Home National Politics Top 10 Ronald Reagan Myths

Top 10 Ronald Reagan Myths


This week, prepare yourself for a barrage of lies, myths, and outright historical revisionism (including by the Missing Village Idiot George Allen) about President Ronald Reagan, all on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Here are my personal Top 10, but it’s so easy to come up with these, I’m sure you can add a whole bunch of your own in the comments section.

1. Ronald Reagan was a tax cutter. Here’s former Republican Senator Alan Simpson (WY) on that subject.

Now, if we’re gonna work through the myths, and the misconceptions, and as one president said, the “plain damn lies”…some groups seem to bring up Ronald Reagan with a deserved reference…he was a dear friend and a total realist as to politics…But let’s just disengage ourselves from the myth that Ronald Reagan never raised taxes. He did. And here are four big ones

Simpson then ran through Reagan’s big tax increases in 1982 (“the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act,” which “at that time was the largest percentage in peacetime increase ever”); the “1982 gas tax increase;” the 1983 payroll tax increase; the “1984 deficit reduction tax;” the “Railroad Retirement Revenue Act, Consolidated Omnibus Budget of ’85;” and on and on. In fact, Reagan raised taxes “even of his eight years in office.” So sure, he cut taxes his first year in office, but other than that, he raised them – a lot! How much? “[B]lue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in.” So much for that myth.

2. Ronald Reagan shrunk the government. Uh, no.  In fact, “Federal spending grew by an average of 2.5 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, while Reagan was president.”  In addition, “The number of federal employees grew from 2.8 million to 3 million under Reagan, in large part because of his buildup at the Pentagon.” Also, Reagan “vastly expanded one of the largest federal domestic programs, Social Security.” And, just to top it off, “Reagan also abandoned a campaign pledge to get rid of two Cabinet agencies – Energy and Education – and added a new one, Veterans Affairs.” Another Reagan myth bites the dust.

3. Reagan was consistently “pro-gun.” Depends what you mean by “pro-gun,” of course. Does that include Reagan writing “Why I’m for the Brady Bill”? Also, does it include signing the Mulford Act (when he was governor of California), “prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one’s person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street?” The point here isn’t that Reagan was anti-guns, it’s that he favored sensible measures like waiting periods, background checks, and other measures to curb gun violence. Heresy!

4. Reagan never negotiated with terrorists. Clearly false, as the Reagan Administration traded arms for hostages repeatedly, not just with anyone but with the Iranian mullahs and ayatollahs. This goes beyond “myth” to outright lie.

5. Reagan was a “hawk”. Certainly false, see here for the gory details. Also, I’d add that Reagan offered to eliminate all U.S. ballistic nuclear missiles (to Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik).

6. Reagan certainly never “cut and run.” Well, not exactly. In Lebanon in early 1984, Reagan sent in the U.S. Marines, declaring (on February 3), “As long as there is a chance for peace, the mission remains the same. If we get out, that means the end of Lebanon.” Reagan also taunted Democratic House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, saying, “He may be ready to surrender, but I’m not.” The next day, Reagan vowed not to “cut and run” from Lebanon, adding that “If we do, we’ll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people.” Four days later, Reagan announced that he was pulling U.S. Marines out of Lebanon.” So much for not “cutting and running.”

7. Reagan was a particularly popular president. Actually, according to Gallup numbers, “Reagan’s average approval rating during the eight years that he was in office was nothing spectacular – 52.8 percent…the 40th president not just behind Kennedy, Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower, but also Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush.”  Also, we’ll see how it works out, but right now, Barack Obama’s at around 50% approval; at the same time in his presidency, Ronald Reagan was at 37% approval. Reagan’s popularity then recovered strongly, along with the U.S. economy, as is usually the case with presidents.

8. Reagan ended the Cold War. Give Reagan some credit, but that’s just not true. The fact is, the Cold War ended during the presidency of George HW Bush, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the breakup of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991. Also, of course, the U.S. policy of “containment” against the Soviet Union lasted from the end of World War II until 1991. What Republicans will argue is that Reagan shifted to a “roll-back” strategy, but other than continuing the CIA’s “Operation Cyclone operation — arming the Afghan mujahideen — which began during the Carter administration, it’s hard to see how the Reagan Administration’s policies did much to help push the internally rotting Soviet Union over the edge. Still, let’s give the Reagan Administration credit for continuing the pressure on the Soviet Union begun by Harry Truman, and carried on through Republican and Democratic administrations alike during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. How any of that translates into “Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War,” just because he dramatically said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”, is utterly baffling, except in the minds of the Reagan mythologizers.

9. Ronald Reagan was a “conservative culture warrior”. Actually, as those of us who lived through the Reagan years know, “Reagan’s contributions to the culture wars of the 1980s were largely rhetorical and symbolic.” For instance, “he never sought a constitutional ban on abortion.” Also, he “advocated prayer in public schools in speeches, but never in legislation.” And “Reagan unintentionally did more than any other president to prevent the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling from being overturned when he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court. O’Connor mostly upheld abortion rights during her 25 years as a justice.” Also, Reagan was pro-immigration, having signed a law which “legalized 2.8 million undocumented workers.” And this is the same Ronald Reagan who referred to the “illegal alien fuss,” and who declared, “no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.”

10. Reagan cut the deficit. Actually, Reagan cranked up the deficits and the debt big time, even with “Congress approv[ing] smaller budgets than he requested on average, and the deviation from what he requested averaged less than half a percent.”

Finally, just for fun, listen to this video of liberal activist Mike Stark calling in to Rush Limbaugh and completely crushing Limbaugh’s Ronald Reagan delusions. Enjoy!  

  • his administration also was the originator of “Cap and Trade”, “developed as a more flexible, market-based system to reduce environmental pollution compared to the so-called ‘command and control’ model employed by environmental laws in the 1970s.” Thanks to Ronald Reagan for that, at least! 🙂

  • has more, including “Reagan helped create the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden” and “Reagan vetoed a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act” and “Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants.”  Note to conservatives: these are all what’s known as “facts.” Don’t believe me? Look ’em up!

  • aznew

    not the actual truth.

    I think that it what Limbaugh is getting at in response to Mike (and BTW, I thought this call was excellent!), when he said, “You just don’t understand it.”

    Well, no, we don’t, because we operate in the reality-based world.

  • Cashelrock

    Reagan gang was opposed to Solidarity because they were a “labor union”.  They never gave any real support to Lech Walesca.  Most of Walesca’s support came from Pope John Paul II.  Without him, Poland probably would have not gotten anywhere, nor would the other Soviet bloc countries.

  • NotJohnSMosby

    James Watt and the “Watt Swat Team” as Not Necessarily the News once famously made t-shirts for will go down in history as one of the worst cabinet officials.

    I will say this about Reagan:  he did end the Cold War by outspending the Soviets into bankruptcy.  The Soviet Union would have fallen anyways, eventually, but it was hastened by the military buildup, particularly the 600-ship navy goal and the Pershing nuke missile.  

    I think a lot of the credit he gets is because he followed three very bad Presidents.  Nixon was Nixon, Ford was the bumbling fool who let Nixon off the hook.  Carter is a very nice guy and a true value to humanity, but he was an absolutely horrible President.  

    What I remember, as a teenager during the Reagan Years, was a very choppy economy with a lot of factories closing down.  One year the economy would be horrible, then a year later it was booming.  Not that different from the Bush II years where some folks did well – finance types in both cases – but the middle class got gutted.

    Reagan did have some real good people around him, much more so than Bush II did.  

  • libra

    I do have a soft spot for old Ronnie 🙂

    I had applied for citizenship shortly after the martial law slammed on Poland (Dec 13, 1981). Since my passport belonged not to me but to the government (and could be yanked at any time), my husband forbid my going back to visit my family afterwards, unless I had the protection of an American passport as well. As for my taking our son to see his grandparents — even with his American passport, which we got him when he was 18months old — forget it!

    So, although originally I had not planned on having dual citizenship, nor on renouncing my Polish one, I gave in and applied, early in ’82. And was told that the backlog was such, that the wait time was 3-5 years. I prepared to wait.

    Then came Ronnie’s bid for the second term. And, just like that — snap! — all the paperwork processing was accelerated to a mind-boggling level. As a result, I was sworn in, on July 4 1984 (at Monticello, yet! John Warner shook my hand!), in plenty of time to register and cast my vote.

    I was just too bad that, due to the little disagreement I had with Ronnie regarding ketchup’s value as a second vegetable in the school lunch menu (my son was 7 then), I felt totally unable to vote for the SOB. But, otherwise, I remember him fondly 🙂  

  • Jaroslaw

    I think Saturday Night Live had a lot to do with that perception and the media was very hard on Ford.  Gosh, compared with some of the violations others have gotten away with…perhaps it is to be expected in the wake of all Nixon’s secrets.

    But mainly I wanted to say it was courageous and selfless of Ford to pardon Nixon, he knew the country needed it for many reasons and he knew it would cost him a second term.

    Otherwise, I’m in total agreement with the negative assessment of Reagan here on this blog.