Saturday, October 11, 2008

The toxic legacy of Ronald Reagan

Twenty-eight years. That is how long ago it was when Ronald Reagan burst upon the scene and changed American politics forever. Twenty-eight years. Reagan, like FDR, was a giant who changed politics for long after he departed from the political scene. His influence over the nation for these past twenty-eight years has been almost incalculable. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, you must admit that the shadow of Ronald Reagan has loomed over every man who has held office from the smallest town to the Presidency ever since then.

And what has happened in those twenty-eight years?

Well, a lot of things. Okay. Manufacturing employment: Down from 24% of the population to under 14% of the population. Ship construction: Down by 83% since 1980. There are now only six shipyards in the entire United States capable of building large vessels and all of them are naval shipyards. Personal debt: The size of the total consumer debt grew from $355 billion in 1980 to $2.6 trillion in 2008. Gross federal debt: In 1980, the federal debt was 33.3% of GDP. In 2007, the federal debt was 65.5% of GDP, or twice as much debt. Trade deficit: In 1980, the trade deficit was $19,407 and in 2007 $700,258. Debtor/creditor nation status: In 1980, the United States was a net creditor nation, owning 7% of the world GDP abroad. In 2007 the United States was a net debtor nation, with more than 21% of US GDP in hock to overseas.

Note that none of this has to do with how much cheap Chinese cr*p you can buy, the size of your television screen, or anything like that. I am talking about the fundamental underpinnings of a modern economy. These past 28 years have ripped the guts out of our economy until we're a nation of real estate salesmen selling each other the same overpriced homes over and over again. Well, at least that was the case until this year. BOOM. The whole house is falling down. Well, that's what happens when you rip the guts out of an economy. A hollow economy simply can't continue standing forever, it's like when they go back into a mine and pull out the pillars to get the last of the gold or silver or etc. out of it, pretty soon the whole mountain comes crunching down kaboom!

The problem is that the whole point of Reaganism was something for nothing. Reagan told us that we could have tax cuts *AND* a bigger military. The result was gigantic deficits -- bigger as a percentage of GDP than the Bush deficits (until this year). But Reagan had no problem with spending money he didn't have on fancy toys for the military. He just ran up the government's credit card bill! And no matter what Reagan might have said, that was the role model he set for the entire country. Reagan said, via his actions, "hey, don't worry about tomorrow, borrow, borrow, borrow, and live it up today!". And we did. Until now we're the world's biggest debtor nation. And the bill is coming due...

In 1980, we didn't know any of this. After the dismal Carter years, Reaganism seemed like a good idea. And maybe it was a good idea if Reagan himself had lived by the conservative values that he espoused. He didn't. He was like a middle class couple who run up a gigantic debt buying a house and junk to put in it that they don't need. He proved to America that "hey, you don't need to live within your means, you can always just borrow, borrow, borrow!" to the point where Dick Cheney said about the Bush deficits, "Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." But here's a secret Reagan did not tell you: there is no free lunch. He lied to you. He told you that we could have the greatest nation on the planet, and not have to pay for it.

A smaller less intrusive government would be nice. But Reaganism, by saying "hey, you don't have to live within your means!" inherently makes government bloat up because hey, if you don't have to pay for it, why not have big government? And Reaganism, by saying "hey, you don't have to work hard and wait for the good stuff in life, you can just charge it to your credit card!" inherently urges people to not do the constructive stuff that makes an economy strong but, rather, to spend their money on cheap Chinese crap from Wal-Mart and big-screen TV's and other junk like that which adds nothing to the economy, it's just like FDR paying one group of people to dig holes and paying another group of people to fill the holes back in all over again. Except with a Republican twist.

In short, Reagan sold us a bill of goods, and we thought it was golden. Until the hollowed-out shell left by decades of borrow, borrow, spend, spend started collapsing. The only good thing about this -- the only good thing -- is that perhaps Reaganism as a political philosophy is going to finally fall out of favor. Everybody over the past 25+ years has had that five thousand pound wrecking ball hanging over their heads. Now that it's fallen to earth, maybe folks will notice that hey, maybe Reaganism (the philosophy as practiced, not the soothing words) wasn't such a great idea after all.

Or maybe not. After all, few people want to admit it when they've been conned. And it was a con -- Reagan told us that everything had a simple answer that we wanted to believe, Reagan told us we could get something for nothing, and that's the hallmark of any good con, it's so good that you want it to be true. Yet even after twenty-eight years have shown that Reaganism is a hollow fraud that has destroyed our nation, people still want to believe. There is none so blind as the man who refuses to see. And there are an awful lot of blind men out there today...

-- Badtux the Politics Penguin


  1. I never could figure out why everybody thought that Ronald Regan was such a great president. During the Regan administration was when the evangelicals and theocrats saw the gate open to the Republican party for them to ride in on the back of Ronald Regan under the guise of conservatism. There was also the fact that from the videos and material that I have seen coming from the Regan presidency, he had some REALLY strange conspiracy theories about the Soviet union being secretly allied with aliens. I would not be surprised if he had Alzheimer's BEFORE he was elected president. I think the only reason why people idolize him so much is because he was very charismatic with his "folksy" attitude. This resonated with people who scorn the intellectual, blue-blood ivory tower mentality that many people think is characteristic of the "liberal establishment" in American politics. The fact that Reagam survived an assasination attempt also put the living "martyr" effect in his favor. This is similar to the phenomenon how everybody was willing to get in line to fellate W. Bush just because he happened to be president during the 9-11 fiasco even though his poll ratings were in the toilet before then.

  2. The genius of Ronald Reagan was that HE TOLD PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANTED TO HEAR. He identified that Americans wanted a free lunch. He identified that Americans wanted to be told soothing lies of patriotism and consumerism, that Americans wanted to be told "greed is good", "buy now, pay later", "hard work is for suckers". He never said any of these things, of course. What he actually said was all pious and shit. But by the examples he set, this is what he told America.

    And they fucking ate it up, man. Like goddamned caviar, just guzzled it right on down with a stupid-ass smile on their face. Well guess what, motherfuckers. It's 28 years later and now you Reaganauts are gonna reap what your senile-ass con artist idol sowed. He's dead and buried, but you're still here. Satisfied?

    - Badtux the Rude Penguin

  3. Hello, Mr Penguin.
    An excellent post, but you're leaving out some importanat information.

    At the time, there were two prominent political parties:
    the party of Reagan, and the party of the Reagan Democrats.
    It was at this time that the ideas of the Democrats became warped.
    Reagan played the "special interest groups" to his full advantage, and for good reason.

    Even now, the Democratic Ideal for the Nation is "Fruitcake Central." Cape Girardeau knows where West Hollywood is, in case they want to live in West Hollywood, but they don't.
    And West Hollywood cannot accept this.
    They must destroy Cape Girardeau in order to create a New West Hollywood.
    Like it or not, that is EXACTLY why people hate the Democrats.

    Ans excellent post you have there, and not too much attention paid to such a thing; but Reagan destroyed the Democrats as well as the Republicans.
    And they have never recovered.
    Doubtful that they will.

  4. badtux
    this may be the best post you have written (and your sure write a ton of good ones) - no one has explained the failure of reagan better than you. he was the ice cream man giving away the free cone to the kids - who now adored him, but the parlor was eventually going bankrupt.

    i hated and hate ronald reagan -- everything about him. he was a bad actor with good acting skills and charm - but zero for brains. and it is quite obvious we dont want leaders with brains. this is one of the reasons why a parliamentary govt works better. you can have your ronald reagan go to funerals, state dinners, the olympics and shake hands - run the state. but you can have your true intelligensia run the government. the people will see the face of reagan but could have the brain of an obama actually make USA inc. viable.

    reagan did one thing that bush jr didnt - he had a lot of smarter people around him - creepy and nefarious, but smarter. 43 has NOT ONE smart person around him. cheney is not smart - he is cunning. condi is smart but ineffective and useless. the rest of them are fucking idiots. and they have take the reagan house of cards and finally collapsed it.

    america STILL wants something for nothing - even the man who yelled socialist at the mccain rally - i would bet he gets his FEMA money if their is a flood in wisconsin.

    the real crime of the republicans is the dumbing down of america and the zero dollars and effort put into education. we are a nation of millions of ignoramuses and now have nothing to show for it except a bunch of nukes.

    and i predict - it will get much worse

    thanks - this was great - i will link to this later

  5. also

    sarah palin is exactly what ronald reagan was -- only with a skirt, tits and a wink. but she makes reagan look like einstein....

    and she is extremely dangerous

  6. Go further back in history, love.

    Memo PPS23 by George Kennan
    From Wikisource

  7. The first time I ever bought gold and buried it in my yard, 50 farking ounces of it, was when The Gimper was preznit. I was THAT convinced he was going to fumble his way into a nuclear war, and I wanted to be able to survive, if life was possibly still worth living after such an event. (I know your views on gold, Tux, but ask yourself -- if TSHTF in a big way, would you rather be WITH a pile of non-edible Maple Leafs, or WITHOUT them?)

    Then the theory of nuclear winter began to unveil. At the time, I was living in a rustic small town on the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where the winters were bad enough in normal times. Radioactive super-winters would be beyond survivability.

    So I gave up on the idea of riding it out as a rugged, gold-coin-flashing Northwoodsman, and just kept my fingers crossed that the doddering old fuck wouldn't blow us all up. I still reviled him, though. If I had only known that the evil but intelligent Bush the First was actually running things, I would have been more at ease.

    FWIW, I was working in a town named Laurium, where George Gipp, the real "Gipper," was born. He was the son of Lithuanian migrants who came to work the copper mines in this remote, frozen town. He was a drunken roughneck who could play good football. Myths built up around Gipp's noble character, much as they did around Reagan's. The actual Gipp was more interesting than the plasticene one. But as Firesign Theatre so aptly put it, "Everything you know is wrong."

  8. Your point was well taken, but you missed on the "rottenness" of the carter admin. Verify your recollections with the stories of behind the headlines involving regan and his party prior to the convention, along with where he sent his minions to talk to heads of state. And tell me that was a fair election.

  9. One of the aspects of the Reagan administration that was implemented was this notion of supply side economics (aka trickle down economics) was going to help everyone in the end. I have yet to be convinced that it does really work. If anything, it creates lots a low paying jobs at places like Wally-world.

    I think that supply-side assumes that if big business gets tax breaks that they won't pocket that money and somehow pass it down to the Joe Sixpack. It assumes that the businesses will either charge less than what the market is willing to pay or they will pay their employees more than what the market says their worth. Judging from fact that REAL wages is relatively flat and CEO compensation is skyrocketing, I think it is safe to say that it just simply not happening.


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