Shortly after the death of Ronald Reagan, there was a rush to recognize his popularity by a frenzy of naming just about everything in his honor. From the airport in the nation’s capital to an aircraft carrier to a remote missile testing range in the South Pacific, the Reagan moniker is as ubiquitous as ants at a barbecue. With the centennial of his birth arriving next February, expect another round of Reagan mania. There’s even a movement by Congressman Patrick McHenry to oust Ulysses Grant’s image on the fifty dollar bill and replace it with Reagan’s. (For the record, Grant was a genuine war hero, a Republican, and an early proponent of civil rights.) General Electric, which arguably launched Reagan’s acting career when they hired him as their corporate mouthpiece, is spending $10 million on promoting his centennial, even while GE’s stock value is at about one-third what it was when George W Bush was appointed to the presidency.
While Reagan was popular in his day, it has been, and continues to be, inappropriate to honor his presidency, which was mediocre at best. Conservatives continue to deify him and his failed “Reagonomics” fiscal policy, which is the root of a lot of today’s economic woes. His disdain for regulation and government in general led us to the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s, which until the Great Bush Recession was the biggest fiscal calamity since the Great Depression. While the Republicans decry government involvement, over $100 billion of taxpayer dollars was used to bail out the S&Ls – huge then, but a drop in the bucket by today’s standards.
Reagan’s lack of leadership and disdain for the rule of law were exemplified by the Iran-Contra affair. The illegal trading of arms for hostages resulted in several high-level Reagan appointees being indicted, some convicted, and most subsequently pardoned by Bush the Elder. His over-glorified missile defense (“Star Wars”) program and tax cuts for the wealthy contributed to the ever-increasing national debt.
Conservatives tend to ignore the facts of the Reagan years, but instead glorify his anti-government, anti-union mantra. Only the passage of the years will tell whether Reagan deserves the premature honors that have been bestowed – I suspect that his legacy will be one of missed opportunities and failed policies. But this matters little to his groupies. Now that the Gipper is no longer with us, they have latched on to another failed western state governor. It’s only a matter of time before they start lobbying to put Sarah Palin’s face on Mount Rushmore.