There are many myths surrounding the 40th President and they come from both sides of the political spectrum
Conservatives like to resort to revisionist history when it comes to their leaders. Nowhere is this more evident than with their folk hero Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, liberals for some reason do their best to hide the man he really was. There are tons of Ronald Reagan myths floating around with some being truer than others.
Reagan lowered taxes and increased the national debt
Conservatives like to claim Reagan as the President most vehemently against taxes while the more liberal among us are quick to point out that Reagan raised taxes eleven times. Both are technically true.
Reagan lowered the top marginal tax rate from 70% down to 28%, a huge drop. So much so that he was forced to raise it a back up to 35%. Does this mean he raised taxes on the wealthy? Not when you look at the whole picture.
We all know Reagan wasn’t good with money, at least not public money. He tripled the national debt while he was in office. Raising spending while cutting taxes tends to do that, but at the same time I’ve never heard half-intelligent conservatives claim he was fiscally responsible.
Reagan did not tear down the wall
Despite popular belief, the Soviet Union did not collapse at the hands of Reagan or by his mouth. Experts had been predicting the downfall of the USSR before Reagan was even elected. The myth that Reagan “defeated” communism by building up the American Military and delivering a couple good speeches is ridiculous.
For the first six years of his presidency, the Reagan Administration had taken a very hawkish stance on the Soviet Union, but it did not frighten the soviets into submission. All it did was raise tensions.
After the Iran-Contra Scandal, the Reagan Administration was forced to clean house. Only then did Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz begin to look at Mikhail Gorbachev as the reformer that he was. Gorbachev had known the party was over for a while, but needed to seek peace first.
It’s also important to note the importance of Pope John Paul II for the religious revival in his home county of Poland. Poland got the ball rolling, and the Soviet satellite states in the East fell one by one in a series of mainly peaceful political upheavals soon after. The point is, Pope John Paul II & Gorbachev were far more instrumental in bringing an end to the Soviet Union than Reagan was.
Reagan was not a great communicator
Ronald Reagan knew how to speak, there is little doubt. Most actors are naturally talented when it comes to public speaking. Nobody reads off a teleprompter better. In this respect, Reagan was a far better speaker than George W. Bush… Knowing how to read certainly helps.
Reagan had great speech writers like George Will and Peggy Noonan. It was Reagan’s job to simply deliver the message and do it convincingly. He actually said it himself once saying “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” In this regard he was no different than any other politician who tells people what they want to hear. He did it often, whether it was true or not. If anything, he was the “great salesman.”
Reagan also lashed out often towards congress, even his own party when he didn’t get his way, more so than Bush and Obama anyway. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on the legislation you’re trying to pass, but he soon began to slam the media as well, particularly when Iran-Contra came to light. Not the best qualities of a communicator, especially when you consider the media actually did their jobs back then.
Reagan’s Approval ratings were terrible
Reagan’s approval ratings were far better after he left office than when he held it, largely due to the Ronald Reagan myths that Republicans and conservatives created around him. Since his death, Reagan has become the third most popular president behind JFK and Clinton.
When Reagan was in office however, his average approval rating was just over 52%. It peaked over 70% just after he was shot and then again when he shot Libya. It bottomed out at 35% with high unemployment in 1983 and again with Iran-Contra.
Reagan was a divider
Republicans love to say that Reagan was a uniter, not a divider. Well, I got news for them. While Reagan was no Richard Nixon, he did polarize the country through his actions. He first aligned himself with the Christian Right, playing to racist sentiments in the south.
He opposed the Anti-Apartheid Act so much that Congress had to override his veto (which divided his own party). The Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court and the appointment of the ethically challenged Edwin Meese as attorney general are a couple more glaring examples of actions that divided the country.
Reagan was the original Tea-Party President
For the past few years, liberals and progressives have been saying that Ronald Reagan could never run for the Republican Party of today because he wasn’t conservative enough. I can only imagine that these people were not alive when he was president.
It is true that Reagan didn’t enact a lot of socially conservative laws. He never tried to restrict abortion for example. Some people fail to realize that Reagan, like Obama, didn’t have absolute power while in office. The fact is, Reagan had to contend with a Democratic House of Representatives. Passing anything remotely socially controversial would have been near impossible.
Reagan was the first tea-bagger through and through. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bill Maher.