivated by the idea that the wealthiest people were entitled to rule, and that it was proper to regard their greed simply as "ambition."
Roosevelt saved the country from the consequences of all the greed and corruption, and he established much-needed reforms and regulations regarding the stock market, banking and corporations. And again, he also put millions of people to work and his policies and programs ended the Great Depression and ultimately made the middle class large and great.
Then along came Reagan in 1981, reviving the idea of "Christian Meritocracy" and Hamiltonian Federalism again. And, unfortunately, Reagan’s revival justified and motivated people driven by greed and self-interest, and it led to unchecked greed and corruption again.
Between the late 1990s and 2001 the impact of the greed and corruption that Reaganism enabled started to become very evident (remember the corporate scandals caused by Enron, Global Crossing, Adelphia, etc.). And since then we have learned that because Reaganite Republicans actually served the interests of a very wealthy few, who between 1982 and 2008 had created situations that inevitably led to the horrible economic crises and police-state-like atmosphere from which we now still suffer.
Reaganites, of course, have bought a fabricated and false image of Reagan that was very effectively sold. And, as you will see in Ronald Reagan's Real Record, he was able to sell America misleading and even deceptive propaganda because had been very carefully and cunningly groomed as a corporate spokesman. Aand he actually believed in the product he was selling -- which was himself and his corporate, partisan political ideology. He had been led to believe he was establishing patriotic, religious values, even though what he sold favored the wealthiest few at the expense of everyone and everything else.
That is why the image and myth of Ronald Reagan as hero must be shattered in order to America to progress. For one of the main reasons humanity is sharply divided is because Reaganites have feigned religiosity and "divine right" in order to gain or maintain personal power, wealth, and domain at the expense of others. And Ronald Reagan was their champion.
Now, though, because Republican and Libertarian politicians have been trying very hard to maintain and even enhance Reagan’s image, we should realize they do it for self-serving purposes. After all, it is to their political advantage if Americans think of Ronald Reagan as a great president, because it is to their politically advantage to invoke his name, and it makes it easy for them to perpetuate the Reaganite culture and policies, and carry out their corporate friendly political agenda to our detriment.
Roots of the Reaganite Political Ideology
Two of the greatest American presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, would have called Ronald Reagan an "Economic Royalist."
In Thomas Jefferson’s day, he was very much against the economic "Royalists" on the Hamiltonian wing of the Federalist party, because Hamilton pushed for a "Christian Meritocracy" (in violation of the Constitution), and he pushed the royal aristocratic European economic and corporate traditions, which made bankers and industrialists very rich at the expense of everyone else.
That is why Jefferson said: Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." He warned that unregulated banks could "deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless."
Unfortunately, the Hamiltonian view regarding economics prevailed over Jefferson’s, and banks and corporations flourished. They then caused problems, sporadically, and due the lack of proper regulation, they reached the point where in the 1920s they become exactly what Jefferson warned against.
In the 1920s Republicans had negated and reversed the progressive democratic reforms that had been made between the late 1800s and 1921. Instead, the Republicans enabled the forces of greed and self-interest to totally dominate and rule, which finally resulted in the economic collapse of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression.
That is why in the 1030s Franklin D. Roosevelt was very much against "Economic Royalists," because they were right-wing Republicans who were just like the Hamiltonians who Jefferson fought against. And as the son of man wrote in the 1980s (and was finally able to publish in 2002 in his first book, Real Prophecy Unveiled), from 1933 to 1945 President Roosevelt cleaned up the Republican mess, established needed reforms, regulations and safeguards, provided a New Deal for the American people, and enabled the average majority to enjoy living the American Dream.
However, there was something very ironic about Reagan. For as was mentioned earlier, even though as a politician he was against Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and was the same kind of "Economic Royalist" that Jefferson and Roosevelt fought against, until he was 36 years old Reagan had admired Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and policies.
More On the Political Conversion of Ronald Reagan
In the late 1940s and 1950s when Reagan turned his back on progressive reformers and instead identified with "Red-Baiting" Senator Joseph McCarthy and Senator Richard Nixon, slandering and accusing progressive reformers of being "communists" or "socialists," he went over to the dark side. But as is the case with many converts, Reagan believed he had seen the light.
What actually happened, though, was that Reagan had begun to listen to the rationalizations of very wealthy, cunning people. He had begun to see the wonderful advantages of wealth, and he had begun to see why the wealthy who influenced him thought of themselves not as greedy, but as ambitious and deserving.
Therefore, labeling conscientious, fair-minded people who stood up for the common man as "communists" seemed righteous to Reagan. He did not recognize that it was a very concocted and effective way of discrediting or silencing dissent or protest. It’s a tactic historians call "Red-Baiting" caused by the "Red Scare." But, in the 1950s is was actually the "Second Red Scare."
See, the "First Red Scare" was back in the 1920s, when the wealthiest few Americans were very afraid that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia would influence American workers to revolt too, and they suspected anyone who even talked about income disparity or the plight of the working poor. In America in the 1920s anyone trying to organize laborers and workers was held especially suspect by Republicans, and labeled as a communist.
That kind of fear was revived in the 1950s, along with the fears caused by the U.S. Cold War with the Soviet Union. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy and Republican Senator Richard Nixon were the most notable opportunists who took political advantage of it, and even made it worse.
But, there was another very vocal accuser in Hollywood. It was Ronald Reagan, who was at that time the President of the Screen Actors Guild. In that role, Reagan accused many people in Hollywood of being communists, many simply because they were New Deal Democrats following the ideals of Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Ronald Reagan had earlier.
The history of how and why Reagan’s legacy in politics as a governor and president turned out to be the exact opposite of Roosevelt’s is interesting, because we can look far back into American history to see the difference, and the conflict. It goes all the way back to the political conflict between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, which was revived between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. And history makes it very clear who actually served the great majority of the people and who served the wealthiest few at the expense of the majority.
Reagan, like Hamilton and Hoover, believed that people should be self-reliant; that government should not need to promote the general welfare; that private charitable organizations alone should provide help to those who need it; that government is best when it regulates least; that big businesses, corporations and banks should be free and unencumbered by government regulation and oversight; and that legislation and laws should enable the wealthy to get even wealthier without restraints, because their "earned" prosperity will naturally trickle down on those below and benefit the whole country.
Unfortunately, their Laissez Faire right-wing political ideology wrongly assumes that the wealthiest few and their large banks, businesses, corporations and insurance companies will operate honestly, ethically and fairly. But, the truth is that, given free rein, they usually do not actually earn their income honestly and fairly. They tend to put profit above all else, especially above honesty, ethics, and virtue.
Furthermore, private charitable organizations cannot possibly provide all the help that is needed. And as the Founders noted, government must "promote the general welfare."
That is why Progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, said the following:
“We are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Unfortunately, right-wing "conservative" Republicans have always done the opposite, from when they were Hamiltonian Federalists in 1800, to "prudent" Republicans in the 1920s (who caused the economic crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression), to Reaganite Republicans since 1981. Consequently, during the last 30 years we have seen the nation's wealth "trickle up" to the wealthiest one percent of the population who control the biggest banks, lending institutions and corporations.
Since Reaganism became firmly entrenched in American politics in 1982, the rich have increasingly gotten incredibly richer. After all, before Reaganism there were 13 Billionaires in the U.S., and by 2004 their number had increased to 313 Billionaires and now the number nears 400.
Furthermore, despite what the Reaganites still claim, it is no coincidence that while the wealthiest few have gotten so much richer, the middle class shrank, more and more Americans fell into the working poor population, and poverty, hunger and homelessness increased. (See the articles on Poverty: America’s Hidden Shame, and Ignored American History.)
The fact is that since Reaganism has dominated the political arena for three decades and persists even today, Americans have increasingly been experiencing the terrible consequences of greed and corruption, which began to be exposed in the 1990s, peaked in 2008, and still plagues us.
Many Americans do not yet see that because Reaganism was sold as being fiercely patriotic and religiously Christian, even though it was actually a deceptive, extremely right-wing partisan political strategy.
Many Americans were simply fooled by all the Reaganite flag waving and bible thumping, and they just did not see that the Reaganites actually served and enabled the wealthiest few and all the forces driven by greed and self-interest. And that is precisely why America now suffers from the consequences of uncontrolled, unbridled greed and corruption.
(For more facts about these issues, and to find out exactly why and how Reaganism and Reagan’s real record and legacy led to so much tragedy for so many people, see Ronald Reagan’s Real Legacy, Part 2.)